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Some people have told me they felt they wouldn’t be a good missionary, but they could be a good mobilizer. I am not writing to contradict anyone’s calling, but I think we should consider just how much mobilization comprises some missionary roles.
Remember the well-worn saying, “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.” We all know that no single country’s missionaries will finish the task. Koreans, Filipinos, Nigerians, Ethiopians, South Africans, Chinese, Indians, Indonesians, Europeans, Americans, Latinos—to name just a few—are already involved, and each can take the Gospel to places that others find far more difficult.
Moreover, when we get ‘close’ to the unreached peoples—in particular provinces and districts of particular countries—we find that local believers are (nearly) always far more effective than cross-cultural workers, and often can get into places that no one else can. It is nearly impossible, for example, for an expatriate to get into far rural Afghanistan as a missionary (or even as a development worker). Afghani believers are needed.
Stirring unmobilized churches to send workers to unreached places is a key element of the mission task—everywhere. When I travel and work, most of my labor is in the area of mission research, but I am always ready to function as a mobilizer and share the call of the remaining task. I have done so in a number of places throughout Asia.
I most fondly remember a time in East Asia when a number of believers were gathered in a rural area for a leadership training program; I was asked to speak one night on the remaining task. I didn’t especially think myself equal to that challenge, but with a kind and sympathetic translator helping, I spent about an hour sharing my typical Perspectives Lesson 9 talk. (That was the first time I did it without a Powerpoint and discovered how freeing a whiteboard could be. I’ve pretty much done it with a whiteboard ever since.)
To say they reacted strongly to the talk is an understatement. When I finished, they were still talking. An hour later, when I headed to bed, they had transitioned to praying. The next morning, when I got up and headed to breakfast—they were still there. Still praying and weeping. I have no idea at this point of the total result of that night, but I suspect it was strong.
So if you are a mission mobilizer, and you are fine-tuning your gifts in that area, you could play a significant role amongst peoples and places nearer than unreached than you presently are. Of course, there will be all of the normal lessons you’ll need to learn—culture acquisition, understanding how to communicate, linguistic issues, etc. You can’t expect to simply take a presentation aimed at, say, Americans and give it to Japanese with the same results. (I had to adjust mine on the fly.) But if you do all that, you may find your fruit is substantial.
The definition of ‘evangelical’ is hard to pin down, and even harder to measure. Generally, when people say ‘evangelical’ they mean ‘true believers.’ When the World Christian Database measures ‘evangelical,’ they are referring to members of historically Evangelical denominations, which can be something entirely different. While I think measuring ‘evangelical’ is a very challenging process—and not one I would undertake, myself—Operation World’s measure is probably the closest to the commonly understood meaning of the term.
In the 2010 edition of Operation World, evangelicals were estimated at 545.8 million, or 7.9% of the world, and growing at 2.6% per annum. These were broken out into 7 regions: North America, 94 million; Latin America, 135 million; Europe, 18 million; Africa, 182 million; Asia, 146 million; Pacific, 6 million; and Caribbean, 6 million.
For each of these regions, OW further gives annual growth rates as of 2010. The challenge with projecting growth rates into the future: they will certainly not remain the same, and trying to predict precisely what they will be is a bit of a fool’s errand. Many things will impact them, but the biggest: the larger the population, the more it will be similar to the population of the region as a whole, and the more it will take on the regional population characteristics. In the largest populations, births born to Christian homes grow the church far more than conversions do (globally, about 10 times as much). Conversions simply determine ‘by how much’ a subset ‘beats’ the overall population rate: but if the population growth rate fluctuates up and down, we can expect the church growth rate to do the same.
To try to estimate when evangelicals will be “half the planet” (or 50% of the population), I have broken them out by region, and then estimated evangelical populations for the years 2025, 2050, 2075 and 2100. The methodology for this is as follows. We start with the evangelical population and annual growth rate for each region as given by Operation World. We project 2025 from 2010 based on this. Then, we vary the evangelical annual growth rate for 2050, 2075 and 2100 based on the changes in the region’s population growth rate over that time.
As an example, Africa has an evangelical AGR of 3.6% and a population AGR of 2.5% in 2010. In 2025, the population AGR has dropped to 2.4%, so (using a ratio) we drop the evangelical AGR to 3.5%. This is obviously a fairly rough process, but it does reflect the enormous role that demographics plays in growth. The analysis of this result of the methodology is as follows.
Africa. From 182 million in 2010, evangelicals grow to 3 billion, or 69% of Africa by 2100. This is powered by sustained but declining population growth, falling to 1.95% per year by 2100. I suspect the model significantly overstates the growth, but I have not modified the methodology here. In spite of the specific numbers, I am very comfortable with a projection of Africa’s having crossed the 50% threshold somewhere between 2075 and 2100.
Asia. From 146 million in 2010, evangelicals grow to 1.2 billion, or 24% of Asia’s 4.3 billion by 2100. Evangelicals are, in this model, predicted to slip from 3% per annum growth today to 1.5% per annum in 2100, due to the projected fall in population growth. This, too, seems a fairly realistic projection. While there are significant gains in the number of evangelicals in China, growth in other places in Asia is presently fairly flat.
