How to finish the task in 10 easy steps

I confess, the title is something of a joke. I wrote it, however, to make a point. Getting to ‘closure’ or ‘finishing the task’ can appear to be an almost impossible job. There are over 7 billion people in the world, more than 4 billion of those are non-believers, and over 2 billion of them having no access to the Gospel. Breaking the task into chunks can make the task more manageable.

The numbers are huge, but the individual people are found in individual population segments. If we use a fairly simple multiplying strategy, 8 generations of church planting would be enough to ‘reach’ a population segment by the standard definition, and 10 generations would thoroughly disciple it.

Let’s do some math:

  1. Assume the world is broken down into 100,000 population segments. You can divide any million-person population into 100,000 segments. Of course, they aren’t divided that cleanly geographically—there are, for instance, more people in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex where I live than in many states in America. However, once you get down to the ‘district’ level (one below provinces/states), often district populations are measured in terms of hundreds of thousands. My ‘city’ within the DFW area is 250,000 or so.

  2. Assume each discipling leader mentors a group of 6 people. This is fairly conservative; of the 900+ movements we track around the world, the average group size is 15. I use six here because in many highly-restricted places, groups will average 5 to 6 due to security issues. These figures should work most anywhere.

  3. Assume, of the six the discipler is mentoring, three go on to gather groups of 6 themselves. Again, in our experience, this is fairly common. In restricted-access areas with smaller groups, more people become disciplers with groups (because they have a higher commitment due to the security issues); in less-restricted areas, 3 out of 15 in a group isn’t uncommon.

  4. Now, wash-rinse-repeat. Each leader of six in turn mentors three who gather groups of six, and so on.

You’ll get a chart roughly like the following. I’ve attached some years to this as general mile markers. Many places are seeing growth far faster than this.


Most ‘movements’ are considered ‘movements’ when they get to 4th generation in multiple streams, and sustainably add more generations within a relatively short period of time. Because of this definition, many movements use ‘circle’ diagrams (often on pages) to track 4 generations at a time: in a sense, for one person to both know their ‘grandparent’ and their ‘grandchildren’ (Really, 5 generations.)

Three generations of such diagrams (e.g. 3 cycles of 4 generations each) in which leaders each lead groups of 6 would (as the chart shows) easily exceed 100,000. This would be a substantial portion (and often bigger than) any given individual district.

Ten to twelve generations of leaders mentoring three leaders would serve to engage a population that ranges from 100,000 to perhaps 250,000 (and any network that gets to ten generations in this sense, can carry on to 12 to 15 generations, as required, for larger population districts). While not formalized as a strategy, this process is already being functionally used in some movements. How do we get from here to finishing the task more broadly?

The simple answer is in the last article: sending same and near-culture workers from this movement to neighbor district(s). Once there, they start another 10-Gen cycle. The question is, when (how quickly) can a multigenerational movement like this one ‘send out’?

If they have to wait until Generation 10 and it takes 20 years to get there, we are a long way indeed from finishing the task. On the other hand, if any ten-generation cycle begins sending out workers at, say, generation 4 or 5, and it takes months-not-years to get through each generation, then the rapid engagement of whole provinces, countries, and regions can be had within one twenty year cycle.

To summarize, here are three challenges that need to be engaged:

  1. We need to think less about ‘how many generations down’ and think more about ‘is each generation going as wide as possible?’ To fully spread out and engage a population, it’s not enough to go A->B->C->D and so on to 19 generations unlessyou are going ‘wide’ (Generation A mentors 3 Bs, who mentor 9Cs, who mentor 27Ds, etc). If a movement has one stream that goes deep and three streams that are ‘sterile’ or who have only a few ‘children’ who never reproduce, it will not become a significant percentage of an area. At the same time, it doesn’t mean each individual leader has to mentor tensor hundreds. If each leader mentors, say, six, three of whom mentor six, a movement can multiply rapidly.

  2. We need to think about how we speed up the next generation at each turn (e.g. months not years for leaders to begin mentoring their own ‘3’). By keeping all leaders in coaching relationships with each other, spiritual maturity can be further grown over time. I didn’t wait until I knew everything I know now (at 50) to have children. Walking the path together from an early stage is better than waiting to walk at all.

