Today is the first International Day for the Unreached. See the official website here. See the live event here.
Beyond has put together a resource page here, which includes a pair of new videos (I think this one is really powerful), links to articles and books that may be useful.
Kent Parks (CEO, Beyond) and I were on Point of Network to talk about the day – you can watch our interview here (now in full video!)
For more information about the unreached, you can search this website for the phrase. I use it a lot.
Eric D on the Traveling Team talks about the “hijacking” of unreached: how it’s used for lots of things it’s not intended for
Globalcast Video: Pastor Chris Lazo talks about the opportunity and what the church should do about it
Lausanne post: https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2017-05/finishing-the-remaining-29-of-world-evangelization
Ywam Organic least reached video.
Here are two Bible.com reading plans on missions/unreached:
Are we getting anywhere in mission? https://missionexus.org/are-we-getting-anywhere-in-mission/
God’s Big Heart for the Least: https://missionexus.org/gods-big-heart-for-the-least/
Great Commission quotes: https://missionexus.org/great-quotes-on-the-great-commission/
Perhaps the key thing to do on this day is to join with other believers in prayer, but also to use this day to make people at our church aware of the day – so that next year, an even greater participation can happen.
And, we can build networks of people working on this. In fact, this blog post is in large part the beneficiary of such a network: many of the links were recommended to me by my friend Jon Hirst. He is a Generous Mind.
I looked at the projected growth rates of Christianity by country based on data from the World Christian Encyclopedia/World Christian Database.
To determine whether Christianity is growing or shrinking in individual countries, we need to look at two factors:
- the population’s annual change, which is the net of: births – deaths + immigrants – emigrants
- the Christian population’s annual change, which is the net of: births – deaths + immigrants – emigrants + converts – defectors.
Let’s consider a number of scenarios (I won’t list all of the specific countries because the data is proprietary to WCE/WCD, and also the list would be too long):
1. Pop+/C+/Pop Greater. This is by far the most common scenario. In 154 countries, the net change in population and Christianity are both positive (both are adding people), but the population’s annual change is greater. The largest example is India: the population is adding 61.6 million per year, and Christianity is adding about 1.4 million per year. The exact rates of change can determine whether % Christian increase or shrinks; in a little over half the countries, % Christian is projected to decrease.
2. Pop+/C-/Pop Greater. In 36 countries, the population is growing while Christianity is shrinking. The largest example is Turkey, where the population is growing by 20,000 per year, while Christianity is shrinking by about 20,000. The difference between +20,000 and -20,000 is actually 40,000, and this speed difference will greatly shrink the % Christian in the country. The cause: the conversion rate in Turkey is greatly outstripped by the number of Turkish believers who defect or immigrate.
3. Pop+/C+/C greater. In 12 countries, both population and Christianity are growing, but Christianity is growing faster. Zambia is the largest example: its population is adding a net of 549,000 yearly, while its Christian population is adding a net of 552,000 yearly. This is a very slim lead, but it always leads to an increase in % Christian.
4. Pop-/C+/C greater. In 5 countries, the population is shrinking but Christianity is growing. The largest example is Belarus, where the population is shrinking by -17,000 yearly, but Christianity is growing by +42,000. This will lead to a significant increase in % Christian. Since Belarus is already largely Christian (Orthodox), it means the high % Christian will be stable and grow. Likely some mix of conversion and immigration is causing this.
5. Pop-/C-/C Greater. In 14 countries, both the population and Christianity are suffering net losses, but Christianity’s loss is less. Russia is the largest example: the population is shrinking by -128,000 per year, and Christianity by about -100,000 per year. Some mix of deaths, conversions and immigrations is at play. the result: in most instances, the country’s % Christian will grow.
6. Pop-/C-/P Greater. In 13 countries, a similar situation–population and Christianity are suffering net losses, but Christianity’s loss is greater. Italy is the largest example. It’s losing 88,000 per year from its population, while Christianity is losing -222,000 per year. Obviously, there is a significant loss to defection. In these scenarios, % Christian always declines by a significant amount.
