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Should we always be making disciples?

If at any given time in our life we are not making disciples, are we disobeying?

I suppose there’s lots of different answers to that one. Mine is: not necessarily. Here’s why.

At any given moment, a lot of people aren’t at the stage of having children. Some people are too young. Some people aren’t married. Some people aren’t able to have children. Some people are called not to marry (e.g. live celibate for the service of the Kingdom).

Yet the mandate in Eden (and repeated after Noah, so still applies today) was, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

I think the question is: if you have the opportunity to have children, are you refusing to do so as a result of your own selfishness? It’s a question of the motive of the heart.

Likewise, in Luke 10, the disciples are sent out, town by town. In some towns they would find “People of Peace.” In other towns, the word would be rejected, and they were to leave the town, warning it, shaking off the dust from their feet. By definition, they wouldn’t always be “making disciples.”

There may be periods in our lives where we have no one that we are presently discipling. But we ought to be intentionally looking for those people God will give us. God does the giving, and we are to do the discipling of what he has given us.

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Refugees, graphed

Refugees mapped:

How many refugees are there:

UNHCR Consolidated Report Refugee Populations, 1960-2009

Growth in refugee populations:

Where do they come from:

Where are they living now:

Hosted over time:

Infographic from Economist:

Why discipleship without reproduction is not Biblical discipleship

You’ve probably heard this phrase said, in some variation:

“Discipleship without reproduction is not Biblical discipleship.”

Why? Because in Matthew 28, Jesus said: “Go and make disciples… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

The commands we are to obey include the command to make disciples.

Therefore, if a disciple is not making a disciple… he is not obeying everything.


Singles males vs Single females vs Couples in mission

Dear Justin,
I remember seeing an email or tweet at some point from you looking for numbers from missions orgs in regards to single guys entering the field. Did you happen to publish any research on that? Or can you point me to any good blogs or articles talking about the lack of single men entering missions? I’d love to see what others are saying and perhaps find out how they have addressed it.

Good question. It’s not written about much. The agencies that have given me data usually stipulate they don’t want their individual numbers to be made public (although its fine if they are aggregated). My survey of agencies includes 25,319 workers. Those in couples (male+female) outnumber singles (individual male or female) by 8:2. Single women outnumber single men by 7:3, generally. Individual organizations may have single women:men ratios of as low as 66:33 and as high as 94:6. Generally, the larger the org, the smaller the ratio between single men and women.

This imbalance can be a significant force for attrition, particularly as people enter marry-and-have-children years. Men will occasionally marry someone on the field, but women most often marry someone from back home, and often leave the field to do so.

I have theorized these numbers in missions actually reflect the situation in a lot of churches, and it’s the church numbers that drive the mission agency recruitment numbers. I haven’t seen much written on this subject, but if someone has links to articles, or blog posts, I’d be interested in comments below.

Missiographics 1.0

I’ve been following the Missiographics feed now for over a year, and in fact it inspired me to do some Global Diagrams of my own (and in some ways, it also inspired my once-a-week Outlooks and other posts). So, it was a great honor to be asked to expound on the graphics in a new ebook.

I worked pretty hard on it over the winter months of 2014 and early in 2015. I had the privilege of being able to hear from various experts around the world on a variety of subjects. It was great to take each graphic and sit down to really think deeply about it–what did it mean? what were the future implications?

Admittedly, not every important trend is covered in this book (we didn’t do all of the graphics). Missiographics continues to release more graphics, like this past Sunday’s new Clean Water graphic. So this won’t, hopefully, be the last book (which the “1.0” would seem to signify). Still, I’m happy with the result: these are important trends to understand, to think about, to wrestle with, and to ask–how do they impact our ministry?

Hope you pick up a copy–not just because I wrote it, but because of the importance of the issues. If you’ve got thoughts about the book, I’d love to hear them here.

Why the differences in unevangelized and unreached population numbers

By Joshua Project’s numbers,there are 3,001,557,000 unreached individuals.

By the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (@CSGC), there are 2,314,510,000 unevangelized individuals.

While these two numbers are “similar” they are different by about 700 million people. Why the difference?

As I’ve noted before, “unreached is not unevangelized.” Part of the difference is in the definition.

A second difference is in how the numbers are computed, and that’s what I’m going to focus on here, briefly.

Joshua Project uses its criteria to identify 7,050 unreached peoples. It totals the populations of each of these groups to arrive at the 3 billion total.

CSGC, on the other hand, calculates the percentage of each group which is Christian, and the percentage of each which is unevangelized. Christians are counted according to affiliated church members of all traditions. The unevangelized are computed by measuring each of 40 ministries (things like the JESUS Film, Scripture distribution, broadcasting, mission work, indigenous church work, etc). Each ministry is estimated to contribute a certain percentage of evangelized; by adding up all the ministries we arrive at a percentage of the population that is evangelized. (And, mathematically, 100 minus this percentage gives us the unevangelized).


