The Church in the United States has an unprecedented opportunity to welcome and serve immigrants. As of 2010, there are roughly 40 million foreign-born individuals in the United States, 22 million of which are non-citizens. Immigrants are transforming the face of the Church, strengthening and even revitalizing some denominations whose most significant growth has come from their immigrant members.
According to the Global Status of Evangelical Christianity there are 394 Unreached People Group’s (UPG) now residing in the U.S. Of those, 365 can be classified as Least Reached (less than 2% Evangelical population with little or no church planting). The evangelical Church has an opening in which to lead, to stand at the forefront in the Matthew 25 call to “welcome the stranger” and the Matthew 28 call to “make disciples of all nations.”
In 1986, with the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), World Relief developed a coalition of 10 evangelical denominations that opened 108 church-based sites in only a few months that served thousands of undocumented immigrants. Taking from that vision and those lessons learned, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and World Relief are supporting and convening planning conversations this year that is intended to lead to the formation of a similar coalition to launch in 2014.
The role of coalition members is to identify and equip local churches to serve under-resourced, undocumented immigrants. The purpose of the coalition is to multiply the number of vulnerable immigrants who are loved and welcomed by evangelical churches by working behind the scenes to:
- Leverage the skills, competencies, language/cultural expertise of coalition members
- Streamline training processes to build capacity and scale up as rapidly as possible
- Coordinate evangelical ministry efforts and minimize inefficient duplication of services
- Gather and pool resources to support training, technical support, and legal services sites
- Ensure missional quality of service among church-based ministries
There are currently 15-20 church-based immigrant legal ministry sites plus 20 World Relief locations in the U.S. that are accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). In order to keep pace with expected need resulting from immigration reform (the US needs 22,000 new not for profit sites that provide low cost, high quality legal service), the Immigration Coalition is intent on together multiplying this number dramatically over the course of the next three years in order to equip coalition members to serve at least 1,000,000 immigrants in 1,000 church-based immigrant ministry sites. This service is intended to center initially on all aspects of the legalization process but is intended to broaden existing or launch new holistic ministry initiatives. Denominations and national networks are crucial for the effectiveness of the coalition, but these structures are a means to the end of mobilizing and strengthening the local church as the agent of mission among immigrant communities.