Europe. From 18 million today, this model projects growth to 26 million evangelicals by 2100. The annual growth rate will decline along with the falling population AGR, which is projected to hit its peak ‘low’ rate of -0.246% per annum around 2075. Since the evangelical AGR will not be as slow as the population’s, Europe will actually become more evangelical (by percentage of the population): rising from 2.5% in 2010 to 4% in 2100 in this model.
Latin America. From 91 million evangelicals today, evangelicals would rise to 477 million by 2100, or 70% of the population. As with Africa, the precise numbers are likely overstated, but it still seems likely Latin America would be ‘over the 50%’ threshold.
Caribbean. From 6 million in 2010, evangelicals would rise to 31 million, or 77% of the population. They would have crossed the 50% threshold in 2075. While the model probably overstates the number, it appears that crossing the 60% threshold is possible.
Pacific. From 6 million, evangelicals would rise to 21 million, or 29% of the population. While comparable in starting population size with the Caribbean, the much smaller growth illustrates the power of a much smaller annual growth rate.
I confess this methodology is very imprecise, and should certainly not be relied on for anything other than an attempt at estimating which regions will be ‘across the line.’ Any number of things–warfare, pandemic disease, revival, persecution, and so on–could significantly interrupt this. However, I think it’s a fairly realistic model because it depends in large part on demography, and demography is fairly consistent over the long run of decades and centuries.
The net result of this model is this projection: in 2100, the world would have 4.9 billion evangelicals out of an 11 billion population, or 44.2%. Because Africa and Latin America projections are probably too high, it seems almost certain 4.9 billion is likely too high as well; this means the world will likewise almost certainly not be over 50% evangelical by 2100. Further, as evangelical populations get larger, their population growth rates will almost certainly slow. This means crossing the ‘50% line’ is likely far further off than 2100.
If one wished to change the date, how might we set about it? The only way to do so would be to make a significant difference within a large population: increasing the Pacific’s % evangelical, while worthwhile, wouldn’t make much of a dent in the global average. The most high-impact population to influence the global total would be Africa and Asia’s. Africa is, by and large, becoming rapidly evangelical. Asia, on the other hand, is a strong mix of reached and unreached areas. More effort there could shift the ‘clock’ significantly: but this is easier typed on a page than done in the field.
New Resources from JustinLong.org
Beyond the headlines: 243 Key Global Data Sets/Analyses/Reports, $25
22 Internet-based tools I use, updated for 2016, free
Prayer Guide Index, updated for 2016, free
Afghanistan Primer: links to key reports, data sets, $5
Pakistan Primer: links to key reports, data sets, $5
Current Events / Trendlines / Articles
Africa’s fastest growing economies. Link.
Piracy on the upsurge around the coast of Western Africa. Link.
Who are the Islamic ‘morality police’? An explainer for various countries. Link.
On religious freedom in Central Asia: VOA interview with C. Cosman of USCIRF. Link.
Organized crime tentacles grow throughout Southeast Asia. Link.
Countries facing greatest skills shortages: Japan, India, Brazil, Turkey top list. Link.
Afghanistan: the Taliban attack in Kabul and Afghanistan’s devolution. Link.
… weak government, ‘long and bloody year likely’, growing instability, corruption
Azerbaijan: Nagorno-Karabakh truce holds, but residents fear renewed violence. Link.
Bangladesh: married at 14, abandoned at 15, the forgotten girls of Dhaka. Link.
… one of the highest rates of child marriage, >50% of girls. Documentary.
Brazil: NYT Op-Ed: Impeachment of Brazilian president is a cover-up for others’ corruption. Link.
… and another op-ed in the Guardian. Link.
Cambodia: the Ghosts prefer Dollars. A look at the Qingming festival. Link.
China: Mining brings misery to Mongolian herders. Link.
China: Second Child: then a secret, now a burden. Link.
Ethiopia: South Sudan refugee outflow growing as relief funds lag. Link.
Iran: proving harder than expected for investors to make a start. Link.
India’s ongoing drought conditions affect 25% of the population; here are reasons behind it.Link.
… brutal heat wave puts 330 million at risk; temperatures regularly > 105. Link.
Japan: the toll from Japan’s twin earthquakes. Link.
Nepal: the struggle to end child marriage. Link.
North Korea: Evidence suggests January test was not thermonuclear, but far smaller. Link.
Iraq: updated terrain control map. Link.
… don’t immediately believe bad headlines; wait for evidence.
Why Saudi Arabia views Iran as a threat: age old rivalries and ethnic differences. Link.
… Saudi, Iranian, and Turkish rivalries influence the region, so important to try to understand.
The $2 trillion project to get Saudi Arabia’s economy off oil. Link.
… important in considering the preservation of Saudi influence worldwide.
Sri Lanka: the plan for China to build a $1.4 billion port city. Link.
Sri Lanka: uneven progress toward democracy. Link.
Syria: the cease-fire crumbles. Link.
Tajikistan: a look at the nearly open border with Afghanistan, major route of narcotics.Link.
Thailand upping surveillance of foreigners to crack down on crime. Link.
