Subscribe to the Long View Newsletter, out each Tuesday
Get more, exclusive missiological reflection, analysis, plus annotated links to new studies & resources published weekly around the web, delivered via email.

The Long Scale of Missionary Involvement

Because many people seem to have a question about whether they are a missionary or not, I offer the “Long Scale of Missionary Involvement.” Using this scale, you can define precisely just how missionary you are.

L-0: missionary to my family
L-0a: only to my immediate family.
L-0b: only to my immediate & extended family as defined by blood relationships
L-0c: to my immediate & extended family including current active marriages
L-0d: to my immediate & extended family including all marriages past and present.

L-1: missionary to my family (L-0) + friends & work associates (limited to those I have active friendships with)

L-2: missionary to my neighborhood & work environment (including those I don’t necessarily like right now)

L-3: missionary to those who speak my language in my city, who don’t go to my church.

L-4: missionary to all within my city, and especially those separated by barriers of language, culture, and religion.

L-5: missionary to a specific language group within my area.

L-6: missionary to a foreign country.

L-7: missionary to a specific language group in a foreign-country.

L-8: missionary to a specific non-Christian group in a foreign country.

L-9: missionary to a specific non-Christian group, generally with no Christian witness, in a foreign country.

Be a 2015 Missions Research Patron
We're ad free. The resources and analysis we offer take hundreds of hours a month to create. If you find value in it, please consider being a Patron with a gift of $100 toward our 2015 year, or a recurring monthly donation.

Mission Force Distribution: Clumping at the Crossroads

Sometimes we get the stereotype that agencies are all about planting “flags” in various countries. However, I’ve gone back through several sources of mission agency deployment statistics: old copies of Operation World, old copies of the MARC Mission Handbook, and the like. I’ve found a different picture.

No one has a complete picture of the deployment of missionaries worldwide. The reasons are fairly obvious: first, they change a lot; second, security. (There are other reasons, too, but these are the two big elephants in the room.) However, you can get a “decent” idea when you think about this: when an agency has been around for a long time, the places where it’s historically invested in the past are the places its interested in – and it is either there now (“under the radar”) or would like to be in the future. So, where agencies were in 2001, 2004, and 2006, are a good indicator of their interests in 2014.

Next: some agencies are pretty widely distributed (e.g. 2 people here, 2 people there, another person somewhere else)–but this is really true of the smaller agencies. As agencies get larger (depending on their organizational structures) they tend to “clump” as do all social networks according to the rule of “those that have, get more” (also called preferential attachment). Any agency will have a few places where it tends to have more resources. You’ll see teams of 1 or 2 or 3 people – and then suddenly you’ll see 15, 20, 30, and even 60 and 200. If you define a “clump” as 5% or 10% of an agency’s total personnel, you will find that many if not most agencies have their “big clumps” well documented. They either give specific statistics, or you can pretty well tell where they are.

By charting these “clumping” countries, you can get a sense of where the largest number of workers are deployed. The biggest “clumping” countries in my database are Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Germany, Ecuador, Ethiopia, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Indonesia, Kenya, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and South Africa.

Why would these be the big clumps? They aren’t entirely “Christianized” countries, although some are. You could argue they are all pretty heavily evangelized – but then, most of those on this list are either (a) right next to very unevangelized areas or (b) powerful attractors for migrants, a large number from unevangelized groups

When you think about it, these countries make sense as powerful attractors. They are strategic places to put your people.

  • Australia is a fairly open and strategic spot from which to reach the Pacific. Makes sense as a base, ministry area, and sending center.
  • Brazil is one of the most populous countries in the world, with unreached peoples as well as a large potential missionary pool.
  • China is the world’s #1 population, a burgeoning church, and tons of unevangelized people.
  • Colombia is a convenient center in Central America with a sordid past, a significant need, a large evangelical church, and one plane hop from the United States.
  • Germany is a center in Europe that attracts a lot of migrants, and is a good sending base, as well as having a lot of non-religious.
  • Ecuador: at the moment, I really have no idea why this is “clumping.”
  • Ethiopia is a fairly open and strategic spot from which to reach into the hugely unreached Horn of Africa.
  • France, like Germany, is a migrant-attracting center, as well as having a lot of nominal Catholics.
  • The UK is a migrant-attracting center as well as the base for a lot of European mission agencies (and the European bases of American ones).
  • Japan is an interesting paradox: tremendously unreached, yet open for mission agencies. A large number of bases here.
  • Indonesia is one of the world’s largest Islamic populations, but has a vibrant church, one of the best mission & prayer networks in the world, and a convenient area base.
  • Kenya has a strong Christian base and is a strategic sending center.
  • Cambodia is a smallish population that could be fairly easily reached by a coordinated strategy, and is a good base for the surrounding countries.
  • The Philippines is a widely open country, an easy base from which to operate in the region, has a strong evangelical church and a large mission sending network, a Muslim population in the south, and a lot of nominal Catholics.
  • Thailand is fairly open (despite the odd coup), and lots of agencies base here to reach out to (ahem!) surrounding countries, plus the Thai are unreached and there is a lot of church planting work amongst minorities.
  • South Africa is the obvious choice for a base in southern Africa despite its high crime rates.

