Sometimes we get the stereotype that agencies are all about planting “flags” in various countries. However, I’ve gone back through several sources of mission agency deployment statistics: old copies of Operation World, old copies of the MARC Mission Handbook, and the like. I’ve found a different picture.
No one has a complete picture of the deployment of missionaries worldwide. The reasons are fairly obvious: first, they change a lot; second, security. (There are other reasons, too, but these are the two big elephants in the room.) However, you can get a “decent” idea when you think about this: when an agency has been around for a long time, the places where it’s historically invested in the past are the places its interested in – and it is either there now (“under the radar”) or would like to be in the future. So, where agencies were in 2001, 2004, and 2006, are a good indicator of their interests in 2014.
Next: some agencies are pretty widely distributed (e.g. 2 people here, 2 people there, another person somewhere else)–but this is really true of the smaller agencies. As agencies get larger (depending on their organizational structures) they tend to “clump” as do all social networks according to the rule of “those that have, get more” (also called preferential attachment). Any agency will have a few places where it tends to have more resources. You’ll see teams of 1 or 2 or 3 people – and then suddenly you’ll see 15, 20, 30, and even 60 and 200. If you define a “clump” as 5% or 10% of an agency’s total personnel, you will find that many if not most agencies have their “big clumps” well documented. They either give specific statistics, or you can pretty well tell where they are.
By charting these “clumping” countries, you can get a sense of where the largest number of workers are deployed. The biggest “clumping” countries in my database are Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Germany, Ecuador, Ethiopia, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Indonesia, Kenya, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and South Africa.
Why would these be the big clumps? They aren’t entirely “Christianized” countries, although some are. You could argue they are all pretty heavily evangelized – but then, most of those on this list are either (a) right next to very unevangelized areas or (b) powerful attractors for migrants, a large number from unevangelized groups
When you think about it, these countries make sense as powerful attractors. They are strategic places to put your people.
Side note: There are a few places that I think are also “clumps” even though they aren’t showing up in the preliminary list I’ve compiled (partly because I haven’t dove too deep into the “sensitive” agencies yet.) Also, one big one isn’t on the list: India. That’s because in the list of data I’m going through, I’m primarily working through Western agencies, and surprisingly or unsurprisingly I haven’t encountered many agencies who have better than 5% of their mission force in India. There are many that have a few teams or even 1 or 2% but not across the 5% threshold I’m using.
Even if you were going to shift to focus exclusively on unreached places, most of these countries make sense as bases for people. I thought this might reassure you: this isn’t the kind of pattern you’d see (at least, in my opinion) if most people were about flag planting. I think most people are going where they are called by God to go. The big problem with the unreached not being reached is that some who are called to the unreached (a) don’t know what to do with their calling or (b) are ignoring or disobeying their calling.