In missions research, I often hear this phrase, especially when I’m talking with someone who’s passionate about their people group: “There’s nothing happening here.”
It can be a difficult phrase. What does it mean? What do we mean by “nothing” and “happening” and “here”?
When we say “nothing” do we mean:
there’s no movement
there’s no response
there’s no engagement or team with a strategy
there’s no missionary influence here at all
there’s no plan to do so
When we say “happening” do we mean:
there’s no comprehensive strategy with ongoing results
there’s no fruit being borne
there’s not even any ongoing trips or visits into the area
When we say “here” do we mean
amongst the whole of my people group
in the particular area where I am working
amongst the people I have heard from
I have found I often know of things “happening” – but perhaps they don’t fit the criteria of “things” the person has, or perhaps they aren’t aware of it. Sometimes person A isn’t told things that persons B, C, and D are doing, even if person A is a well known mission leader or person of influence. Sometimes, what person B, C and D are doing is discounted as either unverified or invalid.
But I am finding that, often deep under the radar, “something” is happening in many “heres” – and although I still don’t think we are on track (yet) to reach all the peoples or even engage all the peoples and places, this gives me much hope that we might be on a path toward an exponential increase in engagements.
Variously, we estimate about 1% of that amount is spent on the unreached (or ~$480 million, or better phrased as half a billion dollars). Some portion of that is obviously donated by Americans, but we don’t know precisely how much. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering alone was $142 million (2017-18), but of course not all of that was for the unreached.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
Every place and people group needs a proclamation of the Good News:
Places need distinct voices engaging with their distinct populations. Life-on-life can best (mostly, only) happen when lives are near each other. We cannot easily “one another” each other remotely. Marriages cannot be marriages if people are never near each other; long-distance relationships are difficult because of separations. In the same way, trueekklesia community is personal: it requires regular, in-person relationships.
Peoples need distinct voices in languages they understand because (a) the Gospel needs to be understood (I wouldn’t understand the Good News in Russian), and (b) because hearing the Good News in my heart language makes it easier for me to understand and relate to.
Places that lack an in-place, in-language proclamation need a proclaimer.
It is best if the proclaimer is a person who shares their language and culture. It is good if at minimum it is a near-culture person who understands the situation. But if no same-culture or near-culture proclaimer is available, then a cross-cultural worker must be sent.
I believe we should do the hard work of finding the “nearest person” who can be sent, but if no one can be found or it’s going to take years, then we ought not shrink from sending a cross-cultural worker.
In terms of monitoring, we can over-complicate our databases. Really, the first and most important question is: does every place have a Gospel proclamation that can reasonably be expected to get into every language and to every person within a reasonable period of time (e.g. 10 to 20 years for every individual)?
Until we can know that about nearly every place, we don’t really need to drill into further detail about any single place.
I’ve recently finished reading Hans Rosling’s (posthumously published book) Factfulness. This book is a valuable examination of good analytical mental habits, especially for lay people, and I highly recommend it for your Kindle app.
What was particularly interesting to me was how they broke the world down into four categories based on consumable income. They call this “Dollar Street,” and showed how all over the world, people in roughly the same category of spending would do things in roughly the same way.
I thought we could similarly analyze places and peoples by percent Christian (in the broadest sense). While it can be challenging to know the precise % Christian of a place or a people group, we could reasonably accurately identify a general level.
Dollar Street’s categories are based on doublings. They go roughly like this:
Stage 1 0-2%
Stage 2 2-8%
Stage 3 8-32%
Stage 4 32% and above
The total count of countries or provinces by level was fairly unsurprising:
Of greater interest to me was the populations at each of the levels. (In the province graph below, I’ve included a “Level 0”: these are provinces for which I have absolutely no indicator of any Christian believers at all.)