Side note: There are a few places that I think are also “clumps” even though they aren’t showing up in the preliminary list I’ve compiled (partly because I haven’t dove too deep into the “sensitive” agencies yet.) Also, one big one isn’t on the list: India. That’s because in the list of data I’m going through, I’m primarily working through Western agencies, and surprisingly or unsurprisingly I haven’t encountered many agencies who have better than 5% of their mission force in India. There are many that have a few teams or even 1 or 2% but not across the 5% threshold I’m using.

Even if you were going to shift to focus exclusively on unreached places, most of these countries make sense as bases for people. I thought this might reassure you: this isn’t the kind of pattern you’d see (at least, in my opinion) if most people were about flag planting. I think most people are going where they are called by God to go. The big problem with the unreached not being reached is that some who are called to the unreached (a) don’t know what to do with their calling or (b) are ignoring or disobeying their calling.

18 things that kill Pioneer Missions

Adapted from “Startup mistakes,” cross-pollinated and applied to mission.

“one mistake that kills startups: not making something users want.” We all need the Gospel. We don’t all want the Gospel. We therefore have to present the Gospel in a way that is spiritually attractive – in a way that is a blessing – (without watering it down.)

The 18 mistakes:

1. Single Founder. Missions send people out in teams, generally speaking. YWAM always requires new bases have a team. We at MUP recruit to teams (even if the team is a broader affinity block or cluster facilitator team). To have one founder “is a vote of no confidence; it means the founder couldn’t talk any of his friends into starting the company with him… Starting a startup is too hard for one person.” Need people to generate ideas, “talk you out of stupid decisions, cheer you up when things go wrong.”

2. Bad location. Startup “hubs” are better for startups than other locations. “Standards are higher; people are more sympathetic to what you’re doing; the kind of people you want to hire want to live there; supporting industries are there; the people you run into in chance meetings are in the same business.” The same is true of pioneer mission: some places are better than others, because there is a greater likelihood of running into a Person of Peace.

3. Marginal niche. “Choosing a small, obscure niche in the hope of avoiding competition… if you make anything good, you’re going to have competition.” Do we go to places where it is “easier” in order to avoid competition/persecution? Are we “shrinking from big problems”? (Why are more people working among minorities in Thailand than among the Thai, for example?)

4. Derivative Idea. “Many of the applications we get are imitations of some existing company.” The principles of a pioneer mission & CPM are universally applicable, but the individual tactics have to change from situation to situation. Just because an all-night prayer meeting or 24-hour prayer house worked in one spot doesn’t mean it will work somewhere else.

5. Obstinancy. “Startups are more like science, where you need to follow the trail wherever it leads. So don’t get too attached to your original plan, because it’s probably wrong… but openness to new ideas has to be tuned just right. Switching to a new idea every week will be equally fatal.” Seth Godin’s written an excellent little book on this subject called “The Dip.” Jesus spoke to this when he talked about leaving a town that was not responsive.

6. Hiring Bad Programmers. Or Bad Disciple-makers.

7. Choosing the wrong platform. “How do you pick the right platform? The usual way is to hire good programmers and let them choose.”

8. Slowness in launching. “Startups make all kinds of excuses for delaying their launch.” Missions do too.

9. Launching too early. “The danger here is that you ruin your reputation.” In a pioneer context, probably the equivalent here is launching before you have adequate language/cultural acquisition – or perhaps launching too big. (“Go slow to go fast.”)

10. Having no specific user in mind. Which sociopolitical grouping are you trying to reach as a start? You can’t reach all 100 million of group X – you’re going to start somewhere. The approach and platform has to be tailored to the sub-group.

