Each week, I write an “Outlook” for a particular unreached province: an attempt to predict which places have the greatest potential for significant church growth.
I have never really tried to forecast the growth that is most likely. I find this virtually impossible to do with any sense of reliability. Instead, I look for places where growth is “more possible.” In farming terms, what I’m looking at is the condition of the soil, the availability of water, the availability of farmers, and so on. I’m not saying there will be growth, as this is predicated on two things: (1) that farmers plant seed and (2) God gives growth. I’m just trying to identify which soils are rocky and which soils are shallow and which soils are “good.” (Which is pretty ambitious in its own right.)
To compile it, I research, district by district, several indicators: population growth rates, localized violence/warfare, poverty, literacy, persecution levels, religious barriers, global connectedness, presence of the church, recent growth rates, open nature of the church, presence of alien Christians, presence of mission efforts, presence of indigenous denominations, presence of organized interagency/denomination networks, and the like.
But here’s the thing: I can tell you which places are going to be easier environments: places with less persecution, for example. But easier environments doesn’t always translate to church growth (or vice-versa).
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are both examples. These are difficult and demanding environments featuring terrible levels of poverty, low literacy, rampant disease, widespread corruption, consistent persecution, very little global connectivity, and extreme difficulty in getting evangelistic work into the region. Given two environments, you’d think, for example, that Dallas or New York or London or even Singapore would be easier going than Uttar Pradesh.
But the church has taken on Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as special challenges, and they are seeing fruit. Not “enough” yet – % Christian is still low – but they are seeing growth. Why? Because the church built itself to live in an unwelcoming environment. It developed processes that emphasized resilience and rapid reproduction.
Since we can’t predict which environments will actually bear fruit–one shouldn’t pre-judge who will respond to the Gospel, and who won’t–we would be well advised to do the same thing everywhere: resilience to endure until we see fruit borne, and systems that emphasize reproduction.