  3. We need to intentionally speed up the sending of leaders to nearby unengaged areas (the next district over). Again, if believers in District A wait until they have reached 100% of the people in District A before sending to District B, the whole world will end up waiting forever.


The Globalization of Sending

I believe the Great Commission (as commonly interpreted from Matthew 28, etc) is a task that can be finished (based in part on Matthew 24:14 and Revelation 7:9).

The primary reason the task has not been accomplished: Gospel witness requires Gospel presence. Romans 10:14-15 asks us, “How can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent?”

There are a variety of reasons why people don’t go, or—having gone—why they don’t stay long enough to be effective. Stan Parks, VP of Global Strategies for Beyond, recently told someone in my hearing that “the price of entry for movements for most workers who are brand new to the field is ten years”—that is, it takes a decade of language acquisition, cultural learning, relationship building, and daily work to lay the foundation for a movement to erupt. Ten years is longer than most people envision going to the field for; and it’s longer than many workers have been able to stay for.

If this is the case, what is the answer? There are no silver bullets, but part of the answer is to increase our ability to mobilize workers ‘from anywhere to anywhere.’ There are two reasons for this.

First, it’s been my experience that when someone says ‘there aren’t enough workers,’ they really mean ‘there don’t seem to be enough believers in our country who want to go to another country and people.’ Mobilizing sufficient workers globally means mobilizing workers from more places than just our own country.

Second, mission workers come in three different varieties, which I’ll label as ‘far’ (those who come from distant lands and languages to engage this people group), ‘near’ (those who come from the same or nearby country and the same or related languages), or ‘same’ (those who come from the same language and culture).

  • When Billy Graham preaches to Americans, he is a ‘same-culture’ worker.

  • When a Mandarin-speaking Han Chinese witnesses to Mandarin-speaking Hui, they are ‘near-culture.’

  • When an American goes to work with Somalis, they are ‘far-culture.’

Obviously, Gospel work done by ‘same-culture’ workers is most effective and efficient. We can see this in the fact that the best (and most common) person to evangelize children is their parents. It’s not just spiritual authority and influence. They share the same language and culture: it’s easier to communicate the Gospel.

Next to ‘same-culture,’ ‘near-culture’ can be very effective. I was heavily influenced in my formative years by a New Zealand evangelist who shared at our church multiple times during my life. We shared a mostly common language, a lot of similar cultural touchstones, and he could have a deep impact.

When neither ‘same-culture’ nor ‘near-culture’ workers are available, the Gospel logically must be brought from ‘far away,’ cross-culturally over linguistic and cultural barriers. Every people group was first reached by a ‘far’ worker: someone had to go from Judea, to Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the earth first.

This task of ‘incarnating’ the Gospel into a culture is the ‘missiological goal’ represented in the ‘reached/unreached’ concept: a people group is ‘unreached’ simply if there are no ‘same-culture’ workers that can do the task. To put it another way: The Great Commission does not require everyone to go to a distant culture to make disciples. It commands us all to be disciple-makers, wherever we are, whoever we are around; and it implies that all ethne are to be discipled. Therefore, someone (many ones, actually) must logically be involved in bring the Gospel over ‘far’ barriers, just as much as many other ones must logically bring the Gospel to ‘near’ people. Both our neighbors and people far off should have the opportunity to hear.

Again, logically, we should really only send ‘far’ workers when ‘near’ workers are unavailable (because ‘same’ and ‘near’ workers are so much more effective). But, there’s nuance: the reason for unavailability can vary from a lack of any believers at all, to a lack of willingness on the part of believers. To complicate things, let’s go against the stereotype in some of our brains: ‘far’ workers do not have to come from the West. In fact, logically, most won’t come from the West. For one thing, Western nations are sending fewer workers. For another, we know the center of Christianity has shifted: there are more Christians outside the West than inside it.

What we need is ‘globalized sending’: get ‘same’ and ‘near’ workers where available; send ‘far’ workers where they aren’t, and ideally send ‘far’ workers from places that are as ‘near’ as possible (‘near-far’?!).

