Mission Disruption, 2: random thoughts and four failure conditions

There has been some significant conversation regarding yesterday’s topic, and Eddie Arthur posted Corkscrews and Pomegranates, which highlighted some of the challenges agencies face in the UK (the original Bread and Pomegranates post was in NZ).

In summary:
Christina suggests new agencies with new forms are needed.
Eddie isn’t sanguine that, in the UK at any rate, new forms will be helpful.
(there are too many agencies as it is.)
Instead, he suggests existing agencies need to adapt, and
that “we” (UK) needs to recapture a vision for mission being a function of the church rather than the agency.

Like Eddie, I don’t have any solutions. But as a start, I have a handful of thoughts I’ll just lob out there:

  1. The really bad possibility is that the disruption is severe enough to impede agency functioning but not severe enough to force change or death. If agencies can “muddle through” during this time, very little might be achieved. I see this also in persecution issues: martyrdom can (or not) bring a spurt of growth, but a little regulation, harassment, imprisonment, etc. will nearly always degrade the growth of the church.
  2. It may be that some structures need to die. This may especially be true in the UK. If there are too many companies in the market, some won’t survive. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. A lot of great agencies have gone away over the course of history, but mission continues on.
  3. While I, generally, agree with Eddie that mission sending should be first and foremost the church’s responsibility, I have come to think there is a danger in this: that we think of church an agency as two separate things. Here we fall into the “church is” challenge. The church is the community of believers; any expression of believers gathered is therefore the church. I grant that’s a radical thought, but I think it’s Biblical. If so, the workplace can be just as much church as the Sunday morning service, and therefore the agency is just as much church as the Sunday morning service. If so, then mission is still a function of the church. I have no real problem with this. But if you take it to this extreme, you still have a number of questions to re-think through: one “arm” of the church is dependent on another, and individual congregations do tend to “outsource” their mission efforts to these apostolic teams.
  4. I really like this David Smith quote that Eddie mentions. I think the quote, capturing the difference between missionmissions, and the modern missionary movement illustrates something we absolutely must keep in mind.

Having tossed the thoughts out, let me go back and restate the original problem.

Here is what is being disrupted, in my mind: a set of circumstances and growing cultural attitudes (slightly different in different countries) is preventing the ability of the current crop of mission structure expressions to (a) carry out the mission and/or (b) sustain themselves to carry out the mission over time.

That “and/or” leads us to four possible situations:

  • If some set of situations keep mission structures from “a one-way movement from Christendom to the unevangelized world” (Smith), we have failed.
  • If some set of situations keep mission structures from enduring, we have failed.
  • If some set of situations or methodologies enable a mission structure to endure at the price of a one-way movement from Christendom to the unevangelized world–we have failed.
  • If some set of situations or methodologies enable us to move from Christendom to the unevangelized world at the price of being able to sustain ourselves–we are closer to success, but have still failed (largely failing future generations).

Sidebar: As a subject for a future post, it’s interesting to me that not all missionary institutions are being “critically” disrupted (that is, finding it difficult to get the money or manpower to continue to exist). For example, my organization (Beyond, previously Mission to Unreached Peoples) is, insofar as I can see, doing just fine with regard both to the one-way movement and the ability to sustain itself. Another example might be the funding challenges that the IMB faced: but it seems organizationally to be addressing it.

For me, I think it’s instructive to survey or inventory the broad number of expressions of Christian mission institutions throughout the centuries, and see which expressions might be more or less effective in the current climate. (Almost immediately to my brain, I recall monasteries, enterprises, lone pioneers, missionary bases/compounds, etc.; also, centralized vs decentralized vs individual) That’s how my brain works. There may be other questions that need to be answered, however, and I would welcome your voices in the conversation – either on Twitter (maybe with the hashtag #MDisrupt?), in the comments, on your own blog post, or elsewhere.

Disrupting Mission Agencies

On Sunday, Steve Schirmer pointed out a new blog post, “Mission is ripe for disruption.”