11. Raising too little money. A pioneer mission is a significant enterprise and should be treated as such, in my view. The average strategic missionary unit probably needs a budget of about $100,000 per year for most places (when you consider programs, travel, plus personal expenses etc).

12. Spending too much. “Burning through too much money is not as common as it used to be. Founders seem to have learned that lesson. Plus it keeps getting cheaper to start a startup… classic way to burn through cash is by hiring a lot of people.” You don’t need a big team to effect change.

13. Raising too much money. “Once you take a lot of money it gets harder to change direction…”

14. Poor investor management. “You shouldn’t ignore them, because they may have useful insights. But neither should you let them run the company. That’s supposed to be your job. If investors had sufficient vision to run the companies they fund, why didn’t they start them?”

15. Sacrificing users to (supposed) profit. Or, building a large congregation or denomination at the expense of empowering individual believers to make disciples. You get a huge first generation – but that’s it. Multi generational growth is difficult if not impossible.

16. Not wanting to get your hands dirty. “Nearly all programmers would rather spend their time writing code and have someone else handle the messy business of extracting money from it.” Most evangelists would rather evangelize themselves than teach others to evangelize. Ditto for any missionary gift. “If you’re going to attract users, you’ll probably have to get up from your computer and go find some.”

17. Fights between founders. “Surprisingly common… about 20% of the startups we’ve funded have had a founder leave… A founder leaving doesn’t necessarily kill a startup, though… Most of the disputes I’ve seen could have been avoided if they’d been more careful about who they started a company with.”

18. A half-hearted effort. “The most common type of failure is not one that makes spectacular mistakes, but the one that doesn’t do much of anything–the one we never even hear about, because it was some project a couple guys started on the side while working their day jobs, but which never got anywhere and was gradually abandoned… Statistically, if you want to avoid failure, it would seem like the most important thing is to quit your day job.” How does this translate to bi-vocational pastors? Do bi-vocationals start movements?

Can we, should we, worship alone?

I ran across this interesting infographic and blog post today. (source link):

The post suggests that these ideas are bad, and representative of a rugged individualism that ignores community. Ignoring community isn’t good, I agree. But are the principles highlighted on this graphic actually representative of that?

Let’s spend a moment thinking deeply about this. Here are four nuances I see that could be explored:

1. Worshiping with one’s family vs worshipping with the church: oikos or household worship vs “forsake not assembling together.” Is one a replacement for the other? Are they equally valuable? Is it both/and? Either/or? One over the other?

2. Who has the authority to declare whether or not I am a “Christian”? A believer? A Christ-follower?

3. Who has authority in my life – my pastor’s sermons? or the Scripture they are based on? What if, when reading the Scripture, I disagree with my pastor’s interpretation?

4. What is the value of a creed? Is it important that we use creeds in personal discipleship? What would be lost if we no longer used them?

Clearly, there is value in the church, etc. But once we start discussing issues of authority, then we get into interesting areas. What do you think?

SEEN: Inherit the Nations: a year of united prayer for 50 unreached people groups

, Dec 18.

A new prayer campaign: for one year, prayer communities and intercessors are asked to adopt a specific unreached people group for weekly prayer. Through a partnership with the US Center for World Mission, you’ll receive a special Christmas Package that contains your adopted unreached people group and resources that you can use in praying for them.  You won’t self-select a people group, you’ll receive them as a gift!  We’re hoping in 2015 even on short notice to see 50 prayer communities adopt 50 unreached people groups.  As part of this initiative, you’ll:

  • Receive a Christmas package with your adopted people group around Christmas time.
  • Agree to pray at least once weekly as a community for your adopted people group for one year (2015 starting on January 1)
  • Keep a journal of prayer and words from the Lord for your adopted nation
  • Receive research information where available that will measure results of this year of prayer
  • Get connected to front-line missionaries in these nations when they’re available
  • Have opportunities to connect with Prayer communities around the nation

Sign-Up and Find Out More: Prayer Community leaders can sign-up here to be part of this initiative.  Click hereto read more in depth about Inherit the Nations.  Web presence will be forthcoming as the initiative rolls out.

Inherit the Nations is a collaborative effort of the Transform USA network which involves many organizations and a PRIME initiative of the US Center for World Mission and the Ethne prayer workgroup.