‘Globalized sending’ has actually been happening for some time. Catholic missionary societies have always been very good at this. Big ‘multinational’ Protestant organizations like YWAM, OM, WEC, Wycliffe, etc. have done it for decades. It does seem like we’re hearing ‘more’ about globalized sending—not because it’s new, but:

(1) We have stronger visibility into the sending process. We not only hear rumblings of this happening, but now we can interact with cross-cultural missionaries from various parts of the world at conferences, on the internet, on social media, through email and so forth.

(2) We are finding not just international sending structures but local groups that can send to nearby settings. Ethiopians to Somalia/Sudan, Nigerians to various nearby cultures, Indians crossing culture lines, Chinese and Koreans to Central Asia, etc.

(3) Less well known, but making a bit of a buzz when people encounter it: some rapidly multiplying movements are even mobilizing “same-culture” workers in ‘far’ lands: helping people who are refugees “within”the movement’s zone of influence to become believers, get discipled and resourced, and then sending them back into their home cultures - where they are explosively more able (and often bolder) than cross-cultural workers (and especially Westerners) would ever be. Using this model they are seeing enormous growth.

Some of these sending processes simply need encouragement, resourcing, and tools. These things do not necessarily need to be Western. There could be African or Asian, South Asian, East Asian, Southeast Asian, Latino, European tools, all of which may be more appropriate to the local situation than any Western tool.

Some of these sending processes still encounter problems, challenges, and bugs. Some may decry the processes because of these bugs, but really, local agencies probably have just as many bugs as Western sending agencies have. Debugging the process of sending non-western workers, in the long run, is a critical need, not a sign it needs to be abandoned.

Finally, perhaps the biggest question about sending processes is funding and sustaining workers over time, regardless of where they come from. Money is a huge issue that can't be easily touched in one article but must be addressed and solved in individual instances. On one hand, we know money can corrupt and cause dependency; on the other hand, ‘people have to eat’ and ‘a worker is worthy of his hire.’ Several potential solutions to this have been used, ranging from international fundraising to business as mission to tent making.

I believe Westerners still need to send workers. I don’t advocate a model that would “outsource risk” from the West: e.g. we send money, they send workers and endure all the pain and difficulties. But I am acknowledging the flip side of this coin: while the West needs to send workers, at least an equivalent per capita rate of workers should come from other regions. It’s important that the whole body of Christ does everything it can to help every part of the body mobilize workers to send to every other part. We are all in this Great Commission together.

Challenges and Problems in the First 30 Days

I asked the Roundup readership community the following question last week:

What are the biggest challenges and problems faced, and mistakes made, by new long-term workers (of any nationality) in the first 30 to 90 days on the field? 

Here are their answers:

We were trained to be prepared for culture shock but missionary shock took us by surprise. Our first months... up to almost a year made us realize that we need to prepare new missionaries, not only for the culture of the new country, but the also the culture of those from other countries that they’ll be working with. Also, more recently, new missionaries need to understand the commitment involved isn’t just for a term or two. The biggest challenge is to keep them at task... making disciples has no short cut. We won’t know what we have in a new church plant until we see the second or third generation of believers.

It's a good thing not to take oneself too seriously at first. Enjoy, explore, eat... there's plenty of time for language learning and finding furniture another day. Be a tourist; write about and take pictures of your experiences and the sites. Nothing will ever seem so abnormal again. Plus the locals are going to ask, ‘Have you been here? Have you tried this food?’ It's great to be able to tell them right off how much you love their country…. Similarly I used to pray for this country as I flew in and saw dozens and dozens of minarets scattered over the landscape... now I breathe a sigh of relief and think, ‘Praise God, I'm finally home!’

1. Over confidence
2. No confidence
3. Not paying attention to spouses needs emotionally

One mistake we have observed is people thinking that they will get off the plane and be hit by a 'Holy Spirit lightning bolt' that will turn them into the Apostle Paul. Now, mobilizing as a pastor and training in our unofficial phase 1 hub, we tell people that if you don't do it here (e.g. obey Jesus regardless of the consequence, share your faith, pray, seek God, etc), then you won't do it there!