In the post, the author says:

Most NZ mission agencies were established to support a particular model of mission that began early last century… some of the ways that agencies are structured and the systems and processes involved haven’t changed for a long time. The result of this is that it is difficult for them to move with the speed and flexibility that the current pace of change requires.

After reading the article, I told Steve I wished she had gone into more detail about what kinds of changes might be made. What might a “disrupted” agency be like?

What is disruption like, to begin with?

I find the definition of disruption interesting, as a start: a “disturbance or problems that interrupt an event, activity or process.”

By this definition, we cannot “disrupt ourselves” (without stirring up problems)–the problems we face are the disruption.

Here’s a case example:

and here’s another:

In the Twitter conversation that ensued between Steve Schirmer, Eddie Arthur, Christina and some others, the disruption facing agencies in some countries (not necessarily in others) are primarily financial ones.

The response to disruption can either be to fight it, to ignore it and maintain the status quo, or to innovatively change in response to it. Nearly every writer on the subject of disruption and innovation will articulate that “ignoring disruption” by burying one’s head in the sand is largely to see one’s own demise.

Some people try to fight disruption by re-innovating around their core business. Bookstores have been doing this:

Fighting to maintain an old business model that has been disrupted is a serious challenge. The other response is to change the business model: to maintain the purpose but accomplish it in a different way. This is dangerous too.

What sorts of models might be used in response to this disruption is a conversation that has been happening for some time. Many people have been discussing it. One of the things I might do, with the help of others, is to compile some kind of index of articles written on the subject. Some sort of “classification” of new mission models – or some kind of collection of case studies or ideas – might be helpful.

This is particularly true because there are (at least) two big challenges with addressing the subject.

One: missions in some countries do not face this problem, and missions in other countries do. What works in one place may not work in another, but we are tempted to build “globally perfect solutions”–“everyone should do it this way.” (A fork of this challenge: some multinational agencies face challenges where a model that works in one place does not work in another, and vice-versa).

Two: we have to be careful to keep the whole subject in view when considering how to navigate from one financial model to another. Donors are more than ATM machines. They provide more than just cash. If we transition to a non-donor model, we have to be careful not to lose the non-cash benefits.

To continue this conversation, if you write a blog post, you might mention it in the comments below, or join in on Twitter. I suppose we need a hashtag.

Strong vs. Weak Friendships

A common trope on social media is the refrain: “followers are not friends” or “Facebook friends won’t come to the hospital for you.”

That’s true, but it misses a point worth understanding. The distinction between “strong” and “weak” connections – between “dear friends” and “distant acquaintances” – is important. We need both types of relationships.

“Strong friends” or “close friends” are the “David and Jonathan” types. They are the ones who come when you’ve had a car wreck and are in the hospital. They bring meals for the family, pick up chores, and so on. Because of the time commitment and the required geographic proximity, you usually only have a handful. The typical person probably has less than two dozen “close friends” (and those “strong relationships” usually include family).

The caveat with a “strong friend” is that they usually know mostly the same people you do, face mostly the same situations, and likely have the same assumptions and the same knowledge set. Each person has unique differences, but close friends have more similarities than not. One of the reasons you are close friends is that you do things together, giving you plenty of time to bond, to appreciate both the differences and the sameness. People can “read” each other because they have a common viewpoint.

“Weak friendships” or “distant colleagues” or “respected associates” are people you don’t know very well–people who are in a different enough situation to see things very differently from you, to know different people, to have different knowledge sets. You appreciate them for these differences, as well as for connections they can make–connections you can’t get from your close friends. When one of your friends “has a problem” and “you know a guy”–that is a weak connection. If it were a strong connection, likely your friend would know the guy already.

Unforeseen job opportunities often come from weak connections, not strong ones. Unknown cures for ailments often common from weak connections. The list goes on.

What social media has done is make it possible to have daily updates on what our strong friends are doing–but also, made it easier to make new weak connections and to get updates and responses from those weak connections. Before, only people who traveled a lot, who were with big companies, who were in certain circles, who frequented large conferences, who wrote a lot of correspondence–only those kinds of people could have large “weak connection” circles. Now we all can.

