Posted on : Monday June 1, 2009

By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent

RICHMOND, Va.—Like The Church at Riverside in Bel Air, Md. (see article entitled, “God opens doors to new people group in West African villages”), churches can adopt a particular people group on which to focus their energy, prayer and ministry.

The International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention defines a “people group” as a group of people who have the same language, culture, history, customs and family/clan identities. For strategic purposes, a people group is the largest group through which the gospel can flow without encountering significant barriers of understanding and acceptance.

In fact, the IMB recently changed its organization to better reflect these global “affinity groups”—large groupings of related peoples that share similar origins, languages and cultures, as explained in the Spring edition of its “To the Ends of the Earth” mini-magazine.

IMB President Jerry Rankin says the affinity group strategy is a natural progression of Southern Baptists’ approach to international missions, which is based on reaching specific people groups rather than individual nations or geographic areas.

The IMB has identified eight primary global affinity groups (the American peoples, the East Asian peoples, the European peoples, the Central Asian peoples, the North African and Middle Eastern peoples, the Southeast Asian peoples, the South Asian peoples, and the Sub-Saharan African peoples), which encompass all of the world’s 11,000-plus known people groups.

An additional (ninth) affinity group uniquely targets the world’s culturally Deaf peoples.

Focusing strategy through these affinity groups gives missionaries a more complete picture of the people they are working to reach, as well as the freedom to pursue the lost regardless of their location.

“When Jesus commissioned us to make disciples of all nations, the terminology He used –panta ta ethne – did not refer to the geopolitical units we know as countries on our map, but all the ethnos – peoples of the world,” Rankin explains.

“We live in a world without geographic borders when it comes to people groups. For example, massive numbers of Chinese are found all over the world. Why should a strategy to reach the Chinese be focused exclusively on East Asia? Europe has become a melting pot of Africans, Arabs and Asians. To see reaching Western Europe as a witness to only Europeans is to overlook the realities of our modern world.”

Instead of regions, missionary teams will be divided among more than 60 “clusters,” multiple missionary teams grouped together based on either geographic area or a common strategic focus. Affinity group strategists will serve clusters within their affinity group by providing strategic leadership, research and training.

What can a local church do?

“There’s a common misperception that the International Mission Board exists to do missions on behalf of Southern Baptist churches. But Christ didn’t give the Great Commission to the IMB — He gave it to the church,” Rankin says. “If 16 million Southern Baptists, 43,000 churches, local associations, state conventions and every Baptist entity could be mobilized and equipped for effective mission involvement, the task of taking the Gospel to every tribe, tongue and nation could be accomplished.”

To that end, the IMB believes that your church can have a key role in bringing unreached people group to Christ. By adopting a people group, churches take an active and direct role in missions.

The IMB suggests seven steps to adopt a people group. First and foremost, they suggest that church members pray for God’s guidance. They should take time to discover their church’s natural affinity (DNA) and determine the church’s expectations for adoption. Next, they should work with church leaders and identify a mission “champion” and investigate opportunities. When God directs a church to a specific unreached people group, pray and celebrate God’s direction. Finally, churches should communicate, follow through and keep their commitments.

To talk to someone about adopting a people group, call Nancy Chaffin, church mobilization specialist at [email protected] or (800) 999-3113, ext. 1914. For more information, visit online at for international people groups and for North American groups.