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If demography is destiny

I recently (again) ran across the line, “Demography is destiny.” Then, I encountered this link from 2016: “Which U.S. religious groups are oldest and youngest?”

The two together illustrate the reality: whatever religion(s) (or non-religious group(s)) has the largest pool of young people, is the religious group that in the long run will ‘win.’

Three forces always affect church growth: demographics (births minus deaths), conversions (minus defections), and immigration (minus emigration).

Of these three, in most cases, demography (births minus deaths) is the biggest factor. It makes sense when you think about it: the bigger the church, the more babies born will figure into the church, especially as it becomes a greater percentage of the population.

(Think of a theoretical country that is 100% Christian: the only way it can grow is births or immigrants.)

If a particular religious grouping is not having births or immigrants, and another one is, the result is inevitable.

Therefore, one of the big tasks of the church is to help believers marry believers and raise believing children.

(It doesn’t follow that large families are essential: having a birth rate roughly equal to the population as a whole, and coupling that with welcoming immigrants and seeking new converts from non-Christians, would do the trick.)

The “heresy” or “wrong knowledge” objection to movements

One of the challenges that crops up from time to time is what I refer to as the ‘heresy’ or ‘wrong knowledge’ objection. It comes in a variety of forms:

  • How do you know these people are getting taught the right things, or ‘well discipled’?
  • I don’t think I’m adequately equipped to teach people – what if I teach them the wrong thing and they go off into heresy
  • How do you keep people from going into heresy, from believing the wrong things
  • How do you train all the pastors, etc?

Let me just mention a few nuances I’ve come to keep in mind when dealing with this challenge:

  1. We can fall into the trap of equating the reality (or perception) of error with soul-killing sin. I’m not sure there’s ever been a pastor, teacher, evangelist, whatever, who hasn’t taught something wrong at some point. Or ever been a believer who hasn’t believed something wrong at some point. We all have a “little heresy” in us – if not in fact, then at the very least in the eyes of someone else. (There’s a number of things I freely confess that I rather disagree with Paul on, and I know that’s dangerous and arrogant.) But just because I get something wrong today (what was the date of Christ’s return, again?) doesn’t mean I’m go to keep on being wrong (I do learn with time), or that I’ve somehow “lost my salvation.” Even Peter got it spectacularly wrong (more than once!) and somehow managed to come out right in the end. The important thing is to keep pursuing truth, and be willing to admit when we were wrong and correct it.
  2. We can fall into the trap of prioritizing ‘knowledge’ over ‘obedience.’ The important part of following Christ is not how much knowledge of specific doctrines we gain; doctrines do not save us. The important part is following, listening to Him, and obeying Him. If we are earnestly pursuing Christ – living in fellowship with others, reading the Scriptures, seeking to obey – ‘heresies’ will tend to straighten themselves out in the end. Rather than teaching people knowledge correctly, we can rest easier in the simpler idea of teaching people to read the Scriptures, listen to the Holy Spirit, and obey as best as they know how.
  3. We can fall into the trap of over-complicating the task. The Gospel is very simple. Jesus summed it up in two elements: Love God, and love your neighbor. (Obviously there are a few other things in there too–love your brothers and sisters in Christ; love our spouse; etc.) Discipleship movements rest on the foundation of simply obeying God. DMM isn’t opposed to learning and growing–not as an ends, but rather as the means to following Christ better.
  4. And, perhaps controversial: While I am not in favor of wrong teaching, I also know that some wrong teachings are closer to the truth than others. The correct answer to “2+3” is “5”; but “2+3=23” is closer than “2+3=banana.” While it is fair to say that I am completely opposed to prosperity gospel teaching, I’d rather you were an earnest believer daily in the Word, seeking to obey Christ, and attending a strongly prosperity-gospel church, than that you were practicing a completely non-Christian faith altogether. If you’re daily seeking to obey Christ and listening to the Holy Spirit, I firmly believe bad doctrine will generally sort itself out.

You don’t need a seminary degree to teach people to read a passage of Scripture, ask a few simple questions, and get something that is both (a) immediately applicable and (b) shareable with others in their friends-and-family network. I could teach you the basics of doing that in 15 minutes (I do that segment every time I teach Lesson 9 in Perspectives). The challenge then is not knowing how to do it, but, as always, actually doing it.

(Want to hear from someone who’s been involved in a massive movement in South Asia–who’s not only done this, but taught others to do it, and seen the implementation passed on to many generations and thousands of churches? Register for Beyond’s next Discipleship Nugget event, March 5th.)

Top 10 Most Challenging People Groups

Q. Greetings from across the water… I’m writing to pick your brains? I’m wondering what you would consider to be in your opinion the top 10 most challenging or hardest to reach people groups? I’m struggling to find a term that covers in a sense what I am looking for. I’m not looking for the biggest and I’m not looking for the most remote. There is not one factor, but in a sense, it would be the most challenging and that could be the challenge of size or geography or politics or whatever. Anyhow, would love to hear your thoughts when you get chance.