The important thing is to value both kinds of friendships for their strengths, to understand their weaknesses, and to intentionally set out to cultivate both. No, weak friends probably won’t show up at the hospital. But if you’re looking for a particular rare kind of treatment, a weak connection may be far better than your deeply compassionate dear friendship.


Building disciple-making capacity in local churches

There are generally two kinds of people in church services:
* people who are new (typically “seeker” oriented)
* people who have been there longer (hopefully, but not necessarily, spiritually mature).

If you aim a church service toward the spiritually mature, then you risk alienating the seekers.
If you aim a church service toward the seekers, then you risk losing the spiritually mature.
Both must be enabled.

One broad method to do this is to aim the Sunday service at the seekers and use a different form of meeting (typically small groups) to address the needs of those who have attended longer and/or are more spiritually mature. Unfortunately we can end up with two different dichotomies:

  • new visitors at Sunday morning, long-term attendees in small groups
  • spiritually immature in Sunday morning, spiritually-mature leading small groups to which less-mature are invited

You can see the difference? One is based on chronology/age, and the other is based on spiritual development. Without an intentional process for helping the less-mature to mature, a church can very easily slip into the former category. The intentional process is a disciple-making “loop.”

Here’s one quickly-written example of how an intentional loop might work:

  • The Sunday Morning Service is used to introduce a topic, a story, which is then to be discussed in the discipleship groups. In this sense the pastor focuses less on resolving the story or drawing the essential three things to do, and instead suggests three questions to discuss in the groups.
  • Seekers/new believers are invited into “Level 0” groups. These are discipleship groups (I emphasize DBS) especially for people who are new. Level 0 groups discuss the Sunday Morning Story, Questions, draw out applications, etc, and generally model discipleship life for Seekers.
  • Some portion of these seekers will grow as disciples, and in their growth will eventually think about starting a study group as well, particularly when going through stories that emphasize helping other new people. At that point, it is the responsibility of the Level 0 host to help those people into a level 1 coaching group (which perhaps the host leads, or someone else). In other words, one of the outcomes of a Level 0 group is a seeker who wants to form a group and help others.
  • The level 1 group is specifically to help someone who has never formed a group, to form a group. It’s about the mechanics. It’s a short-term group. At the “end” of the group, someone should decide to form a group or go back to a level 0. Either is okay. People may flirt with the idea of forming a group for a bit, going in and out of level 0s, until they decide to take the plunge. People who are just starting level 0 groups thus become new hosts for an increasing number of Seekers at the sunday morning service. Eventually they, too, become level 1 leaders.
  • As the church becomes more and more oriented toward seekers, eventually someone will want to form a group of lost people – that is, something more evangelistic. Maybe there will be lost people who come to the church, or maybe intersected outside. This is a level 2. A longer-term discipleship coach in the church would need to be present to “prime this pump.” But eventually there would be a pool of level 2s – people who have formed groups of lost people – who would be able to coach level 1s to do this, just as there were a pool of level 1s that could coach level 0s.

This whole process becomes a leadership factory. As people rise up who are able to facilitate groups and the disciple-making process, the same process can be used in specialized segments of the church (youth, seniors, etc).

The whole process can likewise “tilt” the church so that seekers might show up both at the Sunday morning service and in discipleship groups. You may reach a point where there are more people in discipleship groups than attend the Sunday morning service (and you’ll have to decide if you’re okay with that).

The beauty of this process is that it constantly is migrating people through choice points to wider engagement, and models at each stage how this wider engagement is possible given everyone’s personal, family, work, social time constraints. It shows and then offers the opportunity to do the same thing, with coaching.

Christian Spycraft?

Wednesday, an op-ed appeared on CNN entitled, “Three arguments against covert Christian ‘spycraft.’” The piece articulates a perceived problem:

In order to get inside these “closed” countries, some missionaries pose as aid workers, teachers and business owners. Under the guise of work they think a hostile government or population will find valuable, they sneak in, concealing their true aim: to convert as many as possible to their religion.

It argues this approach is (1) fundamentally dishonest, (2) undermines the cause of religious freedom, and (3) puts a target on the backs of local Christians.

