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Map: Where the church is growing fastest


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Where the church is growing fastest 2010

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We don’t need a big global plan

Over the past 2,000 years, there have been more than 2,000 plans to evangelize the world.

None have succeeded. Many have had deadlines which they spectacularly failed to meet.

“We” (by which I mean mostly Westerners) love big global plans, and deadlines, and charts, and resources, and budgets, and things we control.

We don’t need them. Not really. Not for this.

Ants don’t need a master plan, yet they can grow to fill whole areas, and span large regions. We can do it too, with three simple rules:

(1) every ekklesia to engage all of the same-culture people in their geographic area (E-1, “nearby”) in such a way that all have the opportunity to hear/follow. This will undoubtedly require both planting new ekklesias and cooperating with existing ekklesias. This can be done without regard for however many other ekklesias or churches are in the area. At the E-1 level, we aim for maximum saturation even incurring significant duplication. Duplication can be a redundancy.

(2) every ekklesia maps, understands all of the segments (places and peoples) in their “next-nearby” (E-2, crossing geographic or perhaps cultural boundaries) and ensures at least one ekklesia of some form (church, house group, believer-owned-business, something) is planted within the community, such that #1 above can be achieved in that segment. (That is, an E-2 presence is established so that an E-1 presence can eventually be established as well.) Ants send out queens to start new colonies. Ekklesias should do the same. At this level, the “planting” church supports the “next-nearby” region, investing in it, but wants to let the local (E-1) presence take the prime role.

(3) every ekklesia to raise up and send bands-of-believers (“apostolic teams”, church planters, witnesses, proclaimers, disciple-makers) to the nearest “distant” place that lacks a Christian presence of any kind (E-3, “far”, crossing cultures), even if that place is across national or geographic borders (e.g. oceans). Two sub-rules here: (a) if for a given “distant” place there is a “next-nearby” ekklesia (E-2), then the ekklesia should strive to work with the next-nearby to reach the distant. (b) But if there is no next-nearby ekklesia willing to do that work, the place should not go untouched, even if an ekklesia must do the difficult work of sending distant.

(4) every ekklesia should develop behaviors of intentionality, rapid growth, and open cooperation with as many other ekklesias as possible. We don’t need to know everything before we grow, but we should always be learning and discovering who else the Spirit has drawn to the place we find ourselves in, and looking to charitably cooperate in the task of making disciples.

If these four actions were done on a yearly basis – e.g. the understandings of the segments were updated yearly, and new workers commenced, rather than once every 10 or 20 years – it wouldn’t take long to have presence in every place that Christians can access.

Yes, there are some places we can’t access. There are places within Afghanistan, North Korea, Yemen, Somalia, and even Pakistan and India and China that outsiders just can’t get to. That’s a reality we face.

The point of this pattern is to go everywhere we can, trusting that the nearer we get to a place we can’t get to, the more likely it is we’ll find someone who can get to the places we can’t.

I am deliberately counting both churches and agencies as ekklesias. There are more than enough churches to do this task if they actually did it. Agencies as a special form of ekklesia have arisen because churches are not rising to the challenge, and believers are passionate enough about the challenge that they will leave one form of structure for another if that’s what obedience to Christ requires.

These rules do not require a global plan, budget, or much in the way of a coordinating body! This plan could be (and probably, in some variant form, is) the basis for the IMB’s desire to have churches send limitless workers. All this plan requires is for any single individual ekklesia to have (1) a knowledge of its immediate surroundings, (2) a knowledge of it’s greater context (e.g. neighborhood vs total city), and (3) the desire to pick a near-distant place and send workers.

If we do want to coordinate, this is made possible through open-sourced crowd-shared maps and lists. The Internet is perfect for this. We do not need “one master list” to rule them all. We simply need search-and-discovery algorithms to uncover relational connections. The instant we require cooperation and coordination, we eliminate a lot of possibilities. Rather than requiring coordination, we should focus on offering cooperation.