Turkey: six churches in Diyarbakir seized, declared state property. Link.
United Arab Emirates: a unique secular, non-religious foreign policy. Link.
Vietnamese: girls smuggled into China and sold as child brides. Link.
Studies / Charts / Graphs / Reports / Statistics / Resources
Demographia: World Urban Areas, 2016 edition, free PDF, 112p. Link.
… annual estimates of population, urban land area, density of all identified built-up urban areas.
Connectography: mapping the future of global civilization. Link.
… ‘competitive connectivity’ as the true arms race of the 21st century. Impressive maps.
… When I get this book, I’ll almost certainly get it in print. I’m not sure Kindle would do it justice.
Global aging: world’s centenarian population to grow 8x to 3.6 million by 2050. Link.
… important to consider how we evangelize/disciple the aged who are not yet Christ-followers
… “Age and Productivity.” Foreign Affairs examines issue in-depth. Link.
… up close: China adds 34 million to population, but greying trend continues. Link.
The best universities in Africa, 2016. Link.
… might be places to consider reaching thought-leaders, doing exchange programs.
A statistical portrait of the foreign-born population in the United States. Pew. Link.
Asia is home to 1.7 billion young people under 25 years of age. Link.
Long Reads / Mission Industry News / Missional Thinking
9 ways to counter radical Islam. Link.
Global Diaspora Network’s recommended books on diaspora missiology. Link.
Why many Americans don’t argue about religion–or even talk about it. Link.
… hard to evangelize/witness/disciple if you don’t talk about your faith.
UPG Profiles, Travelogues, Stories
Central African Republic: bringing its story to the world, photos. Link.
16 things to know before you go: Bamako and Timbuktu. Link.
Christar: what a day ministering to refugees looks like. Link.
Syria: Frozen Life in Wartime Syria: what life looks like for people in the grip of war. Link.
Futuristics / Tech
Inside Facebook’s biggest AI project ever. Link.
Nvidia creates 15 billion transister chip for AI, deep learning. Link.
Rise of the Robots and the impact on wages, employment. Link.
65% of American adults now use social networking sites. Link.
Kevin Kelly: “Each person’s task (in part) will be to invent new things to do that will later become repetitive jobs for robots.” See new book The Inevitable, available for preorder.
Drones fired more weapons in Afghanistan last year than conventional war planes did. Link.
Smart phones common in Europe, US but less so in developing countries: mapped. Link.
Viber rolls out end-to-end encryption, joins many other messaging services. Link.
The saddest aspect of life now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. ~Isaac Asimov
It’s one thing to know about the Bible, and altogether another to have it dramatically transform your life. ~Tozer
A small light will do a great deal when it is in a very dark place. ~D.L. Moody
The second time you make the same mistake is called a choice. ~Vala Afshar
Habits are first cobwebs, then cables. ~Spanish Proverb, via David Pope
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. ~Mark Twain
Anxiety has a horrible track record at predicting the future. ~Alan Fadling
The basic purpose of prayer is not to bend God’s will to mine, but to mold my will into His. ~Tim Keller. (Consider: in most movements, leaders report increased fruit after ‘extraordinary prayer’–often cited as hours per day. Is it that God is moving in response to the prayer, or that after so much time in God’s presence, praying for His will to be done, their eyes are more open to what God might be doing, and the role God might want them to play?)
The chief reason for the development of people group thinking in missions was the lack of precision in measuring the remaining task in terms of countries. There was a church for every country, but many individuals within specific peoples throughout North Africa and Asia lacked access to the Gospel because churches in their countries were either too small or cut off from peoples due to language, culture or political restrictions. An example: in China the Han Chinese might have a large church, but minorities like the Hui, Uighurs, or Zhuang did not.
Since Dr. Winter’s address at Lausanne 1974, people group thinking has rapidly expanded and permeated the global missions movement. It has caused a significant focusing of missionary effort, albeit with some controversy and debate. It has especially enabled the global church to see the complexity of the remaining task and the many ‘gaps’ in Gospel progress.
However, people group thinking, too, can suffer from a ‘blind spot’ similar to that of ‘country’ thinking: very large people groups can be underengaged. People groups like the Pashto, Thai and Turks are vast in numbers and spread out across large areas. They may be engaged by churches and cross-cultural workers in some places (for example, the Turks are lightly touched in Istanbul), but in others (for example, eastern Turkey) the same group can be unengaged and virtually unevangelized, living with no access to the Gospel at all.
Because of this, it is not enough to know a people group is engaged by at least one team. It is not even enough to know how many workers have engaged a people group because teams tend to clump geographically. We need to be monitoring both peoples and places.
In response to this, I have been laboring for over a year on a District Survey, which combines a more granular geographic and ethnographic focus. It lists all of the countries, provinces, districts, and ‘sub-districts’ (counties or whatever they are locally called), with descriptive factors (including peoples) for each. By going down to the sub-district level, I am evaluating population segments of about 100,000 people—a size my research suggests can be adequately engaged by a single team or church.