This question almost immediately started generating names of large people clusters in my head. Then I started arguing with myself over those, mostly over anecdotal reports about work among them. Why should a people group be on a Top 10 list; or, alternatively, why should it not be? Outlining criteria was the best first step. Here are some of the things I look for in my District Survey:

  1. While population isn’t the sole determinant, the more challenging groups will be the larger groups, because scale introduces challenges and complexity. A small team could handle a group of 1,000 people. A strategy team can handle 100,000 over a period of time with a local network. Handling a group of a million or more requires networking, coordination, collaboration, and significant investments of time and resources. So, I’m restricting my people group list to peoples that have populations of a million or more.
  2. While remoteness isn’t the sole determinant either, difficulties of access will always figure in – whether those are “remoteness” (e.g. 4 plane flights and a long car drive), or “barriers to entry” or “warfare” or “difficulties of climate” etc.
  3. While some of these groups will doubtless be engaged, more challenging groups will have fewer available workers (in ratio to the people group) and fewer available indigenous believers. (A lot of movement strategy DEPENDS on mobilizing local believers or near-culture believers; if there are few of these, it raises the challenge significantly).
  4. The church can thrive in areas of persecution, because of the persecution. (We’ve all heard the old saw, “The blood of the martyrs…”) But the reality is, significant levels of surveillance, persecution, and oppression can suppress church growth. This is especially true in areas where the government can exercise significant control either through technological levers (think Xinjiang, China) or because the populations involved are small (think Albania during its close days, and Central Asia today).
  5. Groups that suffer from significant structures of sin – be it organized crime, systemic violence, addictive industries, and so on – will find opposition to the Gospel from the groups perpetrating those structures. In some places, drug cartels are a far bigger threat to gospel work than governments would be.
  6. Groups that feature a single overwhelming majority religion (e.g. Islam or Hinduism), with attendant festivals, pilgrimages, shrines, holidays, and what have you, have a strong network bias against newcomers. (Groups that have a slim majority religion with minorities of other religions have more opportunities for newcomer growth.)
  7. Economics do tend in some cases (here I’m thinking of China, mostly) to suppress church growth – materialism can lead to apathy. But strong economies can also open a place and a people to the world, and lead to various platforms on which people can enter and be a blessing. So I’m not sure we should always say that poverty leads to church growth (although the church can grow in situations of poverty) or any other hard conclusion.

So, based in part on this list, here is my current “Top 10” list (and some of my thinking for them). All of these are classically unevangelized groups – I’m intentionally omitting any culturally Christian groups. Others will have different lists, for different reasons, and that’s obviously fine.

  1. Pashto – the majority people found in Pakistan/Afghanistan, staunchly Islamic, Gospel access is extremely low and evangelistic activity is dangerous. Government oppression, poppy farming, logistically hard to access regions, mob violence – all of it combines to make this group hard to engage. (Note that I didn’t say they are unengaged, or there wasn’t any fruit.) There’s a lot of Pashto diaspora in Europe from which fruit is being seen.
  2. Turks – on a nationalistic upswing, Gospel access being limited by limiting access to Turkey, where the vast majority of Turks are, most of the work is in the West of Turkey; very little in the East; warfare; some mob violence, but certainly strong families that stick strongly to Islam. The work in Turkey has already cost martyrs. That said, there are good things happening on behalf of the Turks, and even with some of the increasing individual challenges, several of my sources believe the situation is not as “bleak” as it was even five years ago.
  3. Somalis – like the Pashto, strongly Islamic. Their nation is obviously very poor, a failed state, with rampant warfare, suffering, violence, hunger, disease. A lot of mob violence; working here is very dangerous. There’s a lot of expat Somalis and Somalis across the border of Somalia in other places, where fruit’s being seen.
  4. North India – I’m conflicted about this one. As most people who are familiar with the region know, there’s a lot of activity happening and has been for some time. The region as a whole does not deserve to be on the list. There are massive church networks, decade-long work going on by bold Indian evangelists. However, the region is huge in terms of population – 300 million plus, comparable to the United States – and a “home base” for fundamental Hinduism. Certain subsets of N India definitely do deserve to be on a Top 10 List: there are many smaller peoples and many districts and subdistricts that are only lightly touched, or not touched at all. Plus, India is in a nationalistic upswing and is making it very difficult for Westerners to enter (both business types and missionaries). It’s becoming more challenging (though not impossible). My assessment is that the further you get from the Delhi region and the border of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the more you will get into less engaged space. Still, anyone who wants to serve this area must be connected to national networks already engaged here: there is absolutely no reason to be a “lone ranger” not serving the Indian church. (Note that I have similar thinking to this about Indonesia–parts are very reached, and parts are very unreached.)
  5. Central Asia – Uzbeks, Turkmen, Tajiks, Kazakhs. There are pockets of openness in this region, but overall, it’s an extremely difficult work environment, in terms of access, government oppression and surveillance, and cultural Islam.
  6. Xinjiang – the enormous government surveillance and oppression of the Muslim culture makes the local group tend to cling to their culture even more. Work here is frighteningly difficult to enter into, and super sensitive.
  7. Tibet / Tibetan Buddhists – for much the same reasons, work in Tibet is also difficult. While there has been significant fruit in Nepal, the areas of Tibet and Bhutan remain very difficult to enter, stay in long-term, and see fruit out of. Very creative strategies are required.
  8. North Korea – another obviously challenging place due to the political climate.
  9. Southeast Asia – Buddhists ranging from the Tibet/Bhutan area down into SE Asia have seen very little movement fruit, and have very little movement engagement. In this region, I would pick Laos as the most challenging place to work (even to enter, and work here has cost lives). Buddhists, in general, need much more focus.
  10. N Africa – There has been very little engagement or fruit across this area (up to but not necessarily including Egypt), and significant challenges of access due to government objections, warfare, tribal issues, and fundamentalists. What effort there was in Libya has been nearly decimated by the war there, insofar as has been reported to me (in fact, the Arab Spring was not friendly in many ways to Christian work). There are many light engagements in the area, but far more needs to be done.