The Dollar Street-style implications of this analysis can be taken further in the future; in this post, I just want to highlight something that comes out of greater granularity of data: the “hidden” nature of less-reached places.A country like India can have enough Christians in some spots to push it “a little higher” on the “level” scale (and in many other lists, too)–and yet these Christians are “localized” in a few places. So while some countries can show up on some lists as being “more reached,” the reality is inside the countries there are pockets of more and less reached places.
The reality is, something like a quarter of the world’s population lives in locations that are less than 2% Christian–places that are heavily unevangelized, where many can live never meeting a believer. And, another quarter of the world lives in places that are between 2% and 8% Christian–perhaps not “unreached” by some definitions, but areas where a lot of work is left to be done.
This kind of reality holds just as true for people groups and provinces as it does for countries. Inside any large population there will be more-reached and less-reached subsets. Look at Turkey: the west is more engaged than the east. Look inside Istanbul, and you’ll find the same thing.
Before anyone asks: no, my list is not publicly available; it’s internal to Beyond and some of our partners. But really, the point of this post is: this kind of analysis is not rocket science. You could do it yourself for any place where you work. Just grab a list of the provinces or districts for the country you’re working in, and for each place, ask yourself which level each of the component segments is obviously at. For most places, with a little bit of Googling, you’ll find Census data or other survey data that will help you figure it out.
I leave the exercise to you because I think it’s a needed one: it teaches us to look inside the segments, find the nuance and look for the gaps, the people who have less access. That’s a skill that all of us in mission strategy need to develop.
Whether this is quote is correctly attributed or not (or even whether it is true), it did set me to reflecting on how at least in modern history – and probably in a great deal of history – much of Christian mission’s activities were accomplished by women, even if their history has not been written.
Today, if we exclude the percentage of missionaries who are couples (equal share, 50/50, male/female), and look at the singles, single women in mission (and in the church generally) are known to largely (and in some agencies, vastly) outnumber single men.
This means that the majority of Protestant missionaries are women.
Further, if we contemplate Roman Catholic missionaries, we often think of well known missionary orders like Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, etc. – and so we think of the stereotypical monk under vows of celibacy. But the reality is, nuns outnumber monks by about 7-to-1: in 2017, worldwide, there were 753,400 women and 191,800 men in ‘the consecrated life.’
I think any mission needs to contemplate what it means to mostly consist of women. Do we write their histories and their stories? Do we consider their needs and their safety? Do we give them authority and let them lead?
The United Nations estimates that the world’s population is over 55% urbanized (Link). When you dive deep into the statistics, you find they are messy: countries self report on urbanization, and different countries have different methods for calculating it.
Researchers using high-resolution satellite imagery estimate and a standard algorithm challenge this and instead estimate the world is over 84% urban already.
Out of curiosity, I checked my own district survey, which has the world’s population broken out by provinces and districts. For each province I have the population and area in square kilometers. According to Google, 1 square kilometer = 0.3 square miles, or ~240 acres.
All of the provinces together equate to about 6.9 billion people. (This is not the 2018 population, I know, but the important thing is the relative ratios.)
Provinces with population densities (population / total area) of more than 100 people per square kilometers (or 100 per 250 acres, or 1 per ~2 acres) have a total population of 4.8 billion, or 72% of the world’s population.
Provinces with population densities of more than 1,000 per square kilometer have a total population of 866 million. There are 330 such provinces. These are mostly cities. The most densely populated province in my database, right now, is Macau, with a density of over 57,000 per square kilometer.
Focusing on high-density populations can be a strategic way of penetrating a population, because people will naturally move to more-densely populated places (urbanized areas) for work, etc. And these figures seem to confirm that the world is generally even more urbanized, already, than the “floor” figure of 55%.
I have been frequently asked, “what size counts as a movement” and “how fast does a movement grow”? The common definition I use for a movement is: “consistently reaching four generations of church planting in short periods of time.” Obviously, this leaves a little ambiguity: movements are not machines, made up of precisely engineered pieces of metal, but rather structures like forests, made up of organically growing groups of people.