As I have worked on this project, I have found at this population size, places usually mesh in one of three ways with the Peoples lists:
1. The place correlates to a specific people group. Some places are completely, or nearly completely, dominated by one people group (e.g. Turks or Koreans). Of course, there may be tiny pockets of a few dozen or hundred diaspora (for example, Chinese in some places in Africa, or American businesspeople in Saudi Arabia).
2. The place correlates to two, or sometimes three, peoples. One ethnic group is the largest, but one or two other groups are ‘significant minorities.’ Southern China is one example of this; so are parts of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, where large numebrs of expatriates live and work. It is most common in districts on the borders of two provinces—the two provinces may each have their dominant group (category 1 above), but at their edges there is some ‘blending.’
3. The place is a potpourri. This is particularly the case with urban areas. Sometimes the ethnic groups are all ‘mixed in together’; in others, within the urban boundaries, there are significant ‘clumpings’ of groups.
My own list contains confidential data and is thus not accessible on the Internet. But you don’t need my global list. To make a difference in one place, you don’t need to have the whole world in view: start with the country or province you are focused on. Create an Excel spreadsheet and list all the provinces in the country, and then for each province add the districts. You can usually find these with simple Google searches, or check out the tables at Statoids.com. It’s a public open-source list of the world’s countries and provinces (and in some places districts) which you can use. Add columns to your sheet—how many people are in the place? what are the major people groups there? are there churches? are there workers? can workers get there, and stay there long-term? If you want more data to flesh out your sheet, you can get my index file, 243+ global data sources, which will help you find more information.
In compiling this list, you will almost immediately gain a clearer of the situation ‘on the ground.’ To be reached by the classical definition, every population segment needs an indigenous (E-1) church capable of evangelizing the segment to its borders without cross-cultural (E-2 or E-3) assistance. To be ‘engaged’ at all requires a team of some sort, whether E-1, E-2 or E-3. While we might not know the exact numbers of teams or churches or believers in particular districts, I have found it is generally possible to ask ‘whether a church’ is present, or ‘whether an E-3 team is present’; this kind of yes/no question can be fairly easily answered.
Second, developing this list will help you see more clearly the kind of strategy required: some places cannot be accessed by E-3 teams (you probably won’t be placing a long-term missionary team in Mecca any time soon, for example). By seeing places that cannot be accessed by E-3 teams, we can ‘back up’ and see where we need E-1 churches that can send E-1 workers to those districts. (E-3 workers can’t easily access rural Afghanistan, but might be able to work in places where Afghanis are—and E-1 Afghanis could get into rural Afghanistan.)
Third, the list can help you raise apostolic vision in others. You could, for example, print out a map of the country, and ‘color’ it by hand with locations of workers and teams—this very simple process requires no advanced GIS software, and will enable you to show anyone where ‘gaps’ are.
Most importantly, this process will give you an understanding of the complexities of the task remaining, as well as specific places to pray for. The closer we get to ‘ground realities,’ even in list making, the better we can see the strengths and weaknesses of the existing mission effort and the opportunities and threats we face. All too often our view is too simplistic; by getting further into the details we may find options for reaching population segments that we wouldn’t have seen with a too-broad view.
New Resources from JustinLong.org
Beyond the headlines: 243 Key Global Data Sets/Analyses/Reports, $25
22 Internet-based tools I use, updated for 2016, free
Prayer Guide Index, updated for 2016, free
Afghanistan Primer: links to key reports, data sets, $5
Pakistan Primer: links to key reports, data sets, $5
Current Events / Trendlines / Articles
Earthquakes: 6.9 in Myanmar/India, 6.2 in Japan.
West Africa: “Who belongs? Statelessness & nationality in West Africa.” Link.
Afghanistan: must ensure woman’s murder by mob was not in vain. Link.
… ‘killing has fueled anger about the weak rule of law and crippling corruption…’
Afghanistan: Taliban threatens to grind down Afghan forces in spring offensive. Link.
… Soldiers desert as Taliban threatens key Helmand capital. Link.
China: one-fifth of China’s children are growing up without parents. Link.
… the ‘left behind’ as China goes to the city to work.
China: Rural water, not city smog, may be China’s pollution nightmare. Link.
… more than 80% of the water from underground wells in China heavily polluted.
Ethiopia: drought crisis, 10 million in need of food assistance. BBC Video. Link.
… also, Southern Africa threatened by drought, malnutrition, disaster. Link.
India: first rehab clinic for acid attack survivors. Link.
India: Jats & the new Caste Conflict: economic grievance in today’s India. Link.
Iraq: inside camps for internally displaced, which are often far worse than refugees. Link.
… Fallujah is starving. ‘People are making soup from grass to survive.’ Link.
… “The Hell after ISIS.” One family’s story shows why there is few hope for peace. Link.
Lebanon: child labor among Syrian children now the norm in Lebanon. Link.
Libya: can he new prime minister survive long enough to put the country together? Link.
Morocco: long a stopping point for African migrants, becomes a destination. Link.
Myanmar: the peril’s of Burma’s Internet craze: a vicious hacker movement. Link.
… mobile coverage map of Myanmar: growth in coverage over a year and a half. Link.
Nigeria: 2 years after the Nigerian girls were taken, most still missing. Link.
N Korea: failed intermediate-range missile launch, embarrassing regime. Link.