That’s my “master plan.” It can be sustained over generations, with little or no major budgets, and can withstand persecution. The beauty is, budgets are small and localized: we spend billions (trillions?) on the Internet globally, but there is no single master budget or centrally planned body. That’s why the Internet works. It’s the way mission to the end of the task will work, too: if each of us takes responsibility for our part.

Life among the unreached, 8

Map: Provincial Population Densities


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Provincial Population Density 2010

The task requires discipleship, which requires time

There are several aspects to the task (“The Great Commission”) Jesus gave us.

Matthew 24:14 is often cited by those passionate about finishing the task – “This Gospel shall be preached in all the world, as a witness to all the nations.”

The term “preaching” when spoken in English contains more of the “proclamation” aspect (above) – and some of the “witness” aspect above – but it does little to communicate the “making disciples” aspect.

The Great Commission itself is given in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, and Acts 1. Each of these verses focuses on different aspects.

  • Matthew 28: Go, Make Disciples, Baptize, Teach-to-obey
  • Mark 16: Go, Preach, Baptize, (and some mss, the miracles portion)
  • Luke 24: Proclaim (passive, would-be-proclaimed), witness, (be-filled-with-power)
  • John 20: (be-sent), Receive (the Spirit), Forgive (or not)
  • Acts 1: Receive, Witness, Tell

We focus a lot on Receive-the-Spirit, Forgive-Others, Do-Miracles, Proclaim-with-Power, Baptize, and Teach. We seem to focus less on making disciples (although this is shifting, thankfully).

But we cannot forget that simply preaching the Gospel is not enough to call ourselves obedient to the Commission we have been given. What is said in one verse (Matt. 24:14) does not negate what is said in other verses. To call the task complete, we must offer the opportunity of community, of discipleship, of following Jesus together, to everyone.

This is not an easily measured or easily accomplished task, but it is the task we must be about.


Long Reads, 8

1. “How young is too young to talk to your kids about religion?” PBS. Makes for an interesting read, as it is written from the perspective of a non-religious parent talking to their children about spirituality and faith.

2. “Rise of the Latino Nones” in the USA.

More about agencies, churches, and when a church is a church

My recent post on whether ActBeyond should exist (in which I argued that it is essentially a body of believers) generated a couple of responses that highlight an interesting issue.

Both suggested that an agency isn’t a church because parachurch organizations (or parts of such organizations, like individual teams) don’t meet together, either for (a) fellowship (Acts 2) or (b) to influence their geographical surroundings.

So, if

  • an agency doesn’t get together with other agencies
  • or teams of an agency don’t get together with other teams
  • or agencies don’t get together with other churches
  • or people on a team of an agency don’t gather together

then it’s not a “church.”

My response: we ought not equate any specific human organization or its specific actions with the church (see “Church“).

Rather than think of the agency-as-church or the congregation-as-church or the small-group-as-church or whatever, we should consider the believers themselves as the ekklesia (the community of called out ones). When and where they gather, it is a localized expression of the ekklesia–an “instance” (an example or single occurrence), if you will–of the ekklesia.

Some of these “instances” or “examples” are recurring and formal (“weekly church service” or “monthly celebration” or “quarterly festival” or “triannual mission agency gathering” or “annual conference”). Others are recurring but less formal (“weekly small group gathering” or “accountability group”). Others are more one-time (“we got together for supper at Sally’s” or “we hung out for coffee at Starbucks”).

You might argue if a single instance lacks an “element” of church in its setting, it’s not “church.” But do we define “church” according to what we do, or according to who we are? Defining by what we do is a slippery slope. Many “churches” (e.g. weekly services) often lack one or more of these elements. I’ve been to vastly different kinds of worship services, some which have communion every Sunday and others which don’t, some which have offerings every Sunday and others don’t, some which sing and others don’t, and so on. Further, I am reminded that we are not saved by what we do! What we do follows from who we are, but does not define it.

