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Charts Seen, 5

1. “Violence against women: an infographic.” Visual.ly.

2. “How U.S.-style megachurches are taking over the world, in 5 maps and charts.” Washington Post.

3. “Where in the world is the worst place to be a Christian?” UK Guardian.

4. “The least of these.” Missiographic Infographic.

5. “Offline population has declined substantially since 2000.” Pew Research. From 48% of US adults in 2000 to 16% today.

6. “News magazines Fact Sheet.” Journalism.org. Charts the decimation of some newspapers and magazines (single copy sales). Economist, Time and Newsweek most devastated. But many growing.

7. “Decline of marriage over generations.” Divorce is declining. But so is marriage. What’s growing: never married.

8. “Understanding China’s stock market in 8 charts.” WSJ.

9. “World economies, charted.” Howmuch.net.

10. “World’s biggest data breaches.” Information Is Beautiful.

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Closure Conundrums

I’ve been thinking about writing a book on the idea of closure. I’m outlining several of the ideas involved, and many of my recent posts have been exploring some of these ideas. Part of the reason I’m doing this: I hear a lot of different (and patently wrong) ideas about closure. Some of these are set up as “straw men” – people argue against closure by arguing against them. Others argue for them. So, I’m trying to discuss these and the broader idea of closure itself. Yes, it’s opening a can of worms, but if an idea is good, it can withstand scrutiny.

Here are some of the ‘closure conundrums’ I’ve encountered:

1. If closure is defined as the world being 100% Christian, it’s impossible, since some will choose not to follow Christ.

2. If closure is defined as the world being 100% evangelized at one point in time, it’s impossible, since: babies!

3. “Ethnos” in Matthew 28:19 shouldn’t be interpreted as “tribes” but rather “all the rest of the world” – sort of like saying “Gentiles.” (Mark 16:19, for example, says “go into all the world [kosmos], preach to every creature [ktisis]”)

4. “Make disciples of all nations” doesn’t mean to evangelize/disciple everyone in the group, but rather get some from each, so that all are “represented” before the throne.

5. “Make disciples of all nations” doesn’t mean get some from each, but to make sure everyone has an opportunity (yes, the inverse of #4).

6. Matthew 24:14 interpreted to mean that once we have “finished the task” (however you define it) the clouds will open, the trumpet will sound, and Jesus will appear. But rapid evangelism to achieve this goal leads to shallow, unsustainable churches and believers.

7. Trying to finish the Great Commission impossibly fast leads to failure and abandonment of the project altogether.

8. Matthew 24:14 wasn’t about the Great Commission but about the fall of the Temple; it’s already been fulfilled.

9. We don’t have to worry about completing the Great Commission, because it’ll be “finished” during the Tribulation (see 100,000 evangelists and flying angels).

10. By prioritizing unreached peoples to reach “closure” we miss existing fields that are “white unto harvest” now.

Added: 11. ‘Closure’ as an invention of “western, corporate-minded Christians” who want to see problems solved, and is thus devoid of the Spirit of God.

Added: 12. The Great Commission was already completed (–parts of the world have become unevangelized and re-evangelized and unevangelized since).

Have you heard other conundrums? What should be added to this list?

Closure is not a Biblical term

Yes, it’s shocking: nowhere in the Bible will you find the term “closure.”

Nor will you find the phrase “finish the Great Commission.” Nor will you find the number “2%.”

You will not find “unreached” or “unevangelized” or “unengaged.”

Moreover, you will not find “missionary” or “contextualization” or “chronological Bible storying” or “orality” or “Bible smuggling” or “creative access” or gasp “tentmaking.”

I’m being completely honest. Something I think is incredibly important – something I advocate for, something I passionately beg the church for – is not exactly in Scripture.

These are technical terms that missionaries have created, defined, written up, passionately commended, argued from bits of Scripture, debated, called each other names over.

“Charity” you will find. “Gentiles” you will find. Even “ethne” you will find. But not closure. Not finish the task. Not reach the unreached. Not 10/40 Window.

So why hold to them?

I do, partly because once upon a time I was given a vision of the unreached, one that marked my life, one that I do not fully understand but cannot argue with.

And, more to the Biblical point, because I believe that in Matthew 28 (and other places) Jesus gave us a task, and having given it to us, he expects that we should finish it. I tell my children to clean the kitchen, and I expect them to do the job. If I, as the head of house, expect this of my children, should I not expect the same of the one who is head of me?

Now, my idea of “finishing the task” is perhaps different from others. That’s okay. I’ll argue for mine, but with genteel charity and kindness (I hope). In my idea, I think “unreached” is important (and unevangelized, and unengaged) because of two logical things: first, that there are people who have not yet heard the Gospel (thus my task is not finished); second, because of the Paul’s strategy of not preaching the Gospel where it is known.

And I think the other terms are important as tools, tactics and measuring rods.

