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.

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