Adopting a People Group: Trinity Community Church’s Experience
I can remember a time many years ago when our Pastor said, “Let’s be diligent in praying and supporting the Minang—our adopted family on the other side of the world. Who knows, but there may be a time when they are praying for us and our nation.”
It has been nearly 15 years since Trinity Community Church (TCC) was planted from another local body of fellowship. Small as it was, even from the beginning, TCC viewed missions as an integral part of the overall purpose of the church. This focus is represented in our church constitution as follows: We as a holy people exist to worship God, to love our neighbor, and to facilitate the growth of the body spiritually, interpersonally, and numerically both here and abroad. Early on, we began seeking how to make every believer in our church “missions-minded” (Phil. 1:4,5).
Forming a Missions Policy
Our first step was to form a policy that would give structure and direction to our missions focus. Some things TCC had to keep in mind were that we were a small congregation, that many of those in the congregation came to know Christ through the ministry of the church (ie. young believers), and thus there was no standard way of doing missions, which people had in their minds. A missions policy was developed by a small team and our elders. The policy serves the purpose of making it clear to future church leaders and the congregation as a whole exactly where we are going—and helps keep us on track.
In keeping with our commitment to a tightly focused missions program, TCC chose to implement an "adopt-a-people" missions strategy and to focus on an “unreached people group.” With this strategy, the missions program centers on a specific people group that does not yet have a healthy, indigenous, self-propagating church. TCC's commitment is to continue to evangelize this group until such a church is established.
Our next step was to present the adoption strategy to the congregation. This got everyone on board with the direction we were headed as a whole. For many bodies of believers, there is a split between those who are involved in missions and everyone else. The adopt-a-people strategy made it much easier for the entire congregation to be involved in missions. One of the ways we did this was by means of a Sunday School class on the adoption strategy. (Unfortunately, an early mistake was also using a pre-made video series that didn’t quite fit our missions policy. This added a little confusion, and in retrospect we should have developed the class ourselves based on the many good resources we had gathered—some being from Perspectives, the US Center for World Missions, and the Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse, as well as some resources from the Internet and from people's personal contacts.)
Choosing a People Group
TCC prayed over and studied profiles of more than 100 people groups from every continent in the world! In our search, we found that the largest number of unreached people groups were Muslim. Again, we looked at a variety of Muslim people groups from Tajikstan to North Africa, to Middle East, and even in the U.S. We found that the largest Muslim country in the world was Indonesia, and we saw that the Indonesian Muslims were easier to reach than many of the other Muslim countries. Our study narrowed us down to three people groups. One group had killed many missionaries lately, so we decided choosing that group might be biting off more than we could chew at the moment. The second group looked promising because several churches in the area had adopted them. But we made email contact with the lone missionary working with the third group, the Minangkabau, and he put together a case for why TCC should adopt the Minang, including a plea for help. TCC saw this need and decided on the Minang. The Minang were also one of the most influential people groups in Indonesia, yet had less than 100 believers (all outcasts), no Bible in their own language, and no culturally-relevant church.
We began gathering as much information about the Minangkabau as we could—crafts, literature, slides and more. To bring this information to the church body, we decided a fun and creative way would be a type of "virtual tour" of Padang (the largest city in the homeland of the Minang) in the home of some folks from our congregation. Indigenous clothing, games for the kids, a reading table, and local craft displays, as well as food made the open-house a hit. Within the span of a month or two, we had gone from not knowing a thing about the Minang to educating our congregation on the basics of this people half a world away.
Getting on the Field
At the time, there were no existing missionaries for TCC to consider supporting (the one contact we had were soon departing the field), and there wasn't even anybody "on the horizon" that was planning on going to the Minang. By God’s grace, a family from our church had been praying about the missions in their own future. They saw the need, and so we began the process of preparing them for the field, with the goal of sending them within two years. This included finding a missions organization to partner with on the field—a critical step in order to provide field expertise and infrastructure to help those we were sending. We desired to partner with an organization that supported the adoption concept and was willing to highly involve the local church in the process.
TCC embarked on the first of several short-term trips. In the summer of 1997, nine people from our congregation (including the couple hoping to join the field) departed for Padang. This was a huge step for our church as there is absolutely no replacement for being in the city, meeting the people, smelling the smells, and getting pulled over by police who ask for a bribe while you have 15 people stuffed into a Kijang! Those 9 people have all stayed connected both with the Minangkabau and with Trinity's efforts to reach them, even though many of those people have moved to new churches.
Forming a Global Outreach Team
A recent missionary told the story of past field worker who shared that while missionaries are prepared to “descend into an unknown pit” that there is still a need for others to “hold the rope.” The church plays a critical part in this, and in order to do this efficiently, TCC decided to form the “Global Outreach Team” (GO Team), who’s goal would be to cultivate an understanding of missions and a love for our target people group among, as well as ensure the church support of those on the field (in many churches, this may be called a missions committee). In addition, TCC elders are responsible for staying abreast of missions activity among the target people group. Both the GO Team and the church leadership have a critical role in modeling to the congregation a heart for the target people group, maintaining the missions program as a core ministry of the church, and assuring missionary care. Both also, are diligent in ensuring the confidentiality and protection of those on the field and the nationals with whom they work.
Continuing the Pace
Since that time, TCC has continued to focus on the Minang as an extension of our own church body. The GO Team is continually trying new and creative ways to bring knowledge and passion to the congregation and support to those on the field. Church congregations are constantly changing, so both new and old information about a people group is important to present. We have also seen many changes in both church leadership, and even in those on the field. Our first missionary family stayed for seven years before returning to the States. By God’s grace, the hearts of another family were called to go, and within another two-year period, we had them on the field. (In the meantime, we also decided to begin supporting others going to that same field “team” who were not from our church.) Below are a few of the projects we have done in order to strengthen our adoption of the Minangkabou people.
The “adoption” strategy is a “process”—and it’s important to keep those two key words in mind. By adoption, we are not just deciding to pray or send money occasionally, but we are committing to a permanent relationship that means growing and knowing this people group intimately. By process we mean that change is always involved (both on the field and at home) and that “success” is not found quickly. But true success is not in the numbers converted, as we know from Scripture—that is God’s role. True success is in the obedience to engage and remain faithful. TCC is continuing to strive towards that definition of success through the adoption strategy.
Some of Trinity Community Church’s Adoption Strategy Projects
Prayer calendars, “bio” cards on the Indonesian Church Planters working with our team, Ramadan Prayer and Fasting event, monthly prayer service.
Communication & Education:
Monthly “Minang Minute” from the pulpit, Sunday School & Children’s Church educational times, display table (with pictures, items and literature), mailings for a Notebook focused upon the Minang, speakers & missionaries.
Eleven short term teams each with different focuses: surveying the land/culture, prayer, encouragement through spiritual retreats and programs for the kids, and project-assessment.
Communication with our missionaries, offering assistance for “home” matters, helping with ideas.
Sharing the Vision:
Two Consultations focused on supporting the effort to start a people movement among the Minangkabau, encouraging others to administer consultations, participation in other conferences and prayer meetings across the nation.