I think it is not listening, learning and watching long enough. Most come with high ideals and the danger is to launch with their own agenda and excitement without taking the necessary time to learn and understand. Most begin to question and then criticize. A wise person has said ‘Don't speak into a culture until you have been there long enough to come to love its people.’

Learn the language is the initial problem for a new missionary.

Biggest challenge is the adjustment to daily life; groceries, driving (do these lines on the road mean anything), money (what is reasonable to pay for a bunch of carrots in local currency), niceties (how to greet someone, what words and gestures - handshake or no touching), then throw in a different language.  Help!  Even if we are "prepared" these things can be brutal.

I believe the biggest problem is the expectation (held by either them or those supporting them) that they have to ‘hit the ground running’ (i.e. know exactly what they are needing to do, what their long-term strategy is, etc.).  They should, instead, hit the ground waiting, learning, praying, seeking God for direction (which can be done as they do the other things - culture, language, etc.  I understand many places, especially in secure areas, force you to have some sort of plan just to get a visa, but I have seen over and over again individuals and teams going off in a direction only for that to blow up in there face and they have to either backtrack and start over or they end up losing the mission there altogether.

One of the biggest challenges is often ‘friendly-fire.’  So many go to an area expecting the challenges of culture and language acquisition, etc. but many are not prepared for the challenges of other believers there either not helping or, sometimes, actively working against them because they: 1) don’t agree with their mission methods, 2) jealous of the ‘new energy’ they are bringing in, 3) tired of new folks coming in making mistakes that hurt their work, 4) disagree with their theology or doctrine.


Leaving the people and place they came from and identifying as best they can with the people and place where they now are.

The inability to assess the situation on the ground from various perspectives that allow for new thinking about the challenges and new solutions to be considered.

 I remember hearing George Patterson say, ‘The two big mistakes older mission organizations make with teams are 1) they bond with each other and 2) the average organization doesn't know how to mobilize tentmakers. Regarding the first item, this is not new.  Brewster and Brewster spoke to it in their Bonding article.  But it is still important to keep in mind when helping new workers join the field.

From more personal experience, in her ‘debrief’ with me as she transitioned out of […], a former field worker shared how her team leader expected her to jump into the very busy pace of ministry with lots of travel.  There was very little (if any) time or process for becoming a team or onboarding the new member to the team.  The note I have here about that says, ‘Find ways to help new people start well.  They NEED the team or field person to slow down, make time to coach/mentor and build relationship.’  The failure of this particular team leader to make time to bring this lady on board, hurt the local team (the lady left) and potentially hurt the organization as a whole (the lady's church is a big time sending church that we'd love to cultivate a more positive relationship with).

We also saw this when we coordinated the internship program.  The placements where the field host/team leader was too busy to invest in helping the new worker get started on the right foot, were the placements where the interns struggled the most.

Clear expectations and roles are huge, not just in the first 1-3 months, but all along.

There's a tension between ‘hand holding’, i.e. doing too much for new field workers, and not doing enough.  I feel like […] have found a good balance.  The get together once a week with people for fellowship or fun, and once a week for coaching/mentoring.  The rest of the time, the new people are learning how to live in that culture and language, but know they can call on […] if a need arises.


  • Being too plugged into the US (e.g. talking to family and friends, checking and updating social media, sending prayer requests to supporters [people go into to much detail therefor too much time])

  • We now recommend 3-5 days to go somewhere to transition from leaving the US to moving to new location. Many people are so exhausted raising support and saying goodbye that they need time to close one chapter before they open a new chapter.

  • But, after they have this rest time, they should jump into learning language, so the mistake is easing into language learning.

  • Comparing everything to the US.

  • Afraid to make mistakes


Talking too much. Observing and listening too little.
Not praying enough. 

Spending too much time with other expatriates on the field or chatting with friends back home, thereby missing their very best opportunity to connect deeply (bond) with the people, language and culture of the host country.

You can subscribe to the Roundup: it comes out weekly, and it’s free. I’ll be incorporating more survey questions in the future. You can also join my (very small but possibly growing) Slack community, where I’ll post questions like this in the future. Send me an email if you’d like an invite.