… a look at why defectors defect–and why more don’t. Link.
… “brutal work abroad better than life back home.” Link.
Pakistan: how the Christian minority lives. Link.
… 60 million Pakistanis live below the poverty line. Link.
Saudi Arabia: government strips religious police of arrest powers. Link.
… ‘very controversial issue inside S Arabia…’
Syria: the cease fire is crumbling. Link.
… and, eventually, the other side of war: huge, costly cleanup. Link.
Syria/Iraq: the strategy behind the IS destruction of ancient sites: attention, profit. Link.
Turkey: economy of smugglers and others suffering with path to Greece closed. Link.
Turkmenistan: more than half of Ashgabad’s mosques now destroyed. Link.
Tunisia: how Islamists embraced democracy. Link.
… and Entrepreneurship as counter to jihad, where poverty just as bad as in Dec 2010. Link.
Studies / Charts / Graphs / Reports / Statistics / Resources
“Beyond Chibok: over 1.3 million children uprooted by Boko Haram violence.” Link.
… new extensive report from UNICEF. 1 of 5 suicide bombers is a child.
Review: The end of Karma: hope and fury among India’s young. Link.
From Winter 2015: Yemen’s women revolutionaries. Link.
Bauman, Stephan. “Seeking Refuge: on the shores of the global refugee crisis.” Preorder.
Countries most/least welcoming to foreigners, mapped. Link.
Frequently requested statistics on immigrants, immigration to the USA. Link.
Infographic: Singapore missions movement. Link.
The Telegraph: What Africa will be like in 100 years. Link.
Cartel Continent: how narcotics are flooding Africa. Link.
Long Reads / Mission Industry News / Missional Thinking
Stetzer, Ed. “Theology, evangelism and the priority of multiplication.” Link.
Audio interview: MissioNexus with Brent Fulton about China’s Urban Christians. Link.
Miller, Duane. “Contextuality, Contextualization and the new Christians of Tunis.” Link.
Lifehacking / Tactics / Individual Skills
For Millennials: text with peers, email with ‘older generations.’ Link.
Missions in a conflict zone: ‘our family lived through another war.’ Link.
7 TED Talks by Christians: Warren, Graham, more. Link.
Pioneer Mission Startups / Startup Thinking / Strategic Concepts
8 reasons flat organizations don’t work. Link.
… nearly all decentralized thinking acknowledges need ‘just enough backbone’ to operate
… ‘Starfish & Spider’ recommended hybrid ‘Spiderfish’
… this article concisely tells why but most swarms deal with these issues
Photo gallery: India: How Mumbai’s other half lives. Link.
‘Depth of Field’: the ‘month’s best Chinese photojournalism.’ Link.
8th annual Arab youth Survey: inside the hearts and minds. Link.
Samarkand, Uzbekistan: a city frozen in history. Photos: historic vs today. Link.
Futuristics / Tech
USA: No warrant required for phone location records, court rules. Link.
The tiny spaceship that could travel to Alpha Centauri. Link.
Bringing Cell Phone apps to Africa, where most don’t have smart phones. Link.
Facebook’s 10-year road map: AI, VR, access infrastructure. Link.
“Regarding churches, it’s much easier to give birth than raise the dead.” ~Neil Cole
“It used to cost $10/hr to get online. We had to beg PC makers to even include modems!” ~Steve Case
Do you remember the famous “child’s prayer”: “Now I lay me down to sleep / I pray the Lord my soul to keep / If I should die before I wake / I pray the Lord my soul to take”? This is the epitome of a very ‘childlike’ prayer: ‘Please make every thing okay, and let nothing bad happen.”
Still, bad things do happen. Sometimes they seem to happen through natural disasters, like tornados, earthquakes and hurricanes—regular weather events in which people are caught. (Sometimes, we try to interpret these events as something other than regular or quasi-random ones.) Sometimes they happen as a consequence of our own actions, rash or sinful: if you bump into or touch a hot thing, you will probably get burned. Sometimes they happen because of someone else’s rash or sinful actions: if I get mugged in an alley, it’s the mugger’s sin, not mine (which is a bit of a theological statement in itself).
Recently, in south Asia, I was interviewing leaders of a major movement. One of the questions I asked was: over your years of ministry, what habits, disciplines, or mindsets have helped you to endure in ministry and eventually become fruitful? The question was being translated and was eventually shortened to, ‘over the years, what has helped you grow in ministry?’ (which is similar but not quite the same thing, and led to some interesting answers). One of the leaders, without pausing a second, answered: ‘Persecution.’
That kind of thing frequently showed up in the interviews-—that persecution was common, and came typically in the form of insults and arguments but physical violence was not rare. Threats, slaps, blows, beatings, and serious violence (where the victim was hospitalized) all occurred. Mostly the perpetrators were members of common society, but organized gangs of religious fundamentalists were not uncommon.
Persecution isn’t unique to this movement. It’s a prominent feature of nearly every movement I’ve examined. It has several significant effects.