Which countries have the most potential to be strong sending countries?

What is a “strong sender”? The first and most obvious way to measure this is numerically. We could do this either as (1) total number of missionaries sent or (2) number of missionaries per capita. (The difference between these two measures recalls the old story of the chicken and the pig going to breakfast: the chicken donates, but the pig is all in.)

It’s extremely difficult to figure out who the mission senders and receivers are, due to issues of security. I’ve recently touched on this issue here. That said, it’s a bit easier to figure out how many are being sent out than to figure out where they are going. There are two groups that count missionaries: the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) and Operation World (OW). CSGC counts all missionaries (Protestant, Catholic, Independent, etc), whereas OW counts “PIA” missionaries (Protestant, Independent and Anglican). The CSGC numbers are about double the OW ones. CSGC’s numbers for missionaries sent are shown below:

Higher “sent per million” can be interpreted as a strong signal of commitment on the part of the local church. However, this means little if the total number of workers sent isn’t enough to finish the task. The reality is, we need more workers. In terms of this need, a “strong sender” should really be defined as one that has a significant impact on the remaining task. What needs to happen to make a difference in this respect?

The 2018 Status of Global Mission (CSGC) estimates 2.1 billion people are unevangelized. This number is currently rising, heading toward 2.3 billion by 2025 (adding 200 million unevangelized people to the remaining task). To make a difference in this requires at least reversing this trend (enough so the task isn’t growing), and at most, sending enough workers to finish the task entirely. Grappling with this requires at least three things:

Sufficient numbers. Let’s suggest a country needs to send enough workers to tackle 1 percent of the remaining task: 1 percent of 2.3 billion is 23 million. I’ve argued a small team can impact 100,000 people. 23 million people broken into segments of 100,000 would require 230 teams. At roughly 2 to 3 people per team, this equals about 600 missionary workers. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but long term missionaries (especially those using a movement strategy) are not common. They are measured in terms of “workers per million believers.” A strong sender would, therefore, likely have several million believers already.

Scalable strategy. A team of 2 or 3 people cannot evangelize 100,000 people (not to mention their future generations) on an additive (house by house by house) basis. For a small team to reach 100,000 people requires a movement strategy that can scale rapidly to the whole population. Teams that successfully implement a movement strategy most often come out of an existing movement: movements have the experience to start movements and multiply themselves. It is, therefore, likely that a strong sending nation would be one that has experienced movements or has movements happening in nearby countries, where experience can be gained.

Near-culture believers. Missiologists have long known near-culture evangelists are more effective than far-culture missionaries. (Translation and contextualization are huge investments by far-culture missionaries. Once accomplished, these enable near-culture evangelists to be far more effective.) The typical path of a movement is an outsider catalyzing near culture believers, who in turn are the main instruments in the work. So a strong sending country will likely be a nation that is culturally and geographically near to a pool of unevangelized individuals.

(As an aside, for discussion in a future post: a lot of the “last mile” of evangelism will take the form of home mission, not foreign mission. If we are going to have a from-everywhere-to-everywhere approach we have to realize that foreign-vs-home-mission stats is an arbitrary division that is more confusing than necessary. The main question is not the political boundaries to be crossed, but rather the cultural and linguistic ones.)

In summary: “potential strong senders” are countries with several million believers, who have the capacity to send workers, whose believers have experienced movements, and who are near-culture to unevangelized populations.

Some countries with large numbers of believers have experienced movements yet would find it very difficult to send workers: for example, Iran.

Some countries with large numbers of workers have the capacity to send workers, but have not experienced movements. Brazil might be an example of this, but many Latinos have been sent to existing movements to get experience, thus dealing with this objection (yet taking longer).

Some countries with large numbers of workers are strong potential senders, but they have so many unevangelized people within their own borders that it would be better if they focused on sending internally: for example, India.

So what’s the list of countries? Pulling a list of countries with more than 30 million believers, a “short” list of potential countries that seem to meet the requirements above would include: China, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya and the United States.