What unreached is not

In random conversations, emails, blog posts, and social media, I often hear the term “unreached” bandied about. You can actually see a cross section of some of the usages of “unreached” at the Oxford Dictionaries project here: It is fascinating to read.

However, “unreached” has a technical definition that researchers and mission strategists understand and use. This definition, put simply, is: “an unreached group lacks a church with the resources to evangelize the group to its borders without cross cultural assistance.”

So, some things reached/unreached is not:

  • “reached” doesn’t mean every individual has heard the Gospel; it means the indigenous church could bring the Gospel to every individual. (For one thing, babies have to grow up.)

  • “reached” doesn’t mean that every person is a Christian; some will hear the Gospel and not choose to follow.

  • “reached” doesn’t mean that every person has a Christian near them, as a witness.

A group is unreached if it doesn’t have an indigenous church that can do the job. That’s the bottom line. It doesn’t mean the job is done. (Technically, the definition doesn’t even discuss whether the job will be done.) There’s a natural next question: how do we know if the indigenous church can do the job? And that’s a discussion that’s been had and debated for a very long time, and not one that I will solve in this post.

When someone says “we have to reach them with the Gospel” they usually aren’t using “reached” in the missiological “reached/unreached peoples” sense; they’re using it in the evangelistic sense. When we respond, we need to keep this in mind: we can hear passion, while understanding there’s a lot in that statement that would have to be unpacked from a strategic sense. “Who’s ‘we’? ‘Have to?’—who has to? what does it mean to ‘reach’? ‘with the Gospel’ can imply a very content-oriented approach…”

When I hear this on social media and other places, I try to just hear and encourage the passion, and leave the strategy and technical conversations for more appropriate venues.

Which populations will halve, and which will 10x between 2000 and 2100

The map below compares the 2000 and projected 2100 populations.

  • Darkest red will lose over half of their 2000 population by 2100 (Bulgaria, for example, is projected to fall from over 7 million to slightly over 3 million);

  • Lighter red will lose some to up to half of their 2000 population (Russia will fall from 146 million to 124 million).

  • What I would call a pale beige color are those countries that will gain some, but will not double in size by 2100 (USA will rise from 281 million to 447 million, a gain of 1.59x). These are countries whose populations are largely stabilizing.

  • The light green countries will more than double but less than 4x their population (Swaziland will move from 1 million to 2.5 million).

  • Medium green countries will more than 4x but less than 8x their population (Chad will grow from 8 million to 62 million).

  • Darkest green countries will more than 8x their population by 2100 (Niger, for example, will more than 10x, growing from 11 million to 192 million, then nearly half the population of the United States).

Population gains and losses between AD 2000 and AD 2100.

Population gains and losses between AD 2000 and AD 2100.

While considering these growth patterns, keep in mind the absolute populations. Both Russia and China will have population declines, but neither will change their ‘order of magnitude’ (Russia will still be over 100 million; China will still be over 1 billion). The following maps show countries by total population categories (millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions) for 2000 and 2100.

National Populations, AD 2000

Source: UN Population Prospects 2017. Light green = over 1 million; medium green = over 10 million; dark green = over 100 million. (Grey = under 1 million)

Source: UN Population Prospects 2017. Light green = over 1 million; medium green = over 10 million; dark green = over 100 million. (Grey = under 1 million)

National Populations, AD 2100

Same scale. Notice all the new “Over 100 million” countries, especially in Africa.

Same scale. Notice all the new “Over 100 million” countries, especially in Africa.

Some thoughts about these trends:

  • Global economic growth has been very dependent on global population growth. This will have to change. Many of the world’s most powerful economies will be seeing stagnation or even decline of population.

  • Stabilizing populations are largely due to a fall in fertility per woman, driven in large part by falling infant mortality and lengthening life spans. With fewer children per woman, women will have more time to devote to other pursuits, and this demographic change will thus impact social change. High-fertility countries with strong population growth will lack this demographic driver, and their family and gender dynamics, norms and expectations may vary from low-fertility areas for years to come. This could work itself out in religious differences between regions. What impact will Christian Africa, with some of these demographic norms, have on the rest of the world?