First, it purifies and refines. Knowing that following Jesus will almost certainly lead to persecution makes people more likely to pause and count the cost; those who do decide to follow Jesus are more committed to the decision. Active persecution tries and tests and refines the pre-believer. As a result, most say if a new believer endures the first bit, they almost never fall away.
Second, it accelerates. People who have counted the cost tend to be more aware of the treasure they have. Because they value Jesus, they have a greater desire to share Him. Persecution can be ‘fuel to the fire’ of passion.
Third, it highlights the difference between belief systems. In Iran, many leaders have said they were thankful for Khomeini and theocratic Islam, for example, because it showed the people the difference between Christianity and Islam. In India, people see the difference between the oppressive caste system and the unity and equality people have before Christ. These differences heighten the appeal of Christianity.
Fourth, it can lead to church decline and extinction. We do need to acknowledge persecution—especially severe persecution—causes some to leave Christianity. It can lead to church decline in other ways, too: people can leave the town, the state, or even the country. For example, there is a significant decline in Christianity in the Middle East—not because people are abandoning their faith, but because they are abandoning the place. We hear ‘the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church’ but the reality is the church in a specific location can be, and in many cases has been, stamped out.
Fifth, it can degrade church growth. Even if the church is not destroyed, little foxes spoil the vine. A place might not have ‘terrible persecution,’ yet have ‘just enough’ regulation to hamper growth. In the Internet age, when things can easily be recorded and shared, many oppressive governments are going this route.
Sixth, can be a sign of a ‘win.’ When the church is very small, it may be ignored entirely and remain underground, fearful and afraid. As it becomes bold and grows through Gospel sharing, and its numbers grow, persecution will likely pick up. This is a sign of conflict between two societies, as well as a marker of rapid growth. As Christian gets large enough, persecution slacks off again-—this is a sign of a win. As one leader from another region told me: “Many church leaders today were persecutors in the 1990s. Now, there are so many believers and churches that persecution wouldn’t work-—people know too many believers.”
Persecution for most movements is unavoidable. How can we better respond to it?
1. We need to develop a ‘theology of persecution’-—that God can use it for good. Examining Bible stories of persecution and how believers responded can help us with this. Consider each of the instances when Paul faced threats—how did he respond?
2. We need strategies shaped by persecution. Although we shouldn’t shirk from bold action, we don’t need to seek persecution out, either. In some places, movements have found that community ministries in which believers were a blessing had the side effect of short circuiting the motives and opportunities for persecution: ‘wait, don’t persecute them, they’re helping us.’
3. We need to prepare for persecution. Pre-believers should be told to count the cost first (in most places, they are all too aware). New believers should immediately be considering how they will respond to persecution Biblically.
4. The best solution to persecution is church growth. Government can only restrain evil; the sole long-term solution for persecution is the transformation of the persecutor’s heart. This will require not just evangelism and discipleship, but reconciliation and forgiveness between persecutor and persecuted. Consider how the early church responded when they heard Paul had come to faith.
The biggest danger of persecution is not the death of the body, but fear that paralyzes the spirit and prevents the bold sharing of the Gospel. We have to battle this with love, which casts out fear.
The ‘10/40 Window’ is a fairly well known ‘shorthand’ or abbreviation for a region of the world where most of the unreached live. It gets its name from a ‘box’ that can be drawn on a map: from 10 degrees north to 40 degrees north of the equator, and from the western coast of Africa to the eastern coast of Asia. This includes most of North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
This area has been called many names over time, although ‘The 10/40 Window’ has been perhaps the most popular. It was once referred to as the ‘Resistant Belt,’ although it is not so much resistant as simply unreached. The World Christian Encyclopedia refers to it as ‘World A,’ though there is nuance: ‘World A’ is defined in terms of countries, provinces, cities, peoples and languages; and if mapped, would include much of Indonesia (which is not ‘inside’ the Window).
An old brochure by the AD 2000 & Beyond Movement did much to popularize the idea of the 10/40 Window; you can still see the text online at this link. At the time, 97% of the least-evangelized lived inside the Window—and that hasn’t changed significantly since.
Is the 10/40 Window still useful today? In 1975, when Dr. Ralph Winter took the stage at Lausanne and called the unreached the highest priority of mission, he noted that 87% of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists were beyond the reach of near-culture (E-1) evangelism—they needed cross-cultural mission if they were to hear the Gospel at all. Today, 85% of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists still have no personal contact with a believer; if they are to hear the Gospel at all, it will have to be by cross-cultural witness.
Since the 1990s when the 10/40 Window was popularized, much has been happened: there are large churches in China, India, Iran and Indonesia, and over 100 movements to Christ. But most of these churches, while large, are a ‘drop in the bucket’ compared to the immense population of the Window: over 2 billion people. The need the Window captures is still great.
However, the Window does have a weakness (which the ‘World A’ methodology tried to avoid): it is geographically centered. Peoples, cities, and works are either ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ the Window. Unfortunately, there have been a number of anecdotal stories (I have not tracked down the truth of them) about churches that say ‘we only fund work inside the 10/40 Window.’