CSGC computes the total number of unevangelized individuals as the sum of all the unevangelized individuals within every group. There are some unevangelized people in every group – more in the Punjabi and less among USA Whites, but they are there nonetheless.

Joshua Project only counts the people within the unreached groups – it’s more an “all or nothing” approach. This is entirely appropriate because of the differences in definition. A group is “unreached” in total if the church within the group cannot finish the task without outside assistance.

Now, obviously, the Christians within an “unreached” group are not themselves unreached. But the reality is, they matter very little to the total of Christians or unreached people. Why? Because, for a group to be unreached, the number of Christians must be relatively small (less than 5%).

The net result: numbers that are different (by 700 million) but very similar – almost within a rounding-up of each other. It’s not as if one says 1 billion and the other says 4 billion. And the reason is simple: most groups are either heavily Christian or heavily not, there’s not a lot of groups “in the middle.” Why the difference of 700 million? I haven’t run the numbers in specific, but I’ve got a strong hunch: a lot of the largest unreached groups are heavily evangelized. There’s a lot of work but not a lot of responsiveness (yet!). So while the totality of these groups count toward the unreached populations, less counts toward the unevangelized populations.

What’s the point of all this? Different methodologies can yield somewhat different numbers. Yet, if you understand how and why, you see these two different approaches yield results that are really pretty close to each other. That’s a good check to show the portrait, if fuzzy, is still accurate.

Which number should you use? Use either, but be sure to append the appropriate “unreached” or “unevangelized” when you do. I personally use the unevangelized numbers, but Joshua Project remains my go to website for specific details on specific unreached peoples.

The world as percentages

I always use this graph when I’m teaching Lesson 9 (“The Task Remaining”) of Perspectives.


World A B C Percenages, Changes, 1900-2050

It shows the world’s global population, divided up as percentages, for each year from 1900 through 2050 (2025 and 2050 are projections).

This is based on the data from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, as presented in the Status of Global Mission (which you can download at 1925 and 1950 are interpolated from data in the World Christian Encyclopedia and World Christian Trends (two earlier works). 1975 is assumed from 1970; the percentages are essentially the same even though the populations are different.

The red area represents the percentage of the world that is unevangelized. The gold area represents Christians of all traditions. The green area represents those evangelized non-Christians: those who have access to the Gospel but have chosen against it (or not yet for it).

While the church is adding people every year, what this graph shows us is that the percentage of the world that is Christian has been essentially stagnant for the last century. There was significant process made in making the Gospel available between 1900 and 2000 (especially in the period from 1975 to 2000), but this rate has now trailed off.

Part of the reason for this is that we have “picked all the easy fruit”: a lot of the newly evangelized from 1900-2000 were ethnoreligionists. Another reason for the slackening off is that all the people who surged into the lower half of the red zone in the 1900s to 1920s are now in the ‘green zone’ thanks to their work, and a lot of people are going to the ‘green zone’ because there’s still work to be done.

The reality is, 90% of all Christian work (pastoral, evangelistic, missionary or otherwise) happens among people that are already at least nominally Christian. About 9% of work happens in the Green Zone. Less than 1% of existing ministry activity happens in the red zone. Thankfully there has been a large reorientation of cross-cultural missionary workers, so I doubt those %s hold true amongst the cross-cultural force per se, but nevertheless the unevangelized world is still growing (although the % of the world that is unevangelized is declining slightly, the absolute numbers of unevangelized individuals is growing, by about 52,000 per day).

We need more intentional going to the unevangelized, “red” zone!

Feel free to use this graph in your own Perspectives teaching…

Are diaspora in (whatever place) reached or unreached?

Dear Justin,
I work with the diaspora in (x place), an unreached group…

Whether a specific diaspora group is ‘reached’ or ‘unreached’ is an interesting question that encapsulates some of the challenges with the definition, and measuring it.

Remember, when we use ‘unreached’ in the technical missiological sense, as defined in the Chicago meeting, it means: ‘a people group lacking a church that can evangelize the group to its borders without cross cultural assistance.’ Or, to boil it down succinctly, a reached group is one where the locals can do the job without outsiders.

‘Reached’ doesn’t mean outsiders are unwelcome, morally shouldn’t be there, or have nothing of value to contribute. It’s strictly a statement about the capacity of the local church.

So, are diaspora peoples reached or unreached?

The first challenge is asking about the people group itself. Take, for example, Somalis in America. Are we to consider them a distinct people group on their own, with their own culture? They share language with Somalis in Somalia. The Somalis in Somalia are clearly unreached. Does that mean the Somalis in America are, too?