  • The fastest growing countries are in Africa. Some of these are large Muslim populations, but there are several significant Christian populations. By 2100, the five largest Christian populations seem likely to be: 1. Nigeria, 2. Congo-Kinshasa, 3. the USA, 4. Tanzania and 5. Uganda. Given the mix of large Muslim and Christian populations, continued religious tension seems likely. Africa is already home to significant religious violence in various forms, and this will probably continue. Environmental and economic stress will only aggravate existing tensions.

  • The interaction of China with the African continent is something to consider. As Africa’s economy develops and its ties with China increase, how much influence will African Christianity have on China?

Population decline, 2050-2100

In the red countries below, populations will not just be slowing in growth. Current projections estimate the total population of these countries will decline: that, in each, the 2100 population total will be less than the 2050 total. To take the two most significant examples: India will fall from 1.5 billion in 2050 to somewhere around 1.3 to 1.4 billion in 2100; China will fall from 1.3 billion to slightly over 1.0 billion.

Where 2100 population < 2050 population. Source: UN Population Prospects.

Where 2100 population < 2050 population. Source: UN Population Prospects.

These are very long-range projections. Much can happen between now and then. Recently, population projections were revised up because African countries grew faster than expected. But while the exact numbers might change, which populations are like to rise and which are likely to fall is pretty much understood: researchers might revise how much they rose or fell, but the rise/fall call is very rarely wrong.

Let’s take a moment and consider how these trends inform our strategies. Part of the issue that has driven me is the increase in population: we need strategies that grow faster than population growth. In China, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Bangladesh - some of the largest pools of unevangelized individuals - the data would seem to indicate population growth will become “less” of a factor.

We must keep in mind there are still very large populations in these areas. Even as growth slows, such large populations can add enormous numbers—far more than the much smaller church adds either through childbirth or conversion. This year, China’s birth rate dropped to its lowest since the 1940s: 15 million new babies. Back in 2000, when China had an estimated 60 million Christians, the World Christian Encyclopedia estimated Christianity was growing by ~2.4 million yearly: 1.7 million from conversion and the balance through babies born to Christian homes. We can estimate that double the number of Christians (now 120 million or more) should double the growth: to 3 million. This is one-fifth the national birth rate, and the gulf between the two seems very wide.

So while we are heading toward a world where the population will likely stabilize and growth will slow, we aren’t there yet, and we’re going to take the better part of 80 years to get there. We still need strategies that scale toward large populations and keep ahead of existing population growth.

Beyond that, we should consider the demographic realities driving these trends, and how they will impact the church and mission for the next several generations. In many of the “red” countries, we can expect to see age distribution pyramids change: the populations will “age.” We will need to consider strategies that engage older populations.

In some of the populations, special situations are driving the decrease of population. Russia and Libya are examples of this. Turkey and Iran are seeing plummeting birth rates due to the terrible internal economic and political situations, coupled with significant emigration. Engaging diasporas are not a silver bullet for world evangelization, but in some cases large pools of expatriates can make for strategy-shaping opportunities.

The reality is, there will always be children (though there will be fewer in some of these places in the future), and there will always be elderly, and there will always be people all along the stream in the middle. We in the church need to continually improve how we reach out to people, no matter where along the timeline and geography of their life they are.

Invite the church

I’m not saying it’s bad or wrong to invite people to church. But what would it take to say we are not going to invite people to church--we are going to invite the church to people?

To be the expression of the church to the people who are not part of the ekklesia?

To make disciples of people in our neighborhoods and then gather together as the church for times of worship, feasting, fasting and celebration?

Too high a cost to reach the unreached

If our strategy for reaching the peoples of the world moves too fast, goes for shallow-instead-of-depth, and cannot scale to reach the individual people within those people groups, the cost of the strategy is too high.

I believe "reaching the peoples" should be shorthand for "inculturating the Gospel into a people group so that it can grow, spread, and reach all the people within the group."