So when someone argues with you–or me–that closure is not Biblical, don’t argue. Agree. It’s not. It’s just a useful tool for defining part of the space, task, responsibility that Christ has called the church to, and the gap in the wall toward which I (and others like me) go. You may have another gap to fill, and that’s good. The Body needs all parts.

Story Sets, 2

1. Storyrunners, which offers “Schools of Storying.”

2. Mark Snowden’s resources, particularly geared toward Storying in Western (esp. North American) contexts.

3. A Creation to Christ storyset on a bookmark:

Creation to Christ

Creation to Christ

Some additional orality resources seen

Quotes, 4

1. “No one is so good that they don’t need the grace of the gospel, nor so bad that they can’t receive the grace of the gospel.” ~Tim Keller, Galatians for You, p. 28.

2. “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Design is knowing which ones to keep.” ~Scott Adams, The Dilbert Principle.

3. “It’s easy to give up hope on the most difficult places, but this is where God calls us to go—to share hope w/the hopeless.” ~@richstearns

4. “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a retirement center for the perfect.” ~@scotmcknight

5. “If you believe in a god who can never change you, only affirm you, that’s not a God, that’s a mirror.” @John_Starke.

6. “We’ll know we’re growing when we let God replace who we thought we’d be with who He thought we’d be.” ~Bob Goff

7. “You’re a soul made by God, for God, and to need God, which means you were not made to be self-sufficient.” ~Dallas Willard

8. “We all want to be servants until someone treats us like one.” ~Buck Parsons

9. “Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.” Guy Kawasaki.

10. “Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose”? Is it from C. S. Lewis? Yes, but in reality, he was quoting Augustine, and disagreeing with him. See it in context.

What is the best length for a post?

I’ve wondered about the answer to this question myself.

I’ve read plenty of studies that purport to tell what the best length of a blog post is:
Here’s Buffer’s infographic and analysis.
Here’s The Write Practice on different types of blog lengths for different purposes.
Here’s Quicksprout’s data-driven answer for blogs.

I think the answer is different for different people. For me, I discovered it depended entirely on how soon my audience was reading the post.

If I’m writing for someone to read today, and I want them to come back to read tomorrow’s post – that is, if I’m building an audience of repeat readers (who I can sell advertising to? products to? etc), then shorter seems to be better.

I tried to keep my “inspiration” posts shorter, for that reason.

Then I realized most of my posts aren’t written for people reading today.

More people come to a blog post after I’ve published it – months or years later – than came on the day it was written.

And the people who came to the post were searching for an answer to a question or insight into a topic, and thus had a longer attention span and craved more detail. Because that’s who I’m writing for, I try to provide it.

That also made me more willing to go back and add additional details later, or correct or refine a post after I’ve written it. And it’s also why I don’t write much about topics that have a limited lifespan (for that, I use social media).

It led me to start using non-public blog pages to organize ideas around a topic, and then start turning those ideas into blog posts (like writing specific bits of an outline). I tackle different elements of the outline at different times, not exactly in order–but eventually I’ll make the topical page public as well.

Since I began tilting in this direction, I’ve been seeing a consistent increase in the number of page-views, too: my visitor count and page views have doubled. So, that’s a certain measure that I’m successfully serving people’s information needs.

Futures Perceived, 4

1. Self-driving cars:

2. World’s first malaria vaccine approved. Al Jazeera.

3. Science Mag: special issue all about Artificial Intelligence.

4. How digital books are transforming the school library. Atlantic Monthly.

5. “Only a few multinationals have succeeded in crafting products in emerging markets and selling them worldwide.” HBR.

6. The Exoskeletons are coming. MIT Technology Review.

7. Dubai is using Palm Trees (Smart Palms) to charge your phone. Wired.

8. Asteroid mining firm Planetary Resources launches its first exploratory probe. Mining asteroids could completely change the economy of Earth, and I’ve long thought this is an area Christians should be active in.

9. A link between climate change and ISIS isn’t entirely crazy. Atlantic. ISIS = Water War (sort of).

10. The Genesis Engine: we now have the power to quickly and easily alter DNA. Wired. “It could eliminate disease. It could solve world hunger. It could provide unlimited clean energy. It could really get out of hand.”

Dunbar’s Number and networks, movements, mobilization

In the early 2000s, a “meme” about Dunbar’s Number was all the rage, helped along by Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point.” The science of it is as complex as the whole “10,000 hours to becoming an expert” thing is. But it’s been helpful to me, particularly when thinking about limitations of time on what I can do.

Short Story: Dunbar was an anthropologist at the University College of London who, based in some part on evolution ideas, predicted that 147.8 was the ‘mean group size’ for humans, which matched census data on villages and tribe sizes in many cultures. (from LifeWithAlacrity.com, see whole article here).

I know, you heard evolution, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, as my mother used to say.

Dunbar’s Number has been in a ton of books and also in a ton of studies. I’m not an evolutionist, but there’s been plenty of studies to show that the number is about the average. Bigger groups via technology don’t disprove the theory: they are audiences, not communities.

