Mapping churches globally

I have been aware for some time of the idea of catalyzing the planting and mapping churches within specific places and peoples, down to a ratio of approximately 1 per 1,000. I generally resist this kind of mapping.

1, I think the idea of tracking “all of the churches in the world” is so near to impossible as to be impossible. (Particularly if one thinks, as I do, that a small house group can be a church.) There’s just too many. They form too quickly. They dissolve. They merge. Updating all the denominations in the world is so hard it’s usually only done about once every five years or so. Updating all the churches in the world would be several orders of magnitude more difficult.

2, I think the idea of compiling a database of all the churches in the world is an incredible security risk. And because it is an incredible security risk, getting the data with permission in some countries (mostly those in the 10/40 Window) would also be next to impossible. (Who wants to manage a database of all the churches in Afghanistan, preventing it from getting stolen and used improperly?)

3, I am not sure the strategy is ‘right.’ The net effect would be for a group of people–largely Westerners,  probably–to compile a global database that measures the success of local efforts at a very fine-grained tactical level. At some point, it shouldn’t be up to “global” people to tell “local” people where they should plant a church–that’s the local responsibility.

I have an alternative I think would benefit all researchers (global, national, local) and not just large networks attempting to do this.

Rather than try to track specific churches, I propose estimating the density of churches planted in a region using a scaled variable.

For instance, I was recently in India helping with an assessment. One of the interviewed sources told me the district he worked in had “a church in every village.” Villages are, on average in that area, several thousand people (typically about 5 to 6 thousand). This tells me the density of churches was about 1:5,000. Another source told me his district had a church “in most blocks” (but blocks are made up of several villages, and not all of the villages had a church); this led me to an estimate of about 1 church per 100,000 people.

I suggest researchers define and develop a scale they’ll use with places (countries, provinces, districts, sub-districts, etc). Something like the following might be appropriate:

  • 0 = No church

  • 1 = At least one church in this “place”

  • 2 = Two or three churches in this “place”

  • 4 = More than 3 churches, but less than 50% of the “sub-places” of this place have a church (e.g. <50% of the districts within a province each has a church)

  • 5 = More than 50% of the sub-places have at least one church

  • 6 = All sub-places have a church, some more than one

  • 7 = All sub places have multiple churches

  • 8 = Over 75% Christian

  • 9 = Over 90% Christian This simple scale could be re done at each level (e.g. provinces regarding districts, districts regarding sub-districts) to bring more granularity.

A scale like this would be fairly easily estimated, and could be gathered from informed sources within the country.

It would be mappable, and provide a tool for strategic planning.

At the province level, it probably would not be very dangerous even if it were made public (for example, I could easily estimate the capital province of a highly restricted country is probably level 3 or 4 on this scale, without jeopardizing the individual work).

I think this is the best, most secure, most practical solution for monitoring church planting at multiple levels.

I know it doesn’t answer the ethnicity question, but at very local levels places often correspond to peoples, so it wouldn’t be too much of a leap (and that question, anyhow, is best left to local leaders who understand the cultural and missiological implications anyway).

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