Does mission recruiting overlook the poor?

Q. I’m curious to know the socio-economic background of people who are mobilized into missions from North America. In the back of my mind, I wonder if a whole section of believers is overlooked who come from lower class families with little to no financial means. And I wonder how our current missions systems affect this reality.

A few people have asked a similar question of me over the years. I’m not aware of any studies on the subject, although three items have been pointed out to me by friends on Facebook:

(I have not read any of these items, so they may address the topic in far more detail and accuracy then what I am going to here. I recommend availing yourself of them.)

I don’t have any broad research on the subject, and I want to avoid availability bias. Still, we can make some assessments based on observable evidence: the people in our own agencies, and the people we run into at various mission conferences and mobilization events. Based on this, it seems obvious “less well off” or impoverished believers–especially minorities–do not tend to make it into most Western mission agencies.

Why is more difficult. It’s most likely a variety of factors. I have a few theories, outlined below, and I’m sure more can be identified.

  1. In reality, very few mission agencies are large; the vast majority of agencies are small. For these, most recruitment is done by the founder through a close network of relationships. Unless the founder is fairly unique, this circle will be more like them than not. For a founder to be able to sustain an agency, financial resources are required; a founder is more likely to be middle or upper class (in terms of his/her country) than not, and thus the recruits are more likely to come from this strata as well. I honestly think this is the largest factor.
  2. Few mission agencies fund their workers; most use a “faith-based” (donation-based) model. No matter how much an agency might wish for people of all strata, the people who actually make it to the field are the people who can raise the funds. If an individual’s network of relationships does not represent enough finances to make this possible, they will almost certainly drop out. It’s an unfortunate reality.
  3. The limits of the donation-based model is the expected budget. A lot of Western agencies expect their people to have/raise significant operational budgets as well as personal support. Travel, trainings, education, medical insurance, life insurance, retirement: all of these add up. Plus, many workers are being sent places which are considerably more expensive than where some economically poorer people live; Beijing and Tokyo and Singapore etc. can have significantly higher costs of living than suburb America. We can debate about whether this budget is needed or not; I will say Westerners, with this budget, can do a lot of “cross-pollinating” kinds of work others cannot do.
  4. People who are less well off economically may never apply to an agency. They may simply be too busy with work, or think themselves unqualified, or think they could never get the money together for a mission trip. When churches advertise short-term mission trips costing several hundred or thousand dollars, they may reinforce this idea. Most (all?) agencies simply cannot recognize potential talent without an application to reveal it; just as Walmart or Target etc. can’t recognize potential workers until they apply for a job. That application is a strong signal of initiative; but the reality is there are people  who would be good candidates, and just think themselves incapable, and so never apply.
  5. Larger agencies with a lot of short-term people, and agencies that look for a lower monetary bar, do seem to me to be more diverse. Some agencies have a huge number of people, many of them young. Some of these also tend to recruit for a lower financial perspective: they work with the poor, the oppressed, the addicted, etc., and they have a culture that reminds me of the monastic societies and intentional vows of poverty. Communal living spaces, bases, and so on are the norm. In my observation (no research here), WEC, OM and YWAM tend to conform to this model (some have told me YWAM stands for “Youth Without Any Money”). I’m not saying this is bad; in fact in some ways I think it’s quite good. YWAM, OM and WEC also tend to be multicultural, with strong non-North American influences, and many of these are what some Americans would consider to be poorer in monetary terms.
  6. A correlating (not necessarily causal) factor is that many non-White groups in America tend to be less represented in mission agencies. There are many opinions on why this is. Many have told me that for a variety of reasons mobilization of the African American churches in America seems to be difficult. Asians and Hispanics seem to be more represented (even though they are small numbers) in missions. I find this interesting because many Latinos are sent from South America on mission (witness COMIBAM and the like), and Africans (especially Nigerians?) in Europe are among the most vibrant church planters there. I’m not convinced the lack of certain minorities in America is a money issue; while clearly minorities can be less well off than Whites in America (plenty of research on inequality bears this out), there’s still wealth in the minority communities and a lot of missionaries sent out in America don’t have high net asset values in their network of supporters.
  7. Finally, a lot of recruitment is done in churches and through church networks. Mission agencies don’t have the budget or staff to pursue recruits widely, so they work through word of mouth references. If you want to know who gets into a mission network, look at the demographic makeup of the churches they have relationships with. This, again, brings in some limits on the potential types of recruits.

We should remember that this is from a North American perspective, about North American missions. Many mission agencies send workers from other countries, and they would operate in vastly different ways, in locations North Americans can’t get to, on vastly lower budgets. Further, less-well-known North American missions may very well be sending less-economically-well-off people or even enabling them to serve diasporas here in America.

Our view of the field is limited, but what we can see of the medium-to-largish agencies appears to suggest there are some unfortunate situational limits on who can go, based on the model most use.


300 Questions and Fermi Estimates

Toward the end of 2017, I began collecting questions people would like answered. My general goal was to have either 52 questions (one per week) or 300 questions (roughly one per day). I’ve received 25 so far; I’m going to start answering these and see if it prompts more questions for the series.