Understanding the exact scenario of growth, and the reasons for it, can inform strategy. In scenario 1, for example, there is growth in Christianity–it’s just not fast enough. That’s an issue of scale. In scenario 5, there is also growth, but it’s being impacted by other factors (aging, death, immigration, demographic crash, etc). One shouldn’t assume that just because the church is growing that the strategy is appropriate; nor should we assume that just because the church is shrinking, the current strategies are wrong.
Globally, the 2018 Status of Global Christianity reports Christianity is growing at 1.3%, outstripping the global population growth rate of 1.2%. Christianity is the third fastest growing religion in terms of annual growth rate: Islam at 1.94% and Hinduism at 1.33% are both faster in terms of annual growth rate.
However, the times are changing, largely driven by changing demographics (nearly all religions gain ten times or more new members through births than through conversion, and Christianity is no exception to this). Here are the changing annual growth rates for the periods of 2000-2018 and 2018-2025:
This is further clarified by looking at the raw number of people added per year for each of the major religions:
Right now, Hinduism is second fastest in terms of annual growth rate (AGR), but third in terms of the number of people added per year. The AGR growth rate is a bit of an anomaly. By 2025, Islam and Christianity will be #1 and #2 both in terms of % AGR and raw population gains.
Now and through 2050, in any given year, Christianity and Islam are responsible for more than half of the religious growth in the world; with Hinduism, nearly all of it. The world is getting progressively more religious, and mostly either Christian or Muslim (the vast majority of Hindus are in South Asia alone). Agnostics and atheists may be increasing in some parts of the world, but globally they are losing “market share.”
The top position, both in terms of numbers added and annual growth rate, belongs to Islam–but by the thinnest of margins. Those margins are likely to be maintained through 2050, however.
Further discussion: who is growing faster: Islam, Christianity or Evangelicals
- Invitation: “Tell me your story”
- Gentle challenge: “So, if I could wave a magic wand and solve all the problems of getting there, would you want to be on the field?”
- Four areas we probe to discover what kind of calling they have:
- Would you say you’re more interested in a short-term involvement – a contribution you can make now – or a long-term involvement on the field? How they define long-term isn’t as important as the self-declared choice between these two ideas.
- Would you say you’re interested in blessing more unreached peoples and places? Again, how they define unreached isn’t as important in the early stages, although it becomes critical to be on the same page later on.
- What do you think about rapidly-multiplying movements? Are you interested in (or committed to) those? to seeing “everyone” reached?
- What about ___agency X___? (In my case, would you be interested in serving with Beyond?)
- What’s the biggest challenge/question/issue that you face in pursuing your missions commitment?
This last question is the big one early on. Listening is the key skill: discover the question, help them solve it, and then repeat this whole process if (with the solution) they move further down the road.
Note how there is very little argument in this interview. People who are argued or persuaded onto the field, I theorize, won’t last as long on the field (if they actually get there) than people who discover their calling, and who are helped/mentored onto the field.
God knows how to give good gifts to His children, just as fathers do.
But fathers know not every “good gift” is thought “good” by children.
It’s not all peaches and ice cream: sometimes God gives us vegetables and hard chores.
“Building character” isn’t always the same as how we define prosperity. And God’s “good things” for others may result in some discomfort or pain for us (short-term, at least in the light of eternity).
What keeps us from Decisions – for example, “Should I commit to long-term mission” – isn’t a lack of ability to make a decision.
It’s the decisions we have made (past Decisions) or the Decisions we might make or want to make.
Many (most?) of these decisions come out of Defaults or Desires.
- Example of a Default: Our culture, parents, peers, etc., told us we need to pursue a degree at a big-name, pricey college, and we came out loaded up with Debt. Now the next step in our “career path” is obvious – a high-paying job to pay of the debt.