There are several immediate side effects. First, this sudden redistribution of resources can leave people working ‘outside’ the Window in a bit of a lurch. And it can sometimes be difficult to decipher. For example, take my own work. I am headquartered in Dallas. My work involves advocacy for the unreached–but am I working ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ of the Window? Or, consider a worker who labors on behalf of a Window-country where they cannot live full-time—like Syria, Iran, Yemen, Somalia–are they ‘inside’ our ‘outside’?
Second, it can make people who are working with non-Window yet ‘needy’ areas feel like second-class citizens. The reality we covered before: something like 90% of Christian ministry spending is spent on existing church members. About 10% is spent on non-Christians. So while those who have yet to hear the Gospel once need vastly more resources directed at them, those who have yet to hear the Gospel twice need only slightly less (while the average church member might hear the Gospel 100 times a year!).
Third, obviously the trends of globalization, diasporas, and people-on-the-move rather disrupts the whole 10/40 Window idea: you will find ‘Window’ peoples outside the Window far more than ever before. A very good friend of mine told me how the mother of an Iranian friend recently came to follow Jesus while visiting her daughter. Now, through the influence of the mother and the daughter, the Gospel has reached the daughter’s sister. It’s not an absolute rule, but the Gospel found in one place can flow across family lines back into the Window. Investing in a worker who lives outside the Window can be very strategic.
So, what’s the answer? Here are some practical things to perhaps keep in mind:
1. The Window is a valuable tool. It’s an easy way to refer to a region of the world where the majority of the unreached live. When you say ‘10/40 Window’ or ‘unreached’ most of those with an inkling of mission vision know what you’re talking about. It is important to keep these regions of the world ‘in view.’
2. The Window is not a rule. Making a specific geographic location the ‘only’ place we will work is not wise. We need to think about how we will get the Gospel inside the Window, while recognizing the fuzzy nature of its boundaries, and realizing sometimes the best way to work inside the Window is to put ourselves outside it.
3. There are valid ministry callings outside the Window. If God calls you to Italy, go to Italy. If someone has a calling to a non-Window place, try to help them in the calling, even if your church, as a rule, doesn’t financially support those areas. Prayer, encouragement, advice and connections can all be just as important as money.
4. There are people from the Window around those of us outside the Window. If we look carefully, we’ll likely find some diaspora people very nearby. (I have seen them in some of the most seemingly unlikely places throughout rural mid-West America.) Just because you’re not ‘inside’ the Window doesn’t mean you can’t have an impact on it.
It’s true that, technically, the term ‘unreached’ (or ‘unevangelized,’ or ‘World A’) can perhaps meet some (but not all) of these weaknesses, but I have often found that ‘unreached’ and ‘10/40 Window’ are used pretty much interchangeably: both to refer to a specific geographic area. And ‘unreached’ has strengths and weaknesses of its own that you need to keep in mind.
There’s no single perfect term. The main thing is to use these terms as tools, not to forge them into iron policies. They can be maps and guides to get to certain places, but you need to use other methods (prayer, wise counsel, etc.) to decide which places you will be investing in.
Imagine a church planter. If he presents the Gospel to 100 people, what are the odds that 60 of them will become disciples? It might seem a fairly impossible question to answer, so let’s consider a different question: Dr. Daniel Kahneman suggested to one class that they imagine taking a coin, holding it in the hand, and ‘flipping’ it (like you’d flip a coin) toward a target. Imagine doing this 100 times. What are the odds that 60 of the ‘flips’ will be within two inches of the target?
The two questions are similar in that part of the result is due to skill (communicating the Gospel, aiming the coin) and part to forces beyond your control (cultural issues, state of the person’s heart, the work of the Holy Spirit; or, atmospheric pressure, physics, gravity, and other factors). Some would call the factors skill vs. chance.
You might argue there’s no such thing as ‘chance’ in the presentation of the Gospel; all we’re doing is letting the word stand in for the aggregate of all the unseen, uncontrolled realities. When the Gospel is presented some accept and some walk away, and we don’t know why. Looking at any given Gospel-recipient, we might think the chance of his becoming a disciple would therefore be, from our perspective, 50/50. But remember the skill portion.
If you share the Gospel with him in a language he can’t understand, the probability of his accepting it is pretty near zero. If you have a skilled communicator who can present the Gospel in a way that avoids any basic misunderstandings, his chance of becoming a disciple might be greater than 50%. (Or it might still be significantly less, depending on cultural factors.)
It’s hard to know from a few ‘samples’ (a few instances of presenting the Gospel) because of the chance portion. This is where we come to the statistical idea of regression to the mean. Granted, I’m not a Ph.D. in statistics, but here’s the basics and how we can apply it.
Let’s go back to the example of flipping a coin at the target. Imagine making an initial run of 10 flips, and you get 2 within a few inches. Does this mean you’re terrible? Not necessarily. Make another run of 10. This time, let’s say you got 8. A quick learner? Not necessarily. Make another run of 10. This time, 5. Another time, 6. Another time, 4. Another, 5 again. What’s going on?
Part of the result is skill, and part is chance . Factors in your location—maybe air flow, maybe other people, maybe distractions, who knows—are affecting your shots. The more shots you make, however, the more these small chances are being ‘averaged’ out. The ‘mean’ or average of all these runs is indicative of the portion due to skill (which, from that limited data, looks about 4.8).