Some of the questions cannot be easily answered apart from major research projects. Since I don’t have the years to devote to that, I’m planning to provide a methodology for reaching a Fermi estimate: a way of making a “back of the envelope” calculation that gets you “close” to the right answer (generally, within the right order of magnitude, and on the right end of the order of magnitude). While the specific estimated answer is likely not exactly correct, it is close enough to serve for initial strategic planning, and to serve as a “check for accuracy” if one were to do a major research project.

Besides the time required for major research projects, another, more important, reason for doing it this way: in my experience, there is a lot of concern–over-concern, in my opinion–with specificity and accuracy in missions circles. We seem to belabor lists, methodologies, specific numbers (2 billion or 3 billion unreached?), and so on. I’ve seen many instances where this “paralysis of analysis” causes delay of strategy start and strategy implementation.

Hopefully in doing this series we can demonstrate how to calculate estimates that are “good enough,” and maybe even spark a new level of energy.

Concentrations of American Workers

Several people have recently asked me about the oft-cited statistic, “90% of our work goes on in Christianized/reached/finished places, and less than 10% among the unreached.” The question I’m usually asked is, “has this statistic changed? isn’t it old?”

Yes, it’s old. But getting it updated is difficult. I’m not going to try to answer with a new statistic in this blog post. I’m just going to describe some work I’ve been doing to try to “narrow the answer” or at least test out some methodologies for estimating it.

The newest North American Mission Handbook has been released, published by MissioNexus, with Peggy Newell as editor. They’ve been good enough to work with me to compile some data related to the question of missionary deployment. I began analyzing this data, and then decided to go through and update the country-by-country Mission Status column in my District Survey database (not publicly available on the Internet).

What I’ve run into is the same old problem:

  1. Precise missionary counts for the ‘unreached’ or ‘unevangelized’ are nearly impossible. For one thing, we generally measure unreached/unevangelized by people group within country (for all the reasons that Ralph Winter enumerated back in the 70s, sparking the UPG movement), but we measure missionary counts by country. So we can say there are hundreds of missionaries in any given country, but we don’t know how many are working with Christians and how many are working with the unreached.
  2. Due to the current security climate, many agencies don’t want to specify the countries their workers are in at all. For example, in the latest Handbook, the IMB puts all of their 2,000+ workers in the “Global Ministry” catch-all category, not even specifying regions.

So to try to get at something that’s “fairly accurate,” at least by country to start with, I use a scale instead. My scale of missionary engagement runs from 0 to 7.

  • 0) No mission engagement
  • 1) Only one agency or engagement, or just a tiny number suspected
  • 2) More than one agency, a small handful, probably less than 10 workers total
  • 3) Many agencies (but probably less than 15 engagements), nearly all teams very small, 2-3 workers each
  • 4) Lots of engagements, 15 to “20ish”, but mostly small teams with a few big (5-10 workers)
  • 5) 25 to 40-ish engagements, lots of big teams, several with double-digit numbers of team members, 50+ workers
  • 6) Many, many teams, over 100 workers in country in all
  • 7) Over 300 workers in country in many, many teams across many organizations

(Caveat: At present, I’m looking at international cross-cultural workers; and these numbers are updated for the Mission Handbook and do not take into account either, for example, Koreans or Nigerians or Indonesians, etc., nor do they take into account workers from nearby countries–for example, Nigerians going to Ghana, etc.)

There appear to be at least 14 countries at “level 7.” These include, in descending order of estimated number of mission workers:

  1. Mexico (with at least 1,000 long-term 4-year-plus American cross-cultural workers!)
  2. Philippines (600+)
  3. Thailand
  4. Papua New Guinea
  5. Spain
  6. Brazil
  7. Japan
  8. Kenya
  9. France
  10. UK
  11. Germany
  12. Laos
  13. Indonesia
  14. South Africa

(I’m not saying that all of these workers are engaging unreached peoples or are working for DMMs. I’m just saying that each of these countries has at least 300 workers in place, as reported to the Mission Handbook.)

The Mission Handbook reports 33,000 long-term (4-year) staff in all of the agencies. Altogether, these 14 countries probably represent about 6,000 workers, or about 20%. These are very rough numbers! What we can say for certain is that a large portion of the mission workforce is found in these 14 countries.

This shouldn’t really surprise us. Some of these are “Crossroads countries” and missionaries do tend to “clump at the crossroads.” Others have been traditional “training grounds” for short-term missions and thus draw long-term activity afterwards. Others are easier-to-reach regions of the unreached world. Still others are concentrations of agnostics that are now drawing global diasporas.

There are another 30 countries at level 6 (100+ workers). These include a lot of Latin America and European countries. Altogether they total another 3,000 workers, or about another 10% of the workforce.

How does this help us answer the question of whether deployment to the unreached has changed?

Well, it’s not (yet) an exact answer. But it is somewhat comforting to see some heavily non-Christian regions (Thailand, Indonesia, Japan) on the “top end” of the scale, with heavy mission deployment.