- Example of a Desire: We want to get married, settle down, have a family – and the most likely “options” for that are here, in our town, and aren’t interested in going overseas.
We can decry the Defaults and Desires that lead to choices that deny the Decision we’d like to see people make. But that won’t get them to change their Decisions.
Instead, I suggest we need to help people engage with past decisions and their existing desires, and see how these might still “work” in the context of mission.
If people don’t want to commit to 20 years, then let’s frame a mission career as a succession of 2-year “terms,” for example.
If people are afraid of not finding a spouse, let’s talk about point to successful courtships and marriages.
If people are afraid for their children, let’s talk about the good and bad of children growing up on the field.
Don’t give into the temptation to denigrate someone’s desires or decisions.
Beyond is working on a strategy based on the idea of “hubs”. In brief, this strategy is:
- Go to a “phase 1” hub – learn to make multiplying disciples in your home culture. (This doesn’t necessarily mean in the United States). P1 usually lasts about 15 weeks or so.
- Sign up with Beyond (this is our application phase): onboarding, ministry partner development, and everything else that happens before you go to the field.
- Transition to the field, “land” at a “phase 2” hub
- “Phase 2” – primarily language & culture acquisition for first year or two (or longer, depending), while serving with a cross-cultural strategy to engage a people group. This is where you take what you learned about DMM/making disciples in phase 1, and add the cross-cultural component.
- Once you are finished with Phase 2, you can decide either to continue serving that hub, or pioneer something new – a new strategy team engaging an unreached/underserved/unengaged/pioneer people group or city.
The “hub” strategy is not new. You can see echoes of this in many existing agencies, as well as many historical ones. (There are dangers–the stereotypical “missionary compound” was a base or hub, but did not multiply out.)
What makes us different: we’re working on starting movements. What’s critically important about hubs:
- the ability to learn-and-do solves the balance between too long a time in training (“years in training”) and getting to the field without any training at all. Just-in-time training means you get what you need, when you need it, plus ongoing coaching and mentoring while you implement.
- the idea that hubs are constantly raising up teams to send them out to new unreached places helps us avoid the “evil Matthew effect” by intentionally designing times with hubs to be short-lived, and the optimum goal to be the sending of strategy teams to new places.
- solves the calling problem incrementally: most people, when they first sign on, have only the most nebulous idea of where they want to end up. We need to be flexible in our exact missionary focus. Most people tend to know they want to be in this region, not that one; but out of 16,000 people groups (more, perhaps, if we count “dialects” that really are people groups themselves), how can you know which specific one you will be focused on 5 years from now?
- solves the time commitment problem: you can go and serve in a hub for 2 to 4 years, learn a language, experience a culture, make a contribution–and if you come to the conclusion that “missions isn’t your thing,” you can return home having made that contribution. It’s an easier “off-ramp.” We make much of how the modern generation isn’t ready to commit the rest of their lives to missions; we need to engage with that and offer commitment timeframes and strategic objectives for those time frames that feed into an overall strategy.
(Want to talk to me about hubs and Beyond? Email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Read more: this post by Steve Smith in Mission Frontiers, also talking about hubs
In business literature there is a well-known effect called “the Matthew effect”; it especially impacts viral startups. The rule is taken from the parable of the servants: he who is profitable in little things will get even more. In secular terms it translates to “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” It’s also known as Accumulated Advantage.
Unfortunately we see this effect in missions, too. Whenever agencies, churches or denominations decide to send teams on one of two factors:
- We send to where there are existing teams that meet certain criteria that are reinforced by the arrival of additional teams
- We send to where there is perceived response (“the fields are white unto harvest”)
… the Accumulated advantage effect can set in.
If we, for example, send teams to where there are strong teams, then the strongest teams tend to attract more teams, and weaker teams get less or nothing. Eventually all of our teams will clump in certain areas and places outside will have no access. This is in fact what is happening now.
