Move On? Give Up? How to Deal With Unreceptive People

How long should a church planting team remain with an unreceptive people group before moving to another group or location?

unreceptive people

I am often asked, “How long should a church planting team remain with an unreceptive people group before moving to another group or location?” There is no easy answer to this question–no universal response.

People are not robots. Though all are dead in sin and trespasses, not everyone responds to the gospel with the same action and attitude. We only need to look at the New Testament to see this truth.

We know Jesus, His disciples, and Paul, at times, “shook off the dust” and moved on to others (e.g., Acts 18:6). We know Paul preferred to preach to receptive peoples. And I hope, we also desire such audiences.

How long is long enough before leaving unreceptive people? This is a complex question. Teams need to consider at least four matters as they seek first the Kingdom (Prov 3:5-6).

How to Deal With Unreceptive People

1. Your Call

Teams should examine their call to the people/location. Do they believe they should remain? If so, remain.

2. The Holy Spirit

Teams should ask what they sense the Spirit is doing among this people, in this place, at this time. Maybe the team needs to remain and continue to pray and sow (1 Cor 3:6). Maybe part of what is to come is based on the team living out the Kingdom among an apathetic people.

3. Your Sending Church

What does the team’s sending church have to say regarding the matter. I know. I know. This assumes a local church(es) has been involved in the apostolic team’s ministry. Church leaders, even though they are distant from the context, should be consulted for wisdom regarding the matter.

4. The Context

he team should examine the context and ask if they believe it would be wise kingdom stewardship to remain in light of the contextual realities. For example, are resources coming to an end? Is the government making it difficult for them to reside in the community? These and many other questions should be asked. Context should not be ruled out of the decision.

In all of this. . . here are some things to consider:

We live during a time when a two-year commitment is considered “long-term.” When it comes to unreceptive people, maybe we need to re-consider this matter.

We live during a time when field success looks like something from Corporate America. We need to re-consider this matter too, because we are dealing with people (even if they are unreceptive people).

When Paul Hattaway wrote From Headhunters to Church Planters: An Amazing Spiritual Awakening in Nagaland, Nagaland was one of the most Christianized regions on the planet. But the story of such transformation covered a long and dark history. The first missionaries arrived in 1839, but it was 1871 when the Ao people were the first of the Naga tribes to accept the gospel in significant numbers.

Thirty-two years.

The first baptisms occurred and the first church was planted in Nagaland in 1872–thirty-three years after the initial missionaries brought the gospel to the people!

If research is correct (see Clyde Meador, “The Left Side of the Graph,” Journal of Evangelism and Mission 6, Spring 2007, 59-63), that the Lord usually works through a lengthy period of apostolic service before the birth of a disciple making movement, then teams must understand that the task before them will usually not be accomplished in two to four years of service–a common tenure among twenty-first century teams.

Should we stay or should we go? I can’t answer that question for your team. There is much to consider as you fast, pray, and consider what seems good to everyone and the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28).


This article on deciding whether to give up on unreceptive people originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

JD Payne
J. D. serves as the pastor of church multiplication with The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. He has pastored churches in Kentucky and Indiana, and served for a decade with the North American Mission Board and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books on the topics of evangelism and missions.