Why is the remaining task not getting finished, when…

One of the questions I am frequently asked is, “Why are the numbers of unevangelized not going down (or % unevangelized) when I know that … [x] … is happening?” “X” could be a lot of different things, including these examples I’ve heard recently:

  • Broadening Internet access
  • Globalization, trade connections
  • TV / Satellite / Internet broadcasting / Youtube
  • Cell phones
  • Diaspora
  • Church planting movements
  • Dreams and visions

While it is true all of these are happening in various parts of the world, it doesn’t mean the Gospel is being brought to all of the unevangelized. The Gospel in unique new ways for some doesn’t automatically translate to the Gospel for all. Or, as William Gibson put it: “The future is here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

To begin with, although the Gospel is available for more people than ever before in many languages, it isn’t in a lot of local languages that cover a lot of people. Let’s take just a few examples from the Joshua Project’s dataset:

  • Out of 7,090 Languages, 548 (<10%) have a complete Bible, 1,313 have at least the NT, and 970 have only portions. That leaves 2,752 with no translated text and a definite need.
  • Out of 7,090 languages, just 1,378 have a JESUS Film available (because it requires Luke to be translated).
  • Out of 7,090 languages, 4,035 have some portion of audio Scripture recorded, and 910 have YouVersion languages (which could be used to correlate to availability of the Bible on the Internet).

Second, Gospel availability in a language doesn’t automatically equate to 100% distribution. Bibles are translated but not necessarily printed in sufficient numbers. The JESUS Film may be available and seen by many, but is it seen (or can it be seen) by all? The gospel is broadcast by satellite and the Internet, and seen by many (this is a driving force in church growth in Iran, for example), but not by all. Many have Internet access on their phones, but this access is often limited and walled off by government firewalls. But even more: are they searching for Gospel resources? Do they encounter them? How will they even know to search for the Gospel if they’ve never heard it? To get a mental picture of the variance between availability and distribution, picture some illustrative scenes:

  • The dangerous provinces of northern Pakistan and south/west rural Afghanistan
  • The densely populated yet disconnected and rural provinces of Bangladesh.
  • North Korea, with its political, economic and electronic ‘firewall’
  • The logistically distant western provinces of China, remote from people and blocked by the ‘Great Firewall’
  • The Sahel desert regions of Africa.
  • The isolated and war-torn nations of the Horn of Africa: eastern Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea.
  • The closed nations of Central Asia.
  • Populous yet remote regions of eastern Indonesia.
  • The closed off east of Turkey and the closed off regions of Iran outside of Tehran
  • Even in much of urban China, densely populated, there are many who have no encounters with Christians or Christianity.
  • Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the north of India, where there are significant Gospel resources yet they are such a small percentage of the 300+ million people in the region.

Third, in some places and languages there are more tools and connectivity, but disciples are made and churches planted person-to-person and group to group. CSGC studies indicate 86% of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists do not personally know a believer. Even in high-density Christian nations, migrants and immigrants are not being welcomed and reached by the existing church (with some wonderful exceptions that are nonetheless a small minority).

Fourth, about the miraculous: we’ve all heard reports of dreams and visions, and those reports have been verified. They are certainly happening. But dreams aren’t happening to every unevangelized individual – the number of dreams is fairly small compared to the overall population – and further, every dream/vision testimony I’ve encountered always sends the individual to (mostly) a person who carries the gospel or (some) to a Bible. What happens when neither a person or a Bible is available?

Fifth, church planting movements: they exist, of course, and we are thankful for them. We are excited about the new ones that have started, and are working to start more. (That’s all we at Beyond do.) But we need to be realistic. By my tabulation, there are at most 120 to 140 movements. Most of them are small – thousands and tens of thousands each, with very few (probably less than 10, maybe less than 5, depending on how one counts the movements) having over a million members. The largest movement I know of is in northern India, where despite having millions in the movement it makes up less than 3% of the region. We believe movements are the key–only movements can get ahead of population growth–but they have not solved the problem yet. We need more workers to go and start them.

So let’s celebrate: we are making some headway. The % of the world that is unevangelized dropped by half between 1900 and 2000. Between 2000 and 2025, the Christian “world” will grow by about 29 million people per year. And the evangelized non-Christian world – those who have heard the Gospel but not yet chosen to follow Christ – will grow by about 32 million per year. So in a sense we are “finishing the task” at a rate of at least 61 million people yearly. This is cause for rejoicing.

But at the same time, let’s be concerned: due mostly to population growth, the unevangelized world is growing by a net (births – deaths – newly evangelized) of 19 million per year. While the % of the world that is unevangelized dropped by half, the *number* of unevangelized rose from 800 million to over 2 billion.

The cause is simple: we are doing a lot but we are not doing enough. Very few gospel workers and even less money is going to reach these hardest to reach people. It would be nice if internet, satellite, phones, dreams and indigenous church planting movements reached the world without our having to worry about it… but nothing can replace God’s command to GO and make disciples of every ethne – GO in person and not by try to do it by remote control.

The reality is these people are unreached because we as the global church do not care enough nor are willing to sacrifice enough to reach them.

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