So if any single instance of believers gathering can be a localized expression of church, then an “agency” is to these instances what a “congregation” is to similar instances – just a framework for people meeting each other and finding about times and places to gather. The organizational structure determines the people-boundary–who is “part” and who is “not”–mainly by who finds out about when/why/where we gather. The actual “ekklesia” – the community of believers associated with a specific structure – may be far larger than any single gathering time/place within the network. For example, the membership in Saddleback’s small groups is 120% the regular Sunday morning attendance–they have more people in small groups than on average come to Sunday morning services. (Consider: someone comes to a church on a regular basis, worships, goes to a small group, gives, but has not signed any sort of membership document–are they a member of the church? Maybe not for “voting” purposes, but I’ll bet anyone would think of them as “part.” So, what if they never come to Sunday morning service, yet regularly attend a Saturday night small group?)

So, if our agency team members gather only once every three years, and if any single team member rarely sees other Beyonders due to his location, is he part of a church? Well, maybe, because the “ekklesias” associated with, say, Beyond, can be larger than Beyond itself. Our team members are to be developing local teams. These are made up of the Beyonders and people who are not formally part of Beyond–local workers that we are helping (See “A team of 1“). In this sense, a Beyonder is part of Beyond, but also part of a local team, and both are ekklesia-instances. The Beyonder is thus part of a local Beyond-sparked ekklesia. This ekklesia may not be a “congregation” as we traditionally think of them, being more apostolically-oriented “church planting teams,” but they are ekklesias nevertheless.

Think about it: when a local apostolic team made up of nationals, Beyonders, maybe people from other agencies, gather together, talk about what’s going on, pray for each other, pray over each other, probably have a time of worship, usually have meals together, maybe even have Communion at the end of the meeting–how is this not “an ekklesia gathered”?

Of course, a structure (agency, church, small group, seminary, business, whatever) may have extra-Biblical goals for its membership. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. An agency may be focused on bringing the Gospel cross-culturally. A business may be focused on serving the surrounding community in some way. A church may be focused on discipling its members and reaching the surrounding same-culture community.

But I think when we consider the “church” (service) the “church” and the agency “not” the church, we define “church” as something other than what it actually is–the community of believers.


Large Populations, Many Movements

Click the image for the full-size version. I’m experimenting with the Global Ministry Mapping System I just received from GMI, attaching data from my District Survey. Here’s a first map. It’s pretty simple–just mapping populations by province, for 2010–but even simple maps can be profound. Leave aside for the moment the question of which provinces have existing Christian resources, and let’s just think for a moment about the size of the populations. In the map below, as indicated on the key, if the typical movement reaches 100,000 people, each green province (there are a half dozen) will require more than 500 movements. This is a massive challenge that we must face up to. Feel free to download and repost or reuse this map; Patrons will find high resolution copies in both JPG and PDF form in the Patron Dropbox Folder. (Not a Patron? Become one with a single gift of $100 for 2015.)


Many Movements Needed - By Province

Finishing the Task will not bring Jesus back

There is a fairly addictive idea, which we get from reading Matthew 24:14.

Matthew 24 is all the signs of the end. There’s a long litany that are called “birth pangs,” so many have concluded that (like birth pains), the more intense and the more frequent the signs, the closer we are to the end of days.

Verse 14 says, “And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.”

And from that we get the idea “finishing the task” of the Great Commission will also “bring Jesus back.”

It seems to me (and to many others) that this can lead to greatly impassioned mobilization calls, but it is a very bad idea, as it is very poor theology.

First, it implies that by linking the two things together (“the task is done” and “Jesus will appear”) we can know when Jesus is coming. But this is something Jesus said specifically we could not know (‘no man knows the day or the hour, not even the Son of Man’). Some get around this by suggesting we might not know the precise hour, but we could know the general time. 2,000 years of trying to predict the day and the hour, even generally, have proven our utter failure to do so. Sure, one day, someone will “guess right,” but that will be pure coincidence.