It suggests the solution is to “be honest” about one’s intentions:

Here is my challenge to those who want to bring their faith into the hard places: Stand in the open, in the light of day. If you want to convert others, open churches or engage in religious debate, be honest about that.

If honesty comes with higher risk, own it. And if you dare to say you are a businessperson, a teacher or an aid worker dealing with people at the height of human suffering, then by God, be great at it. Drop the shell game.

Show the world there is something worth living — and dying — for.

I agree with “not posing” as something we are not. When he says, “if you dare to say you are _x_, be great at it,” I wholeheartedly say, “Amen!”

On the other hand, I firmly disagree one should (must) always state up front one’s intentions about bringing faith into hard places. We are told to be “wise as serpents but innocent as doves.” I don’t think laying one’s cards on the table at the customs counter is very wise.

I am firmly against the idea of fake businesses, fake aid, fake education, and demanding conversion to receive blessing. But at the same time it seems to me one can enter on an honest platform of being a blessing, with the less trumpeted intention of being a further blessing (the Gospel) where possible.

Sometimes these arguments as cast as either/or situations, when they are more nuanced than that.

Cultural Christianity

At a recent workgroup meeting, the phrase “cultural Christianity” and “cultural Christians” was used frequently, in a negative sense. This is not the first time I’ve heard the phrase used, and nearly always to mean “people who aren’t acting like Christians” or “people who aren’t real Christians” or some other connotation.

While I don’t necessarily disagree with this meaning or its application, my thinker hat kicked in and I began asking myself – “is ‘cultural Christianity’ a bad thing? Why?”

“Cultural Christian” is a “shorthand” way of referring to something that we intuitively know. There have been some statistical definitions promoted before which get to the same concept (see “data on nominal Christians“). These measures of the unaffiliated and disaffiliated correlate to but do not directly measure the idea of cultural Christianity. The “cultural Christian” encompasses both the idea of the nominal or unaffiliated believer as well as the inactive believer who is a member of a church (“pew-warmers”). Barna has attempted to measure some of this idea.

Measuring Cultural Christianity doesn’t get to the question of whether it’s a bad thing, and why.

If “cultural Christian” means someone who claims to be a Christian but does not actively live out their faith, then it’s obviously a bad thing.

If “cultural Christian” means someone who professes to be a Christian, does “the basics,” but is not missional (evangelizing, disciple-making, church planting, etc), then it might be a bad thing.

Is non-missional Christianity ever acceptable? This may seem like a strange question for a person like me who is focused on missions, but it’s important to bear in mind. Because the answer is yes.

When is non-missional Christianity acceptable?

  1. Christianity (=follower of Christ, member of the Kingdom, etc) will endure past the end of the earth. When we are in the new Kingdom, there will be no need for missional outreach (maybe).
  2. Is it possible to have the Kingdom “now” in a place? To have a particular place/population be 100% Christian? If so, in such a place, there is no need for a local missional outreach. This may not in fact be the situation anywhere, but it is theoretically possible, and the endgame of all mission efforts. (Depending on how you feel about the Roman Catholic tradition, Vatican City would be the one place on Earth you could count as 100% Christian).
  3. Is it possible to have the Kingdom “largely now” in a place? To have a particular place “so Christian” as to not need a missional outreach from everyone? A place that is over 80% or 90% Christian would likely qualify, and there are many of those (although some would make the argument that in such places, a high percentage of the Christians are ‘cultural Christians’ and thus in need of missional outreach).

The point I’m making is this: it’s possible (but uncommon) for Christ-following to steep a culture in a particular place and a particular people such that “cultural Christianity” simply means “a Christian living within this Christian culture, raising up our children to follow Christ, living in peace and tranquility.”

In this place the Kingdom is now to the extent that it can be without the physical manifest presence of the King.

(Of course, while I’m speaking of cultural Christianity in a particular place, obviously one of the elements of Christianity is the need for missionary outreach to Samaria and the Uttermost even if Judea is reached.)