This week, however, I heard a suggestion of size from a global movement coach that seemed to fit. He noted that it takes some time to get to four generations: often years. Once four generations is reached, “most movements” typically add another generation each year.
At first, this might sound as though it would take a long time to double: four generations, adding one generation per year, would take four years to double. However, we are not interested in the number of generations, but rather in the number of believers, groups, and churches. Disciples who make disciples leads to exponential growth; groups that multiply groups enhance this further. If each generation is larger than the last (and they will be, if church planting is done in multiple streams) equates to multiplying growth that takes up a larger percentage of a given population.
Let’s use some numbers to illustrate this. Assume a movement that is a precisely engineered machine (just for the sake of the illustration). Each group averages 14 people, and each group plants three new groups in a period of one year.
Growth is very slow at first: months can go by with no groups and perhaps no believers. The leap between year 3 and year 4 will be easily remarked upon; the leap between year 4 and 5 even more so. Between year 7 and year 8, the movement would become very difficult to track.
How fast things can change (and how difficult it can be to track) is readily obvious from just trying to chart such growth:
This is not just an abstract exercise. The original spreadsheet above has the appearance of an arm-chair theoretical exercise, but we now have dozens of case studies of movements, many of which are either somewhat faster or slightly slower than this growth curve.
Let’s do something different. What if the movement is a little messier? Let’s say that only 60% of the churches make another church. Those numbers would be:
This is a much slower growth pattern, obviously, but it would still significantly impact any single district of ~100,000 population, and be closing in on 1% of a million-population province. In some unreached areas, that would be a game changer.
The point: a movement doesn’t have to add another four generations in a single span of time (e.g. a year to two years); it needs only to add one. That is a huge triumph: adding another generation (e.g. each church in the furthest out generation plants 2 to 3 new house groups) each year would lead to massive doubling, and in one generation of people (~20 years) could change the course of a nation.
It’s 0 to 100%, so it shows the share of all Christians in each of the regions.
Note how the “heyday” of Christianity as a Western/”Global North” religion peaked in 1500; by 1970 the shift to the Global South had been almost complete, and by 2050 it will be nearly complete.
While this chart shows %s, it’s being driven by population. The population center for the world is in the Global South, and this won’t change any time in the balance of this century at least. Christianity already claims a substantial portion of the population of the North; additional significant gains (of the kind that could alter this chart) just aren’t possible. The population of the South is several times larger than the North, and Christianity has only made a small dent there: there is a much “bigger ocean” of potential Christians. The North can’t get ahead.
That said, what this chart doesn’t show is the cultural influence of Northern Christianity. So far, what cross-cultural influence there is of one form of Christianity on another seems to me to be largely Northern/Western Christianity influencing the rest of the world. We have yet to see significant broad cultural influence from non-Western forms of Christianity in the West. That said, there are already some indicators of this influence: there are outlier points where Africans or Asians have significant evangelistic impact in Europe or America, for example.
While the South isn’t yet having an impact on the North, it seems to me from this chart that eventually, the balance of probability is that it will. It will be interesting to see what form this takes. For example, China’s government has a push to “Sinify” Chinese Christianity. If it sees a form develop that the government is happy with, what might it do to push that form of Christianity into the world? (Admittedly, that’s a long stretch, but it demonstrates some extreme possibilities over a century’s time.)
Several people have asked about comments. The theme I use on this blog, typically, is P2, and its commenting system is really not the easiest to integrate with Twitter, Facebook, etc.
I’m working on getting this ironed out this morning. I may end up having to permanently switch themes (I’ve explored other themes, but often come back to P2) in order to have a better commenting system.
% of the world that was evangelized, AD 100 to AD 2000. Unfortunately due to massive population increase, 1900 and 2000 are both “off the scale”; AD 2000 saw the world with over 6 billion people, 73% evangelized.
“% Evangelized” includes both Christians and evangelized non-Christians, and is based on data from the World Christian Encyclopedia / World Christian Trends.