However, it takes a lot of time and work to get to a community of 150 – the research suggests half the time you spend with a group has to be spent in “social grooming” (which some theorize is, for us, social communication). Most groups are far smaller than that. That LifeWithAlacrity article above looks at Dunbar’s Number in relation to online multiplayer groups and sees the vast majority of groups have sizes around the 30s, 60s, 80s, 100s, and 130s.


Dunbar’s Function from LessWrong builds on LifeWithAlacrity, together they look like:

  • Group of 3 unstable, one person feeling left out; 4 develops into 2 pairs; 5 to 8, have a meeting where everyone can speak out and everyone feels empowered; 9 to 12 this begins to break down, not enough attention.
  • Past 12, you start specializing, having departments and direct reports, but not quite large enough to be efficient; past 25, large enough for efficiencies to kick in.
  • 30 to 50, typical size of cohesive hunter-gatherer band.
  • Peak of most sizes is about 60, not 150.
  • 150, size of a cultural lineage of related bands.
  • Past 150, groups start to split (Hutterite farming communities split here), or companies start to need middle management.

Shorter: Peak is about 7 for simple groups, and about 60 for complex groups, and every community fractures in some way by the time it approaches 150.

Technology does not change this. Partly, it’s an aspect of the capacity of your brain to remember/recognize people (which tech can help with). Partly, in my book, it’s just this: you only have so many hours in the day. You can’t spend them with everyone. The more hours you spend with one person, the less with another. So if you’ve a tribe of 150, and you spend an hour with each, that’s a month’s work.

So, how do we apply this to our own work? Everyone needs a group of people they’re working with (mostly). How many people you choose determines how you spend your time.

  • If you’re working on your own, you don’t need it. You can go fast. (But the African proverb suggests you might not get far).
  • If you’re working with a small team, probably should limit it to 5 to 9 people. So, who are your 5? Since you have at maximum 5 to 10 slots, pick wisely for wisdom, influence and ability to execute. Define your objective and then identify 5 people who can work closely together to achieve the objective. You can spend a ton of time with the 5, which will bring you very close.
  • If you’re working on a larger project, you’ll need between 10 and 80. Now, you need to pick for diversity of gifts, resources, etc., but you need to also think about your time commitments to each. They have to be able to work in small groups on their own. You’ll need some who can lead their own 5-10 groups, because you can’t spend 5-to-10 group time with all 80. And, if you pick all 80 to have that leadership ability, you’ve maximized your chances of getting a really large group together.
  • Past 80, you’re starting to be very organizational. Expect that you’ll definitely have to institute organizational thinking at that point. At the very least, you’re going to need name badges.

Bibliography (or, “read also”)

Life among the Unreached, 4

Q. What is the number of unreached people (population) and people groups in India?

Q. What is the population of unreached people and the number of people groups in India?

This is probably one of the most challenging (and even contentious) issues to answer from a missionary research standpoint. In fact, when I’m teaching Perspectives or talking with various people, I often point out that the various global lists (World Christian Database, JP, IMB, Wycliffe) are very similar, with just a few differences here and there–the massive exception is how they handle India’s peoples and castes.

Ethnologue lists 461 languages for India, of which 447 are living. Joshua Project lists 2,157 people groups, of which 1,948 are “unreached.” IMB lists 1,154 people groups. The World Christian Database lists 482 people groups.

The WCD uses a mostly linguistic viewpoint (e.g. Eastern Hindi, Bangri, Bagri, Central Bhil, Eastern Bhil, Northern Bhil, etc): their 482 peoples represent 465 languages, matching almost one-for-one with those listed in the Ethnologue (Bangri matches to code ‘bgc’, for example, but the three Bhil groups listed above all correspond to one language code ‘bhb’ in the Ethnologue).

Joshua Project relies on the OMID data set for India, and breaks the peoples down further into castes. The population of the groups they mark as unreached is 1.21 billion (out of 1.28 billion, or pretty much all of India).

The IMB takes a midpoint. Jim Haney, Director of Research for IMB, told me in an email:

A couple of years ago Luis Bush and I wrote an article about segmenting people groups in South Asia. We based that article on Matthew 28:19 and a biblical understanding of ethne as a descriptor of people groups in the New Testament. We agreed the primary paradigm for people groups in South Asia is to look at them through castes and communities. However, many Muslim people groups continue to be viewed best ethnolinguisticly. With that said, IMB depends on our observations of the way people actually gather when the gospel is communicated on the ground. In other words, segmentation cannot be pre-determined. First, the church planter shares the gospel. Then, we observe who will come to the church. When we find certain people do not come, we see that people as a candidate people group. This is very similar to the way SIL treats a new speech variety. At the point of discovery, it’s not clear if the speech variety is a language or dialect. In the same way, when we find a people group that faces a barrier to understanding or accepting the gospel, we’re likely to create a people group identity so the gospel can be communicated through a separate effort to that people group…

So the result is that the number of unreached people groups varies according to the methodology. But the result is pretty much the same: no matter which of the three primary people group ways of measuring, India is pretty heavily unevangelized.