5 Strategic Populations

11 Aug 2023

How do we find the important trends? One way is to look at what’s important in substantial populations, but then we come to the question: what’s a substantial population? What is large inside a country of 10 million is fairly small inside a country of 1 billion. The easiest thing to do, I think, is to consider important trends as they affect five different population tiers.

Tier 1: Over 1 billion. There are only two countries which fit into this Tier, and that will be the case for the foreseeable future: India and China. (Although by 2050, China could—possibly—fall out of this tier.) At a billion people, any trend can be proven or disproven in some portion of the country. Any meaningful population to this tier can easily exceed the size of some smaller countries. (There’s an old statistical joke: “if you are one a million in China, there’s a thousand people just like you.” And another: “anything you can say about China can be proven true in some places and false in others.”) Many provinces and cities within China can be compared to other nations: reach 20 million people and you’ve covered all of Saudi Arabia—or just the metropolitan area of Beijing. For examples of this see this map in the Economist. A really meaningful trend that impacts at least 1% of the population would cover 10 million people.

Tier 2: Over 100 million. There are twelve countries in this tier: the United States, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Brazil, Bangladesh, Russia, Mexico, Ethiopia, Japan, the Philippines, Egypt, DR Congo, and Vietnam. Most of these have staunchly non-Christian majorities (or slim majorities, in the case of Nigeria). These nations are very strategic from a missionary point of view: fail to reach any one of them and hundreds of millions of people will be left without the Gospel. Yet all of these are really too large for any single agency to reach on their own. Each has significant Christian minorities and even Christian histories: Russia was once one of the most Christian nations in the world, sending out thousands of missionaries; Pakistan, Ethiopia and Egypt all have long Christian histories that go back virtually to the beginning of Christendom; Nigeria is the “fault line of Christianity” in West Africa; and Indonesia, despite the many instances of persecution of Christians, has a very large Christian church. A really meaningful trend here impacts between 1 and 3 million people. By 2100, this list will expand to 22 countries: Nigeria will be first, while Russia and Vietnam will fall to nearly last place. New countries will include the likes of Tanzania, Uganda, and Niger.

Tier 3: Over 50 million. Fourteen countries occupy this tier: Iran, Turkey, Germany, Tanzania, Thailand, the UK, France, South Africa, Kenya, Italy, Myanmar, Uganda, South Korea, and Colombia. As with Tier 2, there are substantial bases of Christianity in these nations—but also some significant challenges, as in Iran, Turkey and Myanmar. Fortunately in the Tier 3 countries, we are beginning to get into populations that are just manageable for a small network of expatriates and locals. A moderate movement where each disciple makes 3 disciples (a small group model) could reach 50 million people in 16 generations. A meaningful trend here impacts about a half million people.

Tier 4: Over 10 million. There are 64 countries in this category. The largest notable less-reached countries include Sudan, Iraq, Algeria, Afghanistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Yemen, Nepal and North Korea. These countries are difficult cases but not impossible. Evangelizing any one of them is not unlike reaching the whole of, say, New York. In fact, one of the challenges is not that they are too big but rather that they are small enough to control. As an example of how a smaller area is easier to secure than a larger one, consider this free analysis from Stratfor on Israel’s borders: they argue that smaller borders were actually more secure than larger ones. A meaningful trend here impacts about 100,000 people.

Tier 5: Over 1 million. This final population segment includes 66 countries. (It’s not exactly the final one—there are many countries under 1 million in population—but I tend not to survey those when considering major trends). The five largest include Papua New Guinea, Hungary, Togo, Israel and Belarus. Many of these countries have “outsized” impacts because of their geopolitical importance, wealth, resources, etc. A meaningful trend here is one that impacts about 10,000 people, but in reality I find that events within these populations can easily impact the Tier 4 and Tier 3 states, setting off ripple effects.

One way to use these tiers is to examine any given trend—for example, migration—and ask how it is playing out within each of these tiers, and between them. Are there particular tiers that are causing the trend? Aggravating it? Helping to assuage it? How does the trend in one tier replicate into smaller-tier nearby areas?

Another way to use these tiers is to consider your evangelistic strategy in the light of one of them. Which tier do you have the capacity to address? Can your strategy scale to the whole of that tier? For example, let’s say you believe your strategy can easily encompass a million people. A 10-million population is really just ten 1-million populations. So, how do you replicate your strategy ten times?