The way I've sometimes heard it described, the "end line" of "reaching the peoples" is the the "inculturation" (e.g. "moving into the neighborhood", to use the John 1 Message version). I believe "missiological breakthrough" is a critical step, but not the last one. The end line isn't reached until all the individuals have the chance to be made disciples, and the responsive ones are being discipled. This is the command outlined in Matthew 28.

The Big 5

Usually, at the end of each year, I take the last two weeks of the year as a combination of holiday and sabbatical/reflective time. I'm back in the office now. Usually I start the year with a review of the latest Status of Global Mission, but this year, I want to boil it down to what I am loosely calling "The Big 5."

I don't want to minimize the state of any particular population that lacks a Christian community. The unevangelized souls in Astara, Azerbaijan are just as lost as those anywhere else. Neither do I want to minimize the calling of people: you should obey God rather than men, and definitely rather than me.

At the same time, I feel it incumbent to point out the largest pool of non-Christians in the world: the (roughly) 625 million non-Christians found in the following five states:

  1. Uttar Pradesh, India
  2. Maharashtra, India
  3. Punjab, Pakistan
  4. Bihar, India
  5. Guangdong, China

Not only are these provinces "low-% Christian" areas, they are also heavily "unevangelized": which simply means that they are devoid of the resources needed for people to have a chance of hearing the Gospel in their lifetime.

I know there are significant efforts in some of these provinces: one, in particular, has significant Christward movements already. But these still represent a very small percentage of the overall population.

625 million is more than 10% of the world's non-Christians, and somewhere around a quarter of the world's "unevangelized." This makes these five provinces worthy of significant strategic focus. Change any one of these provinces, and world Christianity and world mission will be forever altered. But the cost of doing so will likely be very high.


  1. There are many fruitful Christians; they need continued shepherding.

  2. There are many people who call themselves Christians, but have no fruit or obedience; they need discipling.

  3. There are many people who once thought themselves Christians, but have since abandoned their faith; they need re-evangelizing and discipling.

  4. There are many people who are near Christians, know Christians, see Christians, but reject Christianity; they need faithful witness and an evangelization that bears fruit.

  5. There are many people who know no Christians at all, and have no encounter with the Gospel; they need an inculturation of the Gospel and their first exposure.

The problem I face: there is a lot of work around #1, and a moderate amount of work around #2, #3, #4. 

There is very little work around #5, among the unreached. 

My heart's cry is not to stop ministry among areas 1 to 4, but to have at least an 'appropriate' if not 'equal' effort around #5.

Peoples definitely needing Bible translations

How many people groups need Bible translations—and especially, how many frontier people groups?

This data is available on Joshua Project. For various reasons, the list isn't absolutely perfect: the question of 'how do we determine if a people group needs a translation' is a complex one that translators and their organizations are still grappling with. Nevertheless, for a global picture, a 'good enough' answer can be obtained and graphed.

I used Joshua Project’s "Definite Need" filter, and then aggregated by my Stage of % Christian levels based on the % Christian of the group. The results:


Stages: 0, <0.1% Christian; 1, 0.1% to 2%; 2, 2%to 8%; 3, 8% to 32%; 4, 32% to 90%; 5, 90% and higher. Stage 0 = Frontier; Stage 0+1+ "part of 2" = Unreached.

That 'definite translation need' at Stage 5 (>90% Christian) surprised me. But some hint as to the reason can be seen in the two graphs: there is a high count of groups, but a low population figure; this means that we're dealing with a lot of tiny groups. And if you look at the data set on the website, that's what you'll see.

If you have an interest in this subject, I suggest going and playing around with the filters and examining this aspect of the remaining task.

Release the tongues

At the recent Ethne 2019 conference, one of the things I enjoyed--I always enjoy--is worship and prayer in multiple languages.

For some of the worship songs, we seek various verses in different languages. For some, we take one verse, and each one sings it in their own heart language (all together). For some prayer times, we tell people to just pray in their heart language.

The struggle to understand another language - to sing words I don't really understand - helps me grapple with the idea that the world is bigger than me.

When we all sing the same song in multiple languages, or pray in multiple languages, the "cacaphony" of noise is incredible. I can't understand a thing of what is being said, beyond my own prayer.

But God can.

