Q. Do you (or does anyone) have counts of missionaries by city? Or by country?

No one has comprehensive, globally-gathered, publishable counts of missionaries by city (or by province, for that matter). Probably no one ever will, for at least three and maybe four reasons.

The first and biggest challenge is security. The environment in the places where the data is needed most makes it nearly impossible to gather (can you imagine trying to collect counts of missionaries for, say, Kabul, or Peshawar, or even Beijing?) and certainly would keep it from being published.

A second challenge is the scope: there are simply too many cities. Part of the problem with collecting counts of anything for large data sets is that there’re just too many places to count unless the people in each individual place collect the data and report it. This is why we can know a lot about the traffic, stock, and revenue of individual Walmart stores, for example, but we can’t know how many missionaries or aid workers or whatever are at work in individual cities. The people in the places who gather the data are generally paid in part to do so. One of the reasons we get fairly good data on unreached peoples is that some of the large organizations (like IMB, Wycliffe, and others) incorporate the gathering of this data into the job descriptions of their employees. Data on missionary counts has been collected in the past at the country level (in the 2000 edition of Operation World, for example), but security issues are challenging this now.

A third challenge with collecting counts is that they change all the time – even inside the same year. Take any given church: the number of people who attend Sunday morning service at Christmas time is vastly different than those who attend in June, for example. Members change, too: babies are born, people leave, people join. The number of members of a church (or missionaries in a city) at the start of the year can be very different from the end of the year.

There is a fourth challenge, which is difficult but surmountable: definitions. How we define ‘missionary’ makes it difficult to count. Long-term workers? People there more than 2 years (the MARC Mission Handbook definition)? Short-term workers? BAM/tentmaker types? Teachers? Getting numbers from the ‘big’ mission agencies is hard enough: there are thousands of small ‘mom & pop’ agencies, not to mention the non-Western agencies that rarely report, present as well.

In fact, the World Christian Encyclopedia’s approach – estimating the number of missionaries per capita for each country – may be the only realistic way and most accurate way to do it. (Just don’t compare WCE with OW, at least not directly: WCE counts Catholic and Orthodox missionaries, while OW does not…)

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