Second, it could go so far as to imply we “control Jesus.” We determine, not God, when Jesus will come back. Very, very bad theology.

Third, it could imply that we could keep Jesus from returning. Yes, I know, you think no one would want to do that. But I suggest the theoretical possibility alone is enough to disprove the interpretation.

As Lewis so quotably said, and as I am fond of quoting: He is not a tame lion.

Clearly, the verse links the two things. In this sense, it is both prophecy and promise (and many disagree about the specific interpretation of the verse). But while it can be hopeful inspiration to us, it should never be taken to be some kind of control over history.

We don’t work to finish the Great Commission in order to bring Jesus back. We don’t have any power over that.

We work to finish the task because he gave it to us, and because we love him, we want to obey him. That’s it. That’s all.

Should ActBeyond exist?

Eddie Arthur has engendered a conversation that I hope others take part of. The posts in question:

Lynn argues that YWAM should exist partly because there have always been two strands of the church – settled and missional – and since there is a place for missional structures, there is a place for YWAM. Eddie argues Wycliffe should exist because it supports the church in the trask of translation, and should only exist so long as it does that well.

So, what’s my reasoning for why Beyond should exist?

I reasonate somewhat with Lynn, but I go in a slightly different direction.

I think that the dichotomy between “settled” and “missional” is a little arbitrary, just as the dichotomy between “sodality” and “modality” is. And if we see that line as very “black and white,” we will rapidly fall into the trap of thinking one organization form is “the church” and the other is “the servant of the church.

Church, of course, is simply ekklesia. This is the word used throughout Scripture. It means assembly, congregation, the body of believers. We make a pretty big mental error when we equate “church” with something other than a group of believers (see “Church” for some of the ways we do this without even thinking).

Jesus seems to make clear any gathering of believers is a body, an ekklesia (Matthew 18:20). Is a parachurch agency, then, a church? Is a business, a church? Is a government, a church? We flinch at that, I know. But how about this: is a parachurch agency, an ekklesia? Is it a gathering of believers?

We might ask the question, what does a particular parachurch agency do? Or, more specifically, what does a particular strategy team do? The strategy teams with Beyond regularly meet together for fellowship. We bring words of encouragement for each other, and sing songs. We teach and reprove and confess and hold each other accountable. Often (especially at Worldwide Conference, but also in smaller meetings) we have communion. Strategy teams baptize new believers (we’ve never had a baptism at a major conference, but that’s not to say it can’t happen). I’m not sure about the whole marry-and-bury thing – there are civil, legal issues there too – but you get where I’m going.

Christian-run businesses can do these things, too, and some do. Do governments? Ehh.

So, my thinking about whether Beyond or Wycliffe or etc. should exist is trending this way: it may be incorrect to argue that an agency should exist to serve the church if we think that an agency is a church. It is literally a gathering of believers – how is this not an ekklesia?

Now, there are tensions: because different kinds of churches (different churches, different traditions, and yes, agencies vs “churches” in the modern traditional sense) “compete” for members, dollars, etc. But this competition is something to be addressed in how believers ought to interact with each other, not on the basis of the right of one ekklesia to exist and not another.

An agency is just an ekklesia with a bit of a different organizational style, focus of ministry, and mobility. There aren’t two separate strands, but simply two functional ways of operating (just as different churches have different ways of operating – some in buildings, some in houses, some in coffee shops, some in tents, etc). An agency deserves to exist because ekklesias deserve to exist, because Christ has called us to join together as a body, to obey him in the purpose he has called us to.

Standard disclaimer: As always, this blog represents “rough draft thoughts.” I welcome comments and further discussion. Eddie & others sharpen my thinking on this and many other topics. I am a member of Beyond, but my thoughts in this matter do not represent the views of that community or the others in it, nor any kind of formal policy or statement.