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.



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.

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.

Power Tip for Information Curation

I process a lot of information, in the form of news items through trends analysis and “how-to/lifehacking/business strategies posts.” Here are some suggestions based on how I work, that might help you:

  1. I use social media to connect with and discover thinkers. Social media is my way of finding people who regularly publish things I want to read.
  2. I subscribe to email newsletters from these thinkers and regular publishing outlets, that arrive in my inbox. I don’t have to worry about missing what someone says, because it automatically comes to me.
  3. I use a variety of ways to access news items (eg newspapers, magazines): Flipboard, Feedly (RSS Feeds), Tweetbot (with a curated list on Twitter), and a curated list of links (stored in a Google Doc) that takes me straight to the specific pages on a newspaper (eg NYT World). I use these different ways at whatever time is convenient (Feedly on desktop, Flipboard on phone, and so on) – but (and this is most important) whenever I find an article, I save it to Pocket. Whatever you use to save is unimportant – I’ve tried different mechanisms – the point is that the broad “funnel” of news sources gets narrowed to one, shared, central location. (That way you don’t have to go back to each system’s way of “saving” articles).
  4. In email (I use Gmail), I use filters to automatically sort incoming newsletters by frequency. I do this because it’s the simplest way (trying to analyze “topic” is too hard for most newsletters) and because frequency is a great sorter – weekly newsletters typically have a different kind of content from daily newsletters (often deeper) and newsletters that share the same frequency often share the same quality of content. Plus, if I don’t sort by frequency, monthly and weekly newsletters can get lost in the clutter of daily.
  5. (I also sort out “daily link recommender” type emails from “daily news summary” emails, as these two are quite different – I have some Google News Alerts set up.)
  6. I have learned to very rapidly skim all of these items for things I want to go deeper into. When I encounter something, I immediately save the link to Pocket (usually right-click, save to pocket). Then, in the mornings, I go back through these for material for this Daily Blog, which eventually feeds into the Weekly Blog.

The point of all this is to have a broad net, yet have a way of quickly moving things from level to level in the net. I can’t give equal attention to 1,000 twitter posts, but I can decide for any single poster a “yes/no” about whether I want to hear more from them. Then, for any single emailed newsletter, I can decide “yes/no”, for a bit of the newsletter (e.g. a link or an article or whatever) whether to save to Pocket. This gradually reduces, by a series of quick decisions, the number of articles I need to deal with.

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