Church Ministries on the American Indian Field
WGM’s work on the American Indian Field began in 1952 as an educational ministry through Southwest Indian School located in Peoria, Arizona. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, workers began to branch out into reservation ministries, focusing on church planting, jail outreach, and Bible studies.
After serving at SIS for nearly 14 years, missionaries Erwin and Naomi Patricio started a church in their home village of Choulic on the Tohono O’odham Reservation in 1987. Reservation and urban ministries have continued and grown ever since. And, just like anything in missions, the how, where, and what of ministry continues to change on the American Indian Field.
The term church ministries means different things in different locations. This is especially true on the American Indian Field. Whether you’re talking about attending a church on a local reservation, leading a small group Bible study, visiting someone in the hospital, or teaching kids about God’s Word at summer Bible camp, it’s all church ministries on the AIF.
Church ministries is a broad category that includes adult-focused evangelism, children’s and youth ministries, and discipleship. Missionaries are intentional about walking through life with Native American individuals and families. Sometimes these relationships are built in a traditional church setting, and sometimes they are established in a small group meeting or home. Sometimes the ministries occur on the reservations, and sometimes they happen in the city or on a college campus.
“We desire to lead Native Americans to a saving knowledge of Christ and to see their hope restored through a personal relationship with Jesus,” shared Sandy Anderson, WGM’s field director for AIF. “We also want to see Native people grow in Him and use their gifts and abilities to reach others for Christ.”
Nearly 500,000 Native Americans live in WGM’s ministry area, with approximately 1,600 living within a five-mile radius of Southwest Indian Ministries Center, the hub of WGM AIF. More than 100,000 Native people reside in the Greater Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area alone.
Although the gospel has been shared in many Native communities for years, with an emphasis on salvation, there has been a lack of strong discipleship and no focus on leadership training. This has resulted in a shortage of Native pastors and lay leaders to serve their own people. Intentional discipleship is crucial to the growth of the church among Native Americans.
In order to accomplish these desires, the WGM AIF team’s goal is to plant faith communities and small groups wherever Native people gather—parks, coffee shops, malls, businesses, colleges, etc.
“The overall goal is to gather people together using common interests and to reach them through more traditional approaches such as Bible studies,” explained Sandy. “There is not a lack of local churches in Native American communities, but there are many Native people who will not walk into a church but would welcome a home service or would be comfortable coming to a small group that met somewhere besides a church building.”
WGM missionaries are involved in a variety of ministries in Native communities, including:
- Preaching and teaching
- Providing music
- Teaching Sunday School
- Coaching lay leaders
- Leading small groups, house church ministries, men’s and women’s ministries, hospital visitation, and compassionate ministries
- Mentoring and building relationships
- Attending and helping with revivals and camp meetings, which are integral parts of church life in Native American communities
“We all try to be intentional about not just doing ministry by ourselves but by modeling ministry to encourage and work alongside Native believers,” Sandy stressed. “The relational nature of discipleship and mentoring are particularly effective in Native ministry when they are a priority.”
As WGM AIF plans for future church ministries among Native communities, the staff’s approach will be more missional (going to Native people) rather than attractional (asking Native people to come to them). These missional goals include:
- Continue having a regular ministry presence in Phoenix, Arizona, and the Four Corners area of New Mexico; and on the Salt River, Gila River, and Tohono O’odham Reservations
- Reaching out to Native people in Guadeloupe, Ft. McDowell, and Ak Chin
- Placing bi-vocational missionaries on reservations and in Native communities to establish relationships and look for discipleship, mentoring, and small group opportunities
- Encouraging faith communities to begin small groups and other outreach ministries
- Starting groups/Bible studies for those interested in art, photography, cooking, etc.
- Utilizing facilities—Southwest Indian Ministries Center, Living Word Academy, Kirtland house—as connecting points with Native people and surrounding communities
- Training Native Christians to take on leadership and mentoring roles
- Scheduling times of focused prayer for the specific people being ministered to. Examples: Living Word Academy, American Indian College, and Victory Guitar Outreach students; Southwest Indian Ministries Center campers; Phoenix Indian Medical Center hospice patients and families; Kirtland Kids’ Club participants; etc.
Through church ministries, Christ has transformed many lives on the American Indian Field as early believers continue to serve in their local churches and communities. Because WGM missionaries invested in their lives and showed them Christ’s love, they are now investing in the lives of others.
One family greatly impacted by church ministries is the Cross family. Mike and Delia were miraculously delivered from addictions and began to grow in Christ. They now minister to people in need in their own community and to the children and youth in their church as Sunday School teachers. They also bring kids to summer Bible camps and for weekend camps throughout the school year.
Another lady who has struggled with alcohol and being able to truly trust the Lord recently took steps forward in her walk with Him. She shared that she was able to take these steps because a WGM missionary encouraged her, prayed with her, and shared Scripture with her.
PRAY: Commit to pray that Native people will grow in the Lord and see that He wants to use them to reach out to others in their communities and beyond.
GO: The American Indian Field wants to see a growth of church planting through faith communities and small groups. However, they need more workers who have a heart for discipleship and a willingness to endure the slow path of building trust and walking through the messiness of life with those they disciple. Visit www.wgm.org/go for a list of available ministry opportunities or contact email@example.com for more information.
Perhaps the Lord is calling you to visit the American Indian Field on a prayer team. Join or schedule a prayer team at www.wgm.org/teams to spend time meeting, encouraging, and praying for pastors and lay leaders in Native communities.
GIVE: Have you ever opened your Bible and wondered, “Where do I start?” Many Native American pastors are asking that question right now as they try to educate their congregations and prepare sermons and Bible studies without adequate resources and commentaries. Help provide these pastors and lay leaders with the resources they need to lead their churches and small group studies effectively. An entire set of commentaries and study books can be purchased for $120, but all donations are accepted and appreciated.
Give online at www.wgm.org/catalog-education. Search for Education Projects in N. America and select Start Here—American Indian Field (project #21722).
Make checks payable to World Gospel Mission and write account #21722 on the memo line. Send check donations to:
World Gospel Mission
P.O. Box 948
Marion, IN 46952-0948
SHARE: View a speaker outline for Church Ministries on the American Indian Field.