Still, most of the really strongly unevangelized countries are no higher than “level 3” (“multiple” engagements, though less than 15, and fewer than 50 workers). And many really hard to reach places (Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia) are only at level 1 or 2.

While I cannot say with authority precisely what percentage of the mission force is deployment among the unreached, the data does appear to indicate that significantly more than half of the mission force is at work in strongly Christian and largely reached places (which may be strongly Christian and largely reached mostly because so much of the mission force has been at work there for so long). As one example of the disparity, why does Mexico have 1,000 long-term workers, and China has slightly more than 100 (at least by the Mission Handbook stats)? Why do the Philippines and Brazil have hundreds and hundreds of workers, and Indonesia does not?

Although the “true picture” may be slightly better (because, first, agencies may not want to report their workers in Indonesia and, second, we are not counting local workers or non-American workers), I know from my own private data sets that the portrait of the imbalance is realistic. I’m not suggesting we need to take workers away from Mexico, but we do need to find some more who are called to the less-reached places in the world.

Missionary biographies

I have launched a new page on the website, devoted to curating links to missionary biographies.

The why is pretty simple: most of the time, when I talk to people about how they got their start in missions, reading missionary biographies is a key part of the beginning. Giving people a quick index to a list of published missionary biographies can help with the mission mobilization process.

Some of these are books, and while some are well known, others are less-familiar gems. If someone knows the “well worn” missionary books, recommending a book like “Guardians of the Great Commission” (the story of women in modern missions) could potentially be a way to fan the flames.

I’m also hoping that, by publishing this page, I can draw attention both to lesser-known missionaries, and get people to send me additional biographies to link. If you have suggestions, don’t hesitate to email me.

Is France “reached”?

Whenever we think about the question of whether Europe is reached or not, France is often the anecdotal story that floats to the top. Is France “reached”?

The classical definition of reached asks whether the French church could evangelize France without outside assistance. It’s a difficult question to answer because it can be very subjective, but  most people don’t realize “evangelical churches” (and that’s often what we equate with “can France evangelize itself”) are spread widely throughout France.

The French National Council of Evangelicals (CNEF) reports three new evangelical churches open in France every month, and the number of worship places has increased 10x in the past 60 years. There are now over 650,000 evangelical Christians in France. They have been growing for a long time, as this report from 2012 shows.

Every department in France has between 100,000 and 2 million in population, with most in the hundreds of thousands. According to CNEF, there is at least one evangelical church per 100,000 people, and about half of the departments (or more) have 1 evangelical church per 10,000. This is significantly improved over 1970. See:

Some of these churches are small, but some are quite large: one church in Paris gets nearly 6,000 attendees on Sundays. “In fact, French scholars says, evangelicalism is likely the fastest-growing religion in France.”

In 2012, French Protestants made up over 3% of the population. Of these 600,000, 460,000 identify themselves as evangelicals, and that number is growing all the time. It seems clear from these numbers that if France doesn’t fit the numeric definition of unreached now (generally, >2% Evangelical), it is not far off.

Here, TEAM cites 1 church per 32,000 as need for more missionaries. Don’t get me wrong, I like TEAM, I’ve sent people to them. But 1 per 32,000 strikes me as a church that could evangelize its own. My own studies suggest a small team (3 to 5 people) using a movement strategy can easily take an audience of 100,000. My friend Roy Moran’s church (Shoal Creek) is taking on 300,000.

So before we take it as given that Europe is “unreached,” let’s be sure to check the real situation out!

Huge populations

The following are the largest population concentrations in the world, each with over 100 million people. These concentrations are a mix of countries and provinces; I allow this because some of the provinces, due to populations, have nearly the same impact as countries. I do not include China (1.3 billion) and India (1.2 billion) on the list because “huge population” subsets are already there. As such this is a little bit of an arbitrary list, but I think it has value.

Together these concentrations represent nearly 2 out of 7 people on our planet. I list them here because, although they each contain within themselves numerous people groups and sociopolitical subsets, each of them also represents something of a “hard boundary” between other population concentrations. Each has characteristic geographic, political, economic and religious situations where the subsets they contain have more in common with each other than with others outside. Strategies that seek closure will have to be able to scale to reach the geo/political/ethno/linguistic boundaries of these concentrations. (The concentrations are a mix of countries and provinces; I allow this because some of the provinces, due to populations, have nearly the same impact as some countries!)

  1. United States – 308 million
  2. Indonesia – 237 million
  3. Pakistan – 207 million
  4. Uttar Pradesh – 199 million
  5. Brazil – 190 million
  6. Nigeria – 159 million
  7. Bangladesh – 144 million
  8. Russia – 142 million
  9. Japan – 128 million
  10. Mexico – 112 million
  11. Maharashtra – 112 million
  12. Guangdong – 104 million
  13. Bihar – 103 million

It would behoove every mission agency, church, denomination, and student of mission history to at least be familiar with these 13 populations and reflect on how their strategies impact them. There are enormous disparities of ministry resources between these, and strategists and students could reflect on (a) the imbalances, (b) the obstacles, (c) what can be done to redress these. If any single one of these populations were dramatically changed, it would transform the region they are in and the world in general.