This is important in many life skills—church planting among them—because we often give something a few tries and decide we’re not very good at it and give up. The problem is, it’s very possible chance factors were against us on those tries.
To find out just how good (or bad) you are requires multiple tries. Those ‘samples’ will also give you data on weaknesses, which can lead to specific suggestions for self-improvement.
This is also an important principle when considering an evangelistic method. You might try something—for example, tract distribution—and hear reports of a dozen who became believers. You might be quite excited about this (and well you should; the angels rejoice over one sinner).
However, we might ask a couple of questions: twelve out of how many tracts distributed? how does that ratio compare to other evangelistic methods? Again, multiple samples are required, and to best test the method you’d need to have the same workers try both.
All of this may seem like a terrible exercise in smothering the joy of Gospel-sharing with quantification, numbers, measurement and spreadsheets—but evangelism isn’t just a joy, it’s a responsibility. By measuring multiple ‘sample sets’ of Gospel-sharing, we can get a better understanding of what is working in the place, and what isn’t.
How might we set about doing some of this?
1. Bigger sample sizes. The typical set really should have 30 to 50 samples in it to be a good sample. Consider adopting a way of sharing the Gospel (or perhaps just a ‘living out loud’ statement) with 5 to 10 people each day for a week. As you get a chance, record the response to each sharing: was it seeking (+2), friendly (+1), neutral/uninterested (0), disinterested (-1), hostile (-2)? Actually recording this (you don’t need their names and such; “guy at bus stop” might be enough) will help you be accountable (did I hit 5 today?) and see the real pattern (that one lady was hostile, but most people were either neutral or friendly).
2. Multiple samples. Do this over 3 to 4 weeks and you’ll have a fairly good view of the mean or average of the number of times a Gospel-offering finds an interested listener. You’ll also see the vagaries of ‘chance’ (I use the term loosely)—you might see many friendlies one day, and many unfriendly people another, but what’s the average situation?
3. Now, begin to change. Remember the skill vs. chance mix. Is there something about your skill set that you can improve, something about the method of presentation that you can change, which might result in an increase in positive responses? You might imagine this change or another, but the only real answer is to try something and measure it. Again, measure for a week or more. Get a good sample to control for chance .
Is this too much? In many places we’re looking at enormous populations who need to hear the Gospel. Can we afford to waste time on methods that are very ineffective? Can we afford to lose people who think they’re bad witnesses just because they had a bad first week? Can we afford to avoid evaluating our methods just because they’re exciting and we’re seeing a little fruit? Let’s measure—and let’s learn to measure well.
I have just spent several daysin a fairly remote location in Asia interviewing many leaders of a current church planting movement.
One set of questions I asked was
A) the most common obstacle to following Jesus
B) the most common reason people do follow
C) the most common reason people quit following (backslide)
Given the area, I was unsurprised to hear things like multigenerational traditional religion, social pressure, and fears as common obstacles.
Nor was I particularly surprised to hear that healings and deliverance from demonic oppression were key in their coming to faith. Whatever the “why” of it, it’s clear that such things are more common in that part of the world than in the West.
But what did surprise me was the prevalence of “unfulfilled prayer” as a reason for quitting. The line basically went: “they came seeking something–like healing–and when they didn’t get it immediately, they fell away.”
This was put more starkly by one of the leaders: “they have greed in their heart. They are following the profit for themselves.” The basic antidote to this was a clearer presentation of the Gospel, better discipleship, etc.
Sometimes, one leader said, we are tempted to offer people something that they want–and this becomes almost an enticement. “Come to Jesus and get x.” This can be done intentionally but it seems to me we do it far more often “by accident” out of passion for the needs of people. We know Jesus can heal, so “come and get…” We do this, blatantly or less so, in the west too.
Yes, we have to preach Jesus can and does heal and release and redeem and so on. But the reality, this reminds me, is that we do not bend the knee to Jesus to GET something. We bend the knee because He is Lord.
Church is not a building, a location, a program or a corporation. To confuse a church with those things is like confusing a nation with its current political or economic system. China, Russia and Albania have changed systems but remain China, Russia and Albania.
The church is the ekklesia–the community, the fellowship, the family of believers. This community is more than a club: it’s a representation, a “localized instance” of the Kingdom of His on Earth. Therefore its members do certain key Kingdom activities together–things like witnessing, the one anothers, making disciples, standing for the poor and oppressed, and so on.
“Planting a church” when we bear this definition in mind should not start with buildings or budgets or schedules or programs. Those are logistics. It must begin with people in relationship with each other.
When we start a church by inviting a lot of disconnected people to a service–I wonder if at the foundation we aren’t falling for the temptation to start with logistics first.
“Get the logistics right and the people will get in the same room; get enough people and they will form enough relationships to stick together.”
But maybe if we stated small: get the relationship building piece right first, and you’ll have a community that wants to be together badly enough to solve the logistical challenges. They will put relationships over logistical decisions and perhaps be less apt to split off over things like location, or building or worship style, etc.
Plus, get the relationship and disciplemaking piece right and you have a never ending source both of new members invited in and new leaders raised up.