We may say this is rare on Earth, and it’s true, it is. Part of the job of mission is to make it less rare, knowing that the ultimate fulfillment won’t come until the end of the book.

Indeed, the problem with “Cultural Christians” depends on the definition, and if we use the non-missional definition, the problem is largely that they are trying to be cultural Christians too soon.


Are the swelling ranks of short-termers actually a bad thing?

Many people are bemoaning the lack of long-term commitment on the part of Millennials. They look at the astronomical rise in the number of short-termers vs long-termers. I’ve done this myself, in the past. But now I’m rethinking it.

Let’s look at the actual numbers. I graphed the number of foreign workers per million affiliated church members (both global figures) from the 2016 Status of Global Christianity, and this is the result:

Foreign Workers per Million Believers

In other words, yes, there’s a bit of a dip between 2000 and 2015, but it’s in the same order of magnitude. The actual number of long-term workers has gone up over time, but it’s still pretty much in line with the total number of affiliated Christians.

Go back and look at the old Mission Handbooks (published both by MARC and EMIS) and you’ll see that the absolute number of long-term missionaries from the USA hasn’t changed much over the years. And look at the recent book, “The Korean Missionary Movement,” and you’ll see the number of workers sent out by Korea has been oscillating back and forth around the 19,000 mark for several years, having risen from 10,422 in 2002.

[Update: In 2008, my colleague Michael Jaffarian published The statistical state of the North American Protestant Missions Movement, in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research based on the data from the Mission HandbookSee this PDF for the full article, starting at page 35. It shows clearly the number of long-term workers has remained largely the same–between 30,000 and 40,000–since 1972, despite the meteoric rise of short-termers. Michael is presently involved in the research-and-publication of the next edition of the Mission Handbook.]

So, maybe the challenge isn’t that we’re losing long-term workers in favor of short-term workers.

Maybe the challenge is that a lot more people are going short-term today than ever went long-term before.

Now, let’s ask ourselves: is this really a slacking off of long-term mission commitment – or simply an indicator of interest in missions that is now easier to satisfy in the short-term?

There’s a lot of stuff that’s easier than ever to do today. Taking pictures. Making videos. Becoming a Youtube sensation. Sharing your latest recipe. Learning advanced cooking skills. Watching Youtube DIY videos and learning how to overhaul your bathroom or kitchen or whatever. Opening a small store on eBay. Traveling abroad. Vacationing in some remote part of the globe. And so on.

A few years ago we bought an older home in Texas, that came with the blessing of a pool. It’s a blessing to my wife and kids, anyway. I’m not really much of a pool person. My kids love the pool during the summer, and they’re constantly begging me to get in the pool. They’re always thrilled and excited when dad finally wades in after several days of 100 degree temperatures of warmed the water to a point I can stand it. And they know I’m not going to be diving in the deep end immediately, especially if there’s the prospect that the water is actually colder than what they claim it is. I stick my toe in the shallow end, and tread in gently.

People who wouldn’t say “yes” to long-term – who wouldn’t cannonball into the deep end of the pool – are willing to stick their toe in the water in the shallow end. On reflection, I’m not sure that’s something we ought to be berating.

In reality, global trends and the global church have made it easier to “try out missions,” and perhaps we ought to be encouraging that, knowing that some percentage of those in the shallow end of the pool will eventually make their way toward deeper waters.

Less Sensitive Scales: The Countdown Clock

On the basis of yesterday’s post, I have created a new diagram: a Countdown Clock. The JPEG is here. Patrons will find the high res PDF version in the Patron Dropbox Folder.

Diagram - Countdown Clock

Less sensitive scales

I am occasionally very disappointed in reports.

When I was younger, we were so used to hearing “overblown reports” we had a phrase for it – “evangelistically speaking.” – from evangelists who inflated the numbers of respondents.

This still happens today. It happens among the unreached. I am aware of one case where a movement estimated at 500,000 was later assessed at less than 100,000.

Worse, there are arguments over reports. How big is the movement? Is it really that big? Is it 100,000 or 200,000? Is it 1 million or 3 million or 6 million?