If we send to where there is response, we tend to build on existing efforts. More effort yields more response. We don’t hear about response elsewhere and make the mistake of thinking other places are therefore unresponsive. This reinforces the cycle: go where the wind is blowing.
This is a critical mistake that in part has driven us to where we are now and exacerbated the problem. Even in work among the Unreached, a lot of workers are clumped into specific areas. If we only go to the places where teams are strong and things are popping we never send teams to those who have no access.
We don’t know if they might be responsive if we never go and find out. Are the Luri, Qashqai, Saudis, Uzbeks, etc truly unresponsive–or have they never had a chance?
This is an “Evil Matthew effect,” so to speak.
We need people like Philip (who went as the Spirit drove him), Peter (in response to the dream), Paul (Macedonian call), probably others like Thomas (Church history says India)… if we are only going to where there are existing teams how can we follow Paul’s model: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”
If we are going to see the task completed, we have to break out of where our existing teams are, and brave the risk to go beyond.
Yes, the world is becoming more globalized. Diaspora (refugees, migrants, students, business people, tourists, etc) are in lots of places. The UN estimates there are over 250 million migrants in the world.
BUT: most of the world’s non-Christians are still found outside the West. (And the unevangelized are by definition non-Christians, so most of the unevangelized/unreached will be where the non-Christians are.)
Over 2 billion–nearly 3 billion–non-Christians are found in India and China alone. These regions are estimated at half-or-more unreached/unevangelized. This is where the bulk of the remaining task is found.
That’s why I still focus on North Africa / West Africa / Asia.
I recently ran across this fascinating story about Yuan Longping, an 87-year-old Chinese scientist who “is developing a new high-yield strain of rice that can grow in saltwater paddies.” Aside from the potential impact of his work, what’s fascinating for my purposes is this: insofar as I can tell, he’s not a farmer–he’s a scientist. He’s not working to be a better farmer–e.g. to better use existing knowledge of how to farm rice where it’s always been farmed. Instead, he’s taking what works now in one environment, and working to adapt it into another.
It is, in my opinion, a common yet significant category mistake to confuse missionaries with evangelists. We do it a lot. Whenever we say “I’m a missionary to my neighborhood,” what we usually mean is “I’m an evangelist” or “I’m a witness.” I wrote about this back in 2014:
The phrase, “I’m called to be a missionary to my city (or job, or neighborhood)” might be a mistake of semantics. Or, might be a very dangerous confession.
To get an idea, let’s consider different “scales of focus.” Someone who sees themselves as…
- A witness… will tend to be concerned about the representation of Christianity that they give to their co-workers, neighbors, and what not. Many “witnesses” I’ve met are chiefly concerned with learning enough to give a “ready response” when they are asked about their faith.
- An evangelist… will tend to concern themselves with the person immediately in front of them, to whom they are presenting Good News. I’ve met people who say “I’ve got a gift of evangelism;” they talk about intentionally going door to door, or actively sharing their faith with people they run across (from the checkout girl at the grocery store to people they meet on the job).
- A pastor… tends to be concerned with the “flock” they are discipling. Pastoral approaches differ, of course, but they lean toward the side of the congregation, and away from the rest of the community. Many pastors will be focused on their church members and the members’ immediate oikos (friends and family).
- A parish priest… (to use a different, less Protestant term) might be leaning toward the whole of the community, not just his congregation–but still, they will primarily be tending to people who have an affinity with the church.
Now, what about someone who is an “apostle” or a “missionary”? That is someone sent to the community as a whole, and most especially to those who are not yet in the church. The role of the missionary is a strategic role: the calling to actively see to it that everyone in a community has the opportunity to hear the Gospel–not just the people who ask us about the Gospel, or who we “happen to run across” in the course of our normal day, or who darken the doors of the church building. The missionary intentionally makes sure that those especially who are cut off from normal access to Christianity receive time and attention.