Will Saudi Arabia be able to moderate Islam, or itself?

Quite a lot of turmoil in KSA over the weekend:
Mass purge upends a longstanding system
… ‘without formal charges or any legal process… presented as a crackdown on corruption’
Arrests included billionaire Alwaleed bin Tadal
… one of the world’s richest men, with holdings in many Western companies
Roundup of princes, businessmen widens, travel curbs imposed
… ‘consolidate Prince’s control of … internal security and military institutions…’
The night of long knives in Saudi Arabia
… ‘With Mutaib sinking into oblivion, bin Salman turned his attention to those with $’
… ‘lest financial empires become handy in future power struggles…’
High stakes as Saudi crown prince tries to remove opponents
… ‘the most volatile period in Saudi history in over a half century’
Things that go bump in the night in Riyadh
… ‘previous moves a power grab, Saturday’s moves a wealth grab’
Saudi prince, asserting power, brings clerics to heel
… ‘if these changes could take hold… a historic reordering of the Saudi state…’
Oil price rises to two-year high after Saudi Arabia purge
… the man consolidating power prefers prolonging oil production curbs
Meanwhile, helicopter crash reportedly kills high-ranking prince
… no cause for crash immediately given, social media conspiracy theory in high gear
… my thought: probably completely unrelated
Saudi-led coalition blames Iran for missile, warns it could be an act of war
… yet more confusion

People will ask whether reforms might open the door the Gospel. I estimate it would be a significant error to assume curbs on clerics and talk of moderating Islam automatically implies an unprecedented opening or opportunity for Gospel influences.

Saudi Arabia has had to balance between the King, the princes, the businesses, and the clerics. It has an economy riskily linked to and hampered by oil and demographic issues, in a dangerous downward spiral. The Crown Prince is championing an aggressive and also-risky economic plan for the future; consolidating power in order to accomplish this vision (and to retain power in general) is, I judge, one of the drivers (not the only one) of this weekend’s events. This weekend’s events have consolidated the Throne, the princes, and to some extent the businesses, and clerical/religious police power has previously been reduced. But….

Championing a ‘moderate Islam,’ empowering women, etc., are, I also judge, primarily ways of burnishing Saudi Arabia’s international reputation in order to give the Crown Prince more power, enable economic changes seen as important (activating women in the workforce, for example), and reducing the power of other forces in the Kingdom. There are limits to these reforms (as highlighted in this article about the limits to women’s reform), and the kingdom will have to deal with internal tensions generated by this delicate rebalancing of power. The Kingdom this weekend illustrated its willingness to use raw power to suppress dissent even at the highest levels; I rather doubt that Christian growth will be tolerated. In fact, I suspect the opposite will be the case. While critics of the government could make something of the lack of economic performance, the rapid and significant growth of the church in a country long labeled as the “guardian of Islam” in the context of “moderation of Islam” could be spun very differently, and would be a far greater PR threat to the kingdom.

With the Saudi-ization of the workforce, a decline of expat workers being welcomed, and moves against clerics that are grumpily “tolerated” by the old guard, I suspect that any growth of Christianity will likely be met with even firmer resistance. Not without cost will the Kingdom of God spread.

Festivals and stories

  1. The annual Water Festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, along the Tonle Sap River, is expected to draw 1 million people to Cambodia’s capital. The US State Department warns of “increasing possibility of crimes of opportunity” – but the inverse is also true: increased possibility of blessing opportunities.
  2. The largest Diwali festival in America is in Dallas, Tx, this weekend (November 4). It will have an increased size because many of the Houston Diwali celebrants will come here instead after the impact of the hurricane.
  3. Djibouti wants to show up on the radar of 2018 travel agencies.
  4. Up close with the tribes of Ethiopia’s imperiled Omo valley.
  5. The shepherds of the Tusheti mountains of Georgia.
  6. Down from the Mountains in China: while the parents are away at work, the children are raising themselves.
  7. Out West: a visual narrative of China’s westernmost region, Xinjiang

Festivals and travel agency specials are excellent opportunities for entry into otherwise restricted spaces, and for contact with people visiting a festival who might otherwise be difficult to contact. Short-term trips can be organized on tourist platforms, for prayer-walking and other casual contact opportunities. Research trips into unreached areas can also be conducted in the context of these opportunities.

Nigeria reports that it is Committed to raising…

Nigeria reports that it is Committed to raising mobile broadband from 20% to 50% by 2020. If successful, this will give over half of Nigerians (and even more Nigerian households) access to Internet-based evangelistic and discipleship material (and, of course, all the rest the Internet has to offer–for good or bad). Remember this is mobile broadband subscriptions, so it can feasibly be half the country! That’s important because Nigeria and Nigerians form a substantial portion of Africans: 186 million Nigerians are part of 1.2 billion Africans, or more than 1 in 10. And, they are over half of the 362 million in West Africa. Nigerians can be both a substantial mission field and a substantial mission force.