When movements are very small relative to the population, it can be hard to find accurate data: “I don’t see all these reported churches.” Jealousies can figure in. We Christians are still broken people.

When numbers get argued with or refuted, it is discouraging. Where did who go wrong? Was it wilful? Was it accidental? Was it just too much excitement, too much “rounding up,” too much chasing after dollars?

There are many different possibilities, and I’m not going to belabor specific case examples. Instead, let me argue that we’re so eager for progress in the Great Commission, it’s almost inevitable we latch on too excitedly to numbers with little meaning in the wider context.

Imagine a church of 10 reports that after a year it is 20. This represents 100% growth – a doubling! Celebrate! The end is in sight!

But if the wider population context is a city of 100,000, then while we celebrate 10 more souls in the Kingdom, it’s really pretty meaningless in terms of the whole.

Imagine a movement in the midst of 10 million people reported to be 300,000. (This is a completely hypothetical example–don’t go looking for a movement that matches.) A later assessment says, “No, it’s really 100,000.”

Is it a big deal? On the one hand, yes: a difference of 2/3rds indicates some systemic reporting or assessment issues (or maybe other issues) need to be addressed.

But in the context of the wider population, 300,000 per 10,000,000 is 30 per 1,000 and 100,000 per 10 million is 10 per 1,000. The order of magnitude – the number of digits involved – has not changed. The difference in percentage is the difference between 3% and 1%, which is enough to tip some of the “reached” scales, but hardly enough to make a difference in the situation of Christianity in the population (it’s still 99% or 97% non-Christian).

When we get overly excited about changes at this level, it seems to me we’re not focused enough on the big picture – the “all” that have yet to be reached.

In order to avoid that, I think we need less sensitive scales.Rather than tracking the number of believers (which is always difficult anyway), I suggest we ought to consider a more stable, less changing scale–one where “when a difference is made” it is really a significant difference.

Rather than tracking the number of believers (which is always difficult anyway), I suggest we ought to consider a more stable, less changing scale–one where “when a difference is made” it is a different that is significant to the non-believers.a significant difference.

The Joshua Project 5-stage scale is one example of a “less sensitive scale.” The one I’m toying with right now is population per church, rounded to the nearest order of magnitude: 1 million per, 100,000 per, 10,000 per, 1,000 per, 100 per. (This is the inverse of churches per million).

Why use this? Wouldn’t churches per million or % Christian be easier?

Yes, perhaps: but it struck me today that measuring population per church keeps our focus on the right thing – the remaining task – and the number of digits within the figure can serve as a sort of “countdown” clock.

100,000,000 per church = 9
10,000,000 per church = 8
1,000,000 per church = 7
100,000 per church = 6
10,000 per church = 5
1,000 per church = 4
100 per church = 3
10 per church = 2


Computing the precise number of churches within a given population can be difficult, but the beauty of this system is the count doesn’t have to be precise. In a population of 100 million, 10 churches would get you to level 8; 100 churches would get you to level 7; 1,000 churches would get you to level 6; 10,000 churches would get you to level 5; 100,000 churches would get you to level 4. It would be fairly easy to know which of those “finish lines” you are across without knowing the specific number of churches. One could ask the simple question: “in this movement, are we talking about tens, hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of churches”? Very few movements have thousands of churches!

Finally, the questions:

  • “what will it take” to get from 100 churches to 200 churches
  • “what will it take” to get from 100 churches to 1,000 churches

are very different.

Thresholds of reachedness: measuring them, and our speed in reaching them

The classic definition of “unreached” – “a people group lacking a church able to evangelize the group to its borders without cross cultural assistance” – lacked any way of measuring when the defined goal was reached. Depending on which missiologist you talk to, this is either a feature or a bug.

Various groups, including the Joshua Project, measure “reachedness” in terms of 5% Christian and/or 2% evangelical. (JP uses “or”; the IMB uses “and”; and this minor difference alone can create vastly different lists for reasons I leave to the reader to consider as a thought exercise.) The World Christian Database uses Worlds A, B and C: World A, less than 50% evangelized; World B, over 50% evangelized but less than 60% Christian; World C, over 60% Christian. The latter brings interesting nuance because it mixes the concepts of evangelization and conversion, bringing out the empty space in between; but some have faulted it because it counts all Christians as Christian.