One way to answer this is to ask whether the Somalis in America have an indigenous Somali church capable of evangelizing the Somalis-in-America group to its borders without assistance. If not, then the group is ‘unreached.’ If yes, then the group is ‘reached.’

There may be times when the home group is one status and the diaspora group is a different status. For example, many Iranians in the United States are Christians who have fled Iran. I don’t know the specific situation that well, but it’s possible that Iranians in America may be “reached” while the ones at home are “unreached.”

The reverse could also, in certain instances, be true, I suppose–if a group of unbelieving people from a people group that is marginally Christian are found in a place that is very non-Christian – for example, say atheist Americans in Saudi Arabia – who are cut off from any Christian influence because of their language, then its theoretically possible for them to be unreached. That’s more an armchair exercise; I can’t think of any situation (except very small possible pockets) where that might be the case.

A slightly ‘grayer’ area would be diasporas that rotate in and out – for example, international students. A student may only be in the United States for a limited time. Is he ‘reached’ while he’s here, and ‘unreached’ when he returns home? (Saudis studying in the United States spring to mind). And if he is to be ‘reached’ here, how do we do that – how do we plant a church amongst the Saudi students who are here which continues to reach all the Saudi students as they cycle in and out?

That takes thinking outside the box. I’m not sure there’s necessarily a ‘certain’ and ‘correct’ solution. I would more quickly go for the simpler and more obvious solution: Saudi (and all international) students ought to be invited into American homes, befriended, cared for, welcomed, helped. That might not be ‘reached’ in the technical sense, but it would be ‘reached’ in the active sense.

The very best way to learn, and teach (drawing or discipleship)

Yesterday, J. D. Payne noted that theological education is both a blessing and a curse: largely because while the classroom is an important component of training, it is only one component–but we have made it the whole thing.

There’s a lot of truth to what he says in the article, and it’s well worth reading. So, what’s the best way to learn and teach?

Payne says, “We reproduce what we know; we know what has been modeled before us.”

This is true both for the knowledge and for the way it is taught.

For example, let’s say I want to learn to draw. (I’d like to–my drawings stink.) I could pick up a book on drawing, and this would give me theory. A lot of discipleship and theological classes are taught like books on art–they give you a big description of the theory, with lots of examinations of the Bible, and introspective reflection about the original languages, words, meanings, and the like. You come away at worst impressed with your teacher’s knowledge and at best with some notes on paper and at very best some new ideas in your head.

But how would you reproduce it? Well, you might go through the notes with someone else, teaching it as you have been taught. Will that teach you to draw? (or to disciple?) And will it enable you to teach someone else to disciple?

Rather than going through some academic description of what a disciple is, perhaps the better way to teach it is to disciple someone – or to draw with them. Consider the following videos (both short). What can you learn about discipling from these?

Can we make discipling and teaching discipleship more like this: where you show it being done, and then dive deeply into the individual reasons?

Why resilience and spiritual reproduction are so important for churches

Each week, I write an “Outlook” for a particular unreached province: an attempt to predict which places have the greatest potential for significant church growth.

I have never really tried to forecast the growth that is most likely. I find this virtually impossible to do with any sense of reliability. Instead, I look for places where growth is “more possible.” In farming terms, what I’m looking at is the condition of the soil, the availability of water, the availability of farmers, and so on. I’m not saying there will be growth, as this is predicated on two things: (1) that farmers plant seed and (2) God gives growth. I’m just trying to identify which soils are rocky and which soils are shallow and which soils are “good.” (Which is pretty ambitious in its own right.)

To compile it, I research, district by district, several indicators: population growth rates, localized violence/warfare, poverty, literacy, persecution levels, religious barriers, global connectedness, presence of the church, recent growth rates, open nature of the church, presence of alien Christians, presence of mission efforts, presence of indigenous denominations, presence of organized interagency/denomination networks, and the like.

But here’s the thing: I can tell you which places are going to be easier environments: places with less persecution, for example. But easier environments doesn’t always translate to church growth (or vice-versa).

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are both examples. These are difficult and demanding environments featuring terrible levels of poverty, low literacy, rampant disease, widespread corruption, consistent persecution, very little global connectivity, and extreme difficulty in getting evangelistic work into the region. Given two environments, you’d think, for example, that Dallas or New York or London or even Singapore would be easier going than Uttar Pradesh.

But the church has taken on Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as special challenges, and they are seeing fruit. Not “enough” yet – % Christian is still low – but they are seeing growth. Why? Because the church built itself to live in an unwelcoming environment. It developed processes that emphasized resilience and rapid reproduction.

Since we can’t predict which environments will actually bear fruit–one shouldn’t pre-judge who will respond to the Gospel, and who won’t–we would be well advised to do the same thing everywhere: resilience to endure until we see fruit borne, and systems that emphasize reproduction.