In fact, by 2020, over 40% of the estimated 1.6 billion new smartphone connections likely to be made will be in just four countries: Nigeria, China, India, Indonesia and Pakistan. It’s really not very surprising given the populations and still-low smartphone penetration rates of these countries. But what’s important: these 5 countries are among the largest less-evangelized countries (Nigeria being an exception, and China being a sort-of exception).

40% of 1.6 billion is over 600 million new Internet connections! That’s almost double the population of the United States and nearly equal the population of Europe – and all in majority-nonChristian, heavily unevangelized countries. This will be another major opportunity for Gospel resources to ‘make contact.’

There are a number of posts related to…

There are a number of posts related to social media election hacking. Just two examples:
over 126 million Americans may have seen Russia-linked political posts
Youtube says 1,000 political videos uploaded by Russian trolls

Then there’s this piece: “Do Russian bots qualify for free speech?” Despite the click-bait title, it’s an interesting examination of the “limits” and aspects of free speech. Courts have ruled that “money is speech”; is “software” also “speech”? Bots are programmed by coders; are they expressions of speech? Russians obviously aren’t citizens, but there are implications beyond the 2016 election.

And that point is indeed the point: the 2016 election is not necessarily an outlier but the trendmarker of a “normal.”

In this TED Talk, Zeynep Tufekci argues that “we are building a dystopia just to make people click on ads.” She discusses the power of big data, AI, the inscrutability of the systems we are developing, and how they are affecting us.

On the other side, Ben Evans, in “Fashion, Maslow and Facebook’s control of social,” argues that “you can optimize and measure but people still have to want it” – that social media’s ability to control people is still limited. (I lean a little more toward Zeynep’s argument, myself.)

In the long run, the bigger issue for us in missions is going to be the controls that are placed on Internet communications as a result of social media. China has remarked more than once that “Russian interference in elections wouldn’t happen in China”–because China’s censorship “defends” its citizens.

It doesn’t even have to be increased censorship. Facebook is testing the idea of moving “non-promoted content from Pages” (that is, content that is not advertised, you haven’t paid to promote it) to a subsidiary “Explore” page. But Facebook’s new “explore feed” is a “cesspool of the worst content on the Internet.” Quality publishers won’t want their content in the cesspool, so they’ll either have to (1) pay for advertising or (2) withdraw their content. FB is probably betting on the former.

The implication for mission agencies who promote their content on Pages is pretty clear. The result is that promoted content will be regulated by advertising guidelines, and unpromoted content will be muzzled.

Let’s all think about that for a second.

How I quickly process a lot of daily e-mail

Over 100 messages per day come to my email address. But most of them are just stuff to be filed and reviewed when it’s time to do the Roundup. Here’s how I process my email:

First, I filter out emails I know I can handle later (for the Roundup), leaving those that I’m more likely to need to deal with today. I use Gmail Rules to automatically process bulk mail into one of several categories:

News-Daily (newsletters that come daily, usually “this happened today” roundups about specific issues);
News-Weekly (longer-form articles, typically);
and News-RecommendLinks.

As part of the rule, I automatically mark these as read and archived so they don’t show up in my main inbox or on my phone clients.

For those that are left, I have three folders for messages that are for me:

1 – In
2 – Out
3 – Too Hard.

Once the bulk mail is automatically processed and out of the way, every day I go through emails in the morning and in the afternoon. If it’s a request I can deal with very quickly, I deal with it and move it to “Out” (e.g. done). Otherwise, if it’s got something specific for me to do, I move it to “In.”

Once the unprocessed mails are processed, I start going through the “In” folder and working my way through those emails in the time I have allotted for email. If I can get it done, I do it, then move it to “Out.” Some emails get moved to the “too hard” category – the request is out of the blue, for something that’s nearly impossible, or I got cc’d on something I shouldn’t have had. I move it to the “too hard” folder; if it doesn’t get referenced again, I don’t worry about it.

The beauty of this system is that it’s *simple*. I’ve tried to do topical assignments, but that takes too much time to think about – what topic does this message fall under? This system enables me to focus on what’s really important in email.

echo chamber

All the news that’s fit for you“: The NYT is experimenting with personalization to find new ways to expose readers to stories. “One of the greatest offerings of the NYT is its editorial judgment… this is the most important stuff to know right now.” But they’ve been experimenting with personalization: “what’s most important for you to know?” Will this promote yet another aspect of the echo chamber?

7 deadly sins of predicting the future of AI

The 7 deadly sins of predicting the future of AI” is a really long read. I haven’t finished it yet (and probably won’t this week). But it does illustrate, even with skimming, not only some of the problems we have with predicting the future of AI, but the problems we have with predicting the future itself. There are all sorts of biases that creep in. I think the first one – “we overestimate the short-term and underestimate the long-term… but how ‘long’ is the ‘long-term’?” is the most common mistake we make in forecasting.

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