This is what struck me: this praise and worship isn't about me. It's about God. It doesn't matter if I understand everything: this is a living example of how God is greater than me, and understands everything being said, sung, and cried no matter what language it's in.

And, of course, this kind of worship represents Revelation 7:9, with every tribe, language and tongue before the throne.

This is the second thing that struck me, as it has before: why do we "think" we will all speak one language in heaven?

I often have this idea that I will miraculously be able to talk to everyone in heaven--from my mother to my mentors to people like C.S. Lewis to Bible saints like Peter, Paul, Mark...

What if you have to learn ancient languages to converse with ancient saints?

Why do you think you will understand Paul or even Martin Luther when you arrive?

In fact, one key way that "some will be last and some will be first": people who only know one language from “western” cultures may be “last in heaven," while people who had to learn multiple languages just to survive in poverty conditions now might be able to talk to more people right off the bat.

The value of marketing

In an airport on my way home, I saw a sign asking Chicagoans to adopt a pet. Every Halloween we spend money on pet costumes comparable to what we spend on missions to the unreached.

I hear people belabor this point, as if perhaps we should outlaw pet costumes and force people to fund missions.

The problem isn't that pet adoptions or costumes are bad and mission is good. It's not that easy. We spend a lot of money on things of the moment--things that give us a fleeting amount of happiness. God even allowed for this (for an interesting example see Deuteronomy 14, esp. vs 26).

The problem is that what we spend money on tells us a more compelling story than mission to the unreached largely does.

If we want to see more praying, giving, going perhaps the most straightforward solution is to tell more compelling stories.

Odd paradoxes in the Christian community

  1. We expect parents to disciple their children. We frequently reflect on how parents spend more time with their children than any pastor or youth group leader. Churches provide materials to support parents as they have spiritual conversations with their kids.

  2. We advocate for Christ-following men and women to serve as mentors for children--and even adults--who are in some ways less fortunate (e.g. kids who have lost one or both parents and who are at risk, or prison ministries).

  3. We urge people to join in various forms of evangelistic campaigns, ranging from "invite your neighbor to church" to "share the Gospel with your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family members."

  4. Some churches encourage peer-to-peer accountability groups, where two men will meet to share with each other about their week, perhaps read Scripture together, pray for each other, confess to each other.

  5. In fact, some churches go so far as to encourage people to host small groups, most often around subjects like whatever the pastor talked about on Sunday.

But for some reason, despite these facts, I run into person after person and church after church that flinches at the idea of the average person "discipling" another ‘average person’, or starting a group that would eventually itself become a church.

Discipleship, in this context, simply means a group of people who gather, pray for each other, read the Scriptures together, and ask (a) what they learn about God's character, (b) how can they obey the Scripture, and (c) who can they share the stories with.

How is this so very far off from any of the 5 cases outlined above?

If every parent is expected to have spiritual conversations with their children, and disciple them, why can’t we expect people to disciple "our children in the faith"?

When patriotism can kill the soul

Sitting in a foreign country, I am constantly reminded of some uncomfortable truths:

To some extent, it is okay to be proud of my country. But I probably don't have the right extent: some have too little, and some have too much.

Regardless, putting my nation and my people first over all others—whether "my" nation is America or the UK or India or China or any other—is never a Biblical act. God always desires that we as individuals—and therefore we as corporate individuals—put others above ourselves.

Nationalism and patriotism can be as soul killing an idol as materialism or lust or greed or pride.

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Matthew 10:37

Does this not apply just as much to love of country?

Christianity by world region, 1950-2050

Note the massive increase in Africa. By 2050, there will likely be over a billion Christians in Africa, due in large part to the increase in population there. Over half of those will likely be in East Africa.

Why? In AD 2000, Christianity in Africa was estimated at about 382 million, or 46% of the continent's population. Christianity is currently growing as a percentage—but at the same time, the population is growing too. By 2050, the population is likely to be 2.5 billion—and any % Christian north of 50% will well exceed a billion people.

Note also the relative size of North American Christianity to the other bars.

The implications are immense.

(Source: Status of Global Mission 2018, Operation World, World Christian Encyclopedia, etc)