Movements need the people skills of introverts

Just because you’re an “introvert” doesn’t mean you’re off the hook or unimportant to God’s work in the world. Introverts have critical skills needed to expand the Kingdom.

I max the Myers-Briggs introversion scale. I’m an introvert.

Being an introvert isn’t the same as being shy. It means:
I’m better with individuals than groups.
I have to manage my energy, since lots of people & noise tends to drain me.
I like people–preferably one-on-one, talking deeply over a subject.
I go deep with people I know, but getting to know someone takes a lot.
I need some quiet, thinking, reflective time every day.

As a missionary who’s an introvert, I’m not an odd occurrence.
ActBeyond, the organization we serve with, has a bunch of introverts (I think we’re the majority), and they’re involved in a bunch of movements. And, we’re not some special organization. A lot of other organizations have a lot of introverts involved in movements, too.

Fact is, movements need introverts.

You might have heard this one:
Idea 1: movements large masses of people.
Idea 2: extroverts are best with large masses of people, introverts don’t do crowds.
Conclusion: movements need extroverts.
Grade? Fail.

“Crowds” – like crusades, every home campaigns, huge churches and the like – are great events. But it’s very difficult to get a thousand people in one place, let alone a hundred thousand or a few million. Getting crowds together costs a lot; the more people, the greater the cost. And, as size goes up, governments get involved.

Because of costs, regulation, and even the effects of response to the “celebrity factor” that gathers the crowd, crowds generally don’t scale to 100% of a population. Some people will go see Jean Michel Jarre or Genesis or Metallica or the like in concert–but not everyone. But just because, say, 3.2 million people come to an event, doesn’t mean the whole population of the nation is reached.

Moreover, getting a crowd together repeatedly is exponentially more difficult. This means most events are one-offs. Their impact doesn’t last into the next generation.

More obvious: you can’t do daily or weekly discipleship or accountability meetings in a large crowd. If there are a tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands in a meeting, it’s not like everyone can ask the questions they have – or the questions they’ll think of as a result of someone else’s question.

Movements are not crowds.

Although they can grow to be viral, relational networks of millions of people – like Facebook, for example – discipling movements are comprised of long-lasting, deep, face-to-face relationships (some one on one, some one to a few).

To build deep relationships requires deep relationships. Go to a concert with some friends, and you’ll see how to go to a concert with friends. Spend time studying the Bible with friends over several weeks, and they’ll know how to do it with others. Raise a child as a parent, and the child will have some sense of how to be a parent themselves.

As an example, in one of the movements I’m familiar with, the early years were spent in deep leadership and character development with early believers. The movement pioneers spent hours and hours with those early believers, helping them work through character issues, building them as leaders, encouraging them, helping them confront sin in their lives, etc. It required those key introvert skills: one-on-one, going deep, listening to questions, thinking about them, reflecting on Scripture with people, spending time, praying.

Introverts may not be the type to stand up on stage and preach to a million people, but they do just fine at these kinds of deep relationships. Yes, extroverts can do just fine at them too; my point is just that introverts aren’t lacking some kind of necessary social skill. In fact, the case can be made introverts do deep better than extroverts, if anything.

So if you’re an introvert, it’s not a failing, or brokenness, or weakness. Realize that God designed you that way to make a difference in the world. If you find your 10 close friends and disciple them to find their 10 close friends and do the same… in 4-5 relational generations, you can change a city, and in 4 or 5 generations the disciples of your disciples can change a nation.

Don’t settle.

The Hardest of the Hard

Here are my “hardest of the hard clusters” – the least evangelized people clusters, based on data from the World Christian Encyclopedia/World Christian Database. Be sure to follow the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (@CSGC) for great stats and data.

Nuristani. Centered primarily a very difficult to reach portion of Afghanistan, a people cluster of about 100,000, less than 5% of whom are estimated to have heard the Gospel. There have been many, many martyrs among those who have tried to reach out to them, especially in the last 10 years. Much prayer needed, and much careful spending of effort.

Zenaga. A small cluster of several thousand people in North Africa. Also known as the Sanhaja. This used to be one of the largest Berber tribal confederations along the Maghreb. Related to the Sahrawi (Saharawi).

Bozo. Somewhere between 25,000 and 100,000 depending on who is counting. Primarily along the Niger River in Mali. Mostly Muslim with animist traditions.

