Sometimes we get the stereotype that agencies are all about planting “flags” in various countries. However, I’ve gone back through several sources of mission agency deployment statistics: old copies of Operation World, old copies of the MARC Mission Handbook, and the like. I’ve found a different picture.

No one has a complete picture of the deployment of missionaries worldwide. The reasons are fairly obvious: first, they change a lot; second, security. (There are other reasons, too, but these are the two big elephants in the room.) However, you can get a “decent” idea when you think about this: when an agency has been around for a long time, the places where it’s historically invested in the past are the places its interested in – and it is either there now (“under the radar”) or would like to be in the future. So, where agencies were in 2001, 2004, and 2006, are a good indicator of their interests in 2014.

Next: some agencies are pretty widely distributed (e.g. 2 people here, 2 people there, another person somewhere else)–but this is really true of the smaller agencies. As agencies get larger (depending on their organizational structures) they tend to “clump” as do all social networks according to the rule of “those that have, get more” (also called preferential attachment). Any agency will have a few places where it tends to have more resources. You’ll see teams of 1 or 2 or 3 people – and then suddenly you’ll see 15, 20, 30, and even 60 and 200. If you define a “clump” as 5% or 10% of an agency’s total personnel, you will find that many if not most agencies have their “big clumps” well documented. They either give specific statistics, or you can pretty well tell where they are.

By charting these “clumping” countries, you can get a sense of where the largest number of workers are deployed. The biggest “clumping” countries in my database are Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Germany, Ecuador, Ethiopia, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Indonesia, Kenya, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and South Africa.

Why would these be the big clumps? They aren’t entirely “Christianized” countries, although some are. You could argue they are all pretty heavily evangelized – but then, most of those on this list are either (a) right next to very unevangelized areas or (b) powerful attractors for migrants, a large number from unevangelized groups

When you think about it, these countries make sense as powerful attractors. They are strategic places to put your people.

  • Australia is a fairly open and strategic spot from which to reach the Pacific. Makes sense as a base, ministry area, and sending center.
  • Brazil is one of the most populous countries in the world, with unreached peoples as well as a large potential missionary pool.
  • China is the world’s #1 population, a burgeoning church, and tons of unevangelized people.
  • Colombia is a convenient center in Central America with a sordid past, a significant need, a large evangelical church, and one plane hop from the United States.
  • Germany is a center in Europe that attracts a lot of migrants, and is a good sending base, as well as having a lot of non-religious.
  • Ecuador: at the moment, I really have no idea why this is “clumping.”
  • Ethiopia is a fairly open and strategic spot from which to reach into the hugely unreached Horn of Africa.
  • France, like Germany, is a migrant-attracting center, as well as having a lot of nominal Catholics.
  • The UK is a migrant-attracting center as well as the base for a lot of European mission agencies (and the European bases of American ones).
  • Japan is an interesting paradox: tremendously unreached, yet open for mission agencies. A large number of bases here.
  • Indonesia is one of the world’s largest Islamic populations, but has a vibrant church, one of the best mission & prayer networks in the world, and a convenient area base.
  • Kenya has a strong Christian base and is a strategic sending center.
  • Cambodia is a smallish population that could be fairly easily reached by a coordinated strategy, and is a good base for the surrounding countries.
  • The Philippines is a widely open country, an easy base from which to operate in the region, has a strong evangelical church and a large mission sending network, a Muslim population in the south, and a lot of nominal Catholics.
  • Thailand is fairly open (despite the odd coup), and lots of agencies base here to reach out to (ahem!) surrounding countries, plus the Thai are unreached and there is a lot of church planting work amongst minorities.
  • South Africa is the obvious choice for a base in southern Africa despite its high crime rates.

Side note: There are a few places that I think are also “clumps” even though they aren’t showing up in the preliminary list I’ve compiled (partly because I haven’t dove too deep into the “sensitive” agencies yet.) Also, one big one isn’t on the list: India. That’s because in the list of data I’m going through, I’m primarily working through Western agencies, and surprisingly or unsurprisingly I haven’t encountered many agencies who have better than 5% of their mission force in India. There are many that have a few teams or even 1 or 2% but not across the 5% threshold I’m using.

Even if you were going to shift to focus exclusively on unreached places, most of these countries make sense as bases for people. I thought this might reassure you: this isn’t the kind of pattern you’d see (at least, in my opinion) if most people were about flag planting. I think most people are going where they are called by God to go. The big problem with the unreached not being reached is that some who are called to the unreached (a) don’t know what to do with their calling or (b) are ignoring or disobeying their calling.