Reaching the world in and from Northwest Arkansas
By Carol Pipes
Step inside Grace Point Church of Northwest Arkansas and you’ll see right away the congregation’s heartbeat for the nations.
Guests are greeted in the Beyond Borders Café, where flags from different nations unfurl from the ceiling and world maps cover each table. On the walls of the Story Gallery hang photos from the church’s global adventures (what Grace Point calls mission trips) with the story of each photo.
The preschool and kids’ ministry areas are called Wee World and KidNation respectively because the church wants even the youngest of disciples to picture the nations and their place in God’s mission.
“We don’t see missions as a department of our church,” says Mike McDaniel, pastor of Grace Point. “It’s woven into everything we do.”
Reaching the nations has been part of Grace Point’s DNA from the beginning, when Mike and Lori McDaniel planted it in 2001.
“When we started looking at the area, we noticed an influx of people moving here from all over the country and from around the world,” says Mike. “We saw the tremendous potential of Northwest Arkansas to mobilize people to the nations.”
In its first five years, the church sent out mission teams on 12 global adventures.
“We didn’t have a strategy when we first started sending people overseas,” says Lori. “We just wanted to expose people to the world and expand their worldview. We recognized that when church members returned from a trip overseas, they began to look at their own culture in a completely different way.”
A few years in, they realized the church needed a strategic focus for international missions. Grace Point began a partnership with church planting missionaries in West Africa.
A decade later, the church is still sending teams to West Africa. More than 200 members have traveled to West Africa for terms as brief as two weeks and as long as two years.
Grace Point has found that nothing grows fully formed disciples like mobilizing them for missions among the nations.
Lessons from the mission field
Mike and Lori understand the significance of supporting missionaries on the field through long-term partnerships. They spent four years as missionaries in Zambia, raising their young family among the Tonga people. The couple shared their lives with the people and learned to see the world through the lens of the Tongan culture.
They struggled to find churches in the United States to come and work alongside them. Those years gave them a vision for planting a church back in the States that would have a heart for the nations.
They also learned valuable lessons in exegeting (or interpreting) culture and putting the gospel into context for the people they were trying to reach.
“We went to Zambia thinking we had all the answers,” says Mike with a laugh. Slowly they began to realize not every culture worships in a square building, sitting in straight rows and singing songs out of a hymnbook.
“It took us two years to figure out the people in Zambia worship best under trees, meet best in circles, and don’t worship from a book,” recalls Mike. “They worship from their hearts and they dance when they worship.”
Mike and Lori admit the experience turned their preconceptions upside down. “We were forced to re-examine what church looks like in a different context and extract methodology from theology,” Mike says. “We had to strip away a lot of the cultural baggage that had become enmeshed in our theology.”
When the McDaniels came back to the States, they put the lessons they learned and tools they’d acquired on the mission field into practice at Grace Point.
“Whether you’re in West Africa or Northwest Arkansas, it’s essential to know who you’re trying to reach and then shape your ministry to reach that context,” says Mike.
“When we moved to Arkansas we began to ask the same missionary questions we had asked overseas,” says Lori. “What do the people believe? What’s their story? How does their history and culture shape their behaviors? Where do people congregate?
“When you understand worldview and culture, you can contextualize the gospel in a way that helps that particular people group understand,” she continues. “It doesn’t mean you’re watering down the gospel; it means presenting the gospel in such a way that they hear, understand, and have an opportunity to accept it.”
Bringing missions home
For Grace Point Church, reaching the nations begins at home. Three Fortune 500 companies—Walmart, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt—have headquarters in the region.
The growing retail, tech, and medical industries in the area have drawn a number of international business professionals and their families, many from unreached locations.
“Our missional mindset involves the nations here and the nations there,” says Mike.
A benefit of sending church members to serve overseas is they return with a renewed passion for reaching people in their own community.
A few years ago, a woman in their church went to South Asia to serve women exploited by human trafficking. When she came home, God opened her eyes to the large South Asian population in Northwest Arkansas.
She now has a regular ministry teaching South Asian women how to drive, swim, play tennis, and shop in an American grocery store.
“She’s now one of our many ambassadors to South Asian women here, but that never would have happened had she not taken one of our global adventures,” says Mike.
“We want our people to be expressions of the gospel in the community,” he says. “We’re constantly challenging our members to take their resources and invest them in the community and the nations in whatever they do and wherever they go.”
The culture in Northwest Arkansas has shifted since the McDaniels planted Grace Point 16 years ago—which means they have to shift how they minister to the population and put the gospel in context for the culture, says Lori.
They continually research their community to have a greater understanding of the people who live in the area. Grace Point recently studied the people living within a seven-mile radius of the church using a tool called the Joshua Survey.
It provides a comprehensive survey of the age, income, interests, lifestyles, and backgrounds of the people. The church did a similar study of the congregation to see where they align with who they’re trying reach and discover any gaps.
“We’ve been able to identify growing segments of our community that we’re not reaching,” says Mike. “This will allow us to develop new ministries and initiatives to reach those segments.”
A few years ago, noticing a growing arts community in Northwest Arkansas, the church developed an arts ministry that includes an arts camp and gallery. The Story Gallery hosts rotating exhibits by outside artists as well as artists from the congregation.
Staying nimble has allowed Grace Point to keep a finger on the pulse of the culture and change its methods of reaching people accordingly.
The church places a high priority on equipping its members to reach their neighbors, friends, and coworkers with the gospel.
“The mission of God is to make His glory and His name known to all nations,” says Lori, “and Grace Point Church is a part of that mission. We recognize that every believer has a part to play in God’s mission.”
CAROL PIPES (@CarolPipes) is editor in chief of Facts & Trends.