Gurung. Population uncertain, with estimates ranging from 250,000 up to several million depending on how they are counted. Primarily along the India-Nepal-Bhutan line in the southern Himalayas, mostly living in Nepal’s mountain valleys. Mostly Buddhists.

Kirati (Rai). About 800,000, also in the area of Nepal. Mostly shamanists following a “Kirat religion” characterized by nature and ancestor worship.

We need you to be a problem-solver

The fact is, our world is far too complex for us to ever completely understand it. Moreover, what our world is today is not what it was yesterday, or last year, or a decade ago – and what it will be a decade from now will be vastly different.

“Church” cannot be simply about a once-a-week event. And it cannot be about a specific task–for example, a city-wide campaign or crusade to get a bunch of one-off decisions to join what is effectively a religious club.

We the church are the ekklesia – the called out community, the Body of Christ, who are blessed to be a blessing.

Individual believers, disciples, must engage the community around them – to be problem-solvers, to be those who stand up for the oppressed, to be the ambassadors of the Kingdom who stand against injustice and immoral behavior, who free those held captive by structures of sin, who bring hope.

It is up to you to know your community, identify the points that need blessing, and initiate the blessing.

It is up to you to know the communities nearby, and mobilize your community to be a blessing to them.

It is up to you to learn about communities far away, and launch the major efforts required to bring hope and freedom and blessing to those far off.

The whole world needs the whole gospel, brought by the whole church – brought by you, and others like you. The whole world needs you to observe, to document, and then to step up and do something.

1 Immediate First Step to make a difference in the world

Once you have picked an Affinity Block and a Cluster, how do you know if that’s the one for you?

Is there a cheap, easy way to confirm your desire?

One simple way to begin researching a Cluster is to do the work of pulling together a Prayer Guide (if one doesn’t exist already).

Every CPM practitioner agrees that the first step toward a movement is “extraordinary prayer.” Prayer guides are a useful tool to mobilizing prayer for a cluster. People who pray for a people group on a regular basis are more likely to become involved in that group.

There are a number of excellent prayer guide models that you can use. Here’s my annotated list.

How do you figure out the prayer needs of a cluster? Don’t just start making things up. Begin with research on the area where the people group is found (look for country-specific prayer guides as well as Operation World). Start keeping a list of big issues in the area, and look for signs the people group is impacted by it.

Next, look at existing prayer requests for the country and nearby peoples, and see if particular organizations are mentioned. Start contacting them and seeking out people who are already working among the group – or nearby. Ask them what the needs of the Cluster are.

There are numerous examples of people groups that have dedicated workers but no specific prayer guide. This is a real need that could be filled, and it could be met simply by conducting interviews, writing down prayer requests, compiling them into a simple written document, and circulating them for comment.

If you want to make a difference in the world, there is no easier or better place to start than right here.

If you’re a church or a foundation and you want to make a difference, this is a key place to start. My list of prayer guides notes not only where prayer guides exist–but where they don’t. Finding and funding potential candidates who are willing to undertake this challenge would be a key difference maker.

4 easy steps to decide where to go

It’s called the “Paralysis of Analysis”–when we spend all of our time in research, making lists, and considering what needs to be done, and never actually do anything. You already have the authority to go make a difference in the world. Where to go? The people group lists vary in number between 12,000 and 16,000 (mostly depending on how they handle the castes of India). Trying to engage with this many groups is difficult. Which one will you choose to commit 2 to 20 years to?

Here is a very simple strategy:

1) First, decide which Affinity Block you want to focus on. Joshua Project suggests 17. Figuring this out could be as simple as asking yourself what kind of cross-cultural food God has wired you to eat. Or some other equally simple indicator.

2) Decide which Cluster within that Affinity Block you are going to focus on. In all, Joshua Project lists 253 – but within Affinity Blocks, the choices are usually reduced to 10 to 20. Ask yourself – what language are you willing to commit to learning?

3) Research the cluster enough to begin understanding the places where large numbers of your chosen language are located. There may be some close by, or large diaspora groups; or, God may be calling you to their homeland. At the same time, begin researching which organizations are committed to reaching the Cluster. It is at this point that people like myself can become useful: we can make connections for you. If you want, email me.

4) Once you’re located in a place using a language–don’t just focus on that one people group exclusively. Aim for a strategy that reaches everyone within the place. This will cover all the “smaller, minor peoples” as well as the big language you are focused on (in most places, a big language can serve as a trade language, too).