To me, there is no “hard and fast” line at which a people group is either “reached” or “evangelized” (depending on which definition you wish to use); I am also of the theological persuasion that there is no hard and fast line of conversion – many people have trusted Christ long before they ever “prayed a prayer” or were baptized. There is a mystery to it, a personal nature to it, and thus a continuum. In fact, I might trust Christ with my soul far more after walking with him a few years than I did at the point of conversion or baptism; in my opinion we make a lot of conversion and not enough of transformation and discipleship, but that’s a topic for another day.

Of course, what we really want to do is measure the remaining task: at best, to figure out where we need to send resources; at worse, to figure out if we’re done and we can go play. In both cases, we essentially want to know if, for any given place, the task is done.

In an earlier post I suggested measuring places according to a simple scale. To determine whether a group is reached, I’m thinking about a similar approach using density of churches and current growth rates. The question of “is this place reached” breaks down into three components: (1) is there a church that can do the task, (2) is the church “doing the task” (and the best correlation, at the moment, seems to be whether the church is growing), and (3) is the task done, measured by whether the church is of a sufficient size.

It seems to me there are three thresholds to be considered:

  • Is there at least one Christian (or, alternatively, one church) per million? If not, the group has not crossed an engagement threshold. It needs missionary outreach: workers need to be sent from somewhere else. Who is best in position to send workers?
  • Is there at least one believer (whether local or cross-cultural) per 100,000? If so, the group is crossing another threshold – from foreign mission to home mission. My own research suggests a team can reach 100,000 people by catalyzing local workers. Home workers should be raised up using a multiplying strategy. Local workers should be moving into the lead, if not already there.
  • Is there at least one local believer/church per 10,000? We are clearly into the local church/five-fold-ministry threshold now. Any cross-cultural workers should be operating “deeply in the background,” providing  any necessary encouragement, connections, resources, etc. Local leadership should be firmly in the lead.
  • Is there at least one local believer/church per 1,000? Grassroots ministry should be in the lead. We are past the saturation threshold. The church should be sending workers to other places.

Each of these thresholds represent strategic milestones, and reaching each requires a different strategy and a strategic shift. They could be further linked to the local church growth rate to figure out whether a group is “reached”–in the sense of reaching the next milestone. The church growth rate shows whether the church is accelerating toward the next threshold (like a runner in a baton race) or falling behind. If you have two church sizes and a time span, you can calculate the specific AGR and compare it to the general population. If not, you can get an informed estimate and use a scale:

-3 Massive, exponential, multiplying decline: ex. Iraq
-2 Declining, faster than any population decline: ex. Central Asia, Germany
-1 Declining, but slower than any population decline: ex. Egypt
0 Stagnant, little or no growth or decline, probably in context of population stagnation
+1 Growing, but not as fast as the population: Russia
+2 Growing, faster than the population: India
+3 Rapid multiplication/growth: China

The benefit of such a system: it doesn’t just tell you the location of a country on the continuum, it also tells you the direction it’s headed. If your headed to your house, and your house is north of you, you need to know both where you are on the map–and which direction you’re going. I’m in the process of putting this scale on the District Survey, starting with countries and then moving to provinces. Once I get the newest version of the mapping software (my current version of AtlasGIS is crashing under Windows 10), I’ll map it as well. In the meantime, Patrons can watch the Patron Dropbox Folder; I’ll add some more spreadsheet PDFs soon there. (You can become a Patron and get access to the Vault here.)

In the meantime, you can do this kind of research yourself, using whatever list you favor. Just build these columns: country name, population size, population growth rate, size of the church, ratio of church to population, and church growth rate. Country names, population sizes and growth can be gotten from the UN population data set. Church sizes nationally can be gotten from Joshua Project. Church sizes, and more importantly, growth rate can be gotten from Operation World.

What would you do differently? Any bugs you see in this? Post your comments!