Let us not say “I’m a missionary to my city” when we are really saying “I’m called to be a witness” or “an evangelist.” But if we truly are called to be a missionary to our community, then we need to start thinking and acting like it.
The apostolic role is as different from the evangelist as the Chinese scientist is from the Chinese farmer.
Now, in what I am about to say, I am not speaking “a word as from the Lord” nor even necessarily a clear Biblical saying (e.g. chapter and verse). Nevertheless, I do believe it is true, and Biblical.
Let me start by clearly saying: every Christian is called to evangelize and make disciples. Whether you are an apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, evangelist, you don’t get out of that.
With that understood: I believe the “gifts” – apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, evangelist – each have different roles in the process of evangelizing and discipling a people.
I tried gardening one year and failed miserably (not a single fruit off any of the plants). My daughter, however, picked up the gardening bug. This year she has planted her own little garden in our backyard. She has plants in garden beds and in pots, and she’s loving it. She spent her own money on supplies, hoed out the ground, put in good dirt and planted the seeds, and has watered and weeded and dragged me out to the backyard, thrilled, as little shoots of green came out of the ground. My role has been to encourage, to help identify which bits of green coming up are plants and which are weeds, and to occasionally water the plants when she’s out to work. We both have our roles (hers is major, mine is minor right now).
I think this a useful if limited analogy: each gifting has a different “spot” or “stage” or “role” in the process of seeing the Gospel root and spread among a particular place and people. I am reminded of Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 3: “I planted, and Apollos watered.”
Yes, a missionary (apostle) may evangelize or even make disciples from time to time. (I helped her plant a few seeds, but mostly I help with the weeding and watering.) But this is not their primary function. They do these things in the course of their goal/function/objective: the apostolic gifting is a God-given passion to bring the Gospel into a place where it is not, to plant it there and let it take root, so that what grows up (IMHO) are the fruits of the apostolic work of planting the Gospel: prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and more apostles to send to more places. The apostle’s job is mostly at the beginning stage: planting the garden.
(My biggest part in my daughter’s garden was in fact my own failed garden. My failure was part of the inspiration for her success.)
Pastors, teachers, evangelists – these come at later stages, once the garden is started. (And their work will likely be more fruitful.)
Or, to use the Chinese scientist analogy: the apostle helps get the rice from existing rice paddies into saltwater paddies. Once that’s done, other farmers will come along and perfect the farming of rice in saltwater paddies, making it efficient and spreading it and industrializing it.
The local church, once planted, is like “these other farmers.” It is primarily the local church–not the apostle–who spreads the Gospel throughout the place once it is planted. The work of the apostle is to see the local church started so that this work can be done.
I love the story of Jesus calling the disciples: “Come, and I’ll teach you to be fishers of men.” He wasn’t calling them to catch more fish. He wasn’t going to teach them to be better fishermen. He wasn’t calling them to be his assistants while he caught fish, or even while he caught men. He was going to teach them to be fishers-of-men.
Similarly, the apostle must occasionally fish-for-men himself or herself, but the primary job of the apostle is to fish for fishers-of-men.
When we say missionaries need to be better evangelists, or better pastors, or better at social justice, or whatever, I think it is to miss what missionaries ought to be.
- When we say we are going on a short-term mission trip to share the gospel and win the lost, are we confusing the work of a missionary with that of an evangelist? (Really, should be a short-term evangelism trip?)
- When we say we are going to be missionaries to our neighborhood – are we speaking of the missionary strategy of planting the Gospel in our community, or do we mean “I’m going to go over and share this tract with my neighbor”?
If you’re going to be a missionary to a place, then be a missionary – embrace the strategic aspects. Get yourself a copy of Tradecraft. Think about how everyone in the place will be reached. One missionary couple or team, with a strategic focus, can reach thousands and even tens of thousands – not just their immediate neighbors. Be the missionary God is calling you to be!