The Task Remaining: Part II

Jason Mandryk explores why the task of reaching every person with the Gospel remains so huge.

The greatest challenge we face with the Great Commission is the plain fact that it is indeed so very giant in scale. The Annual Statistical Table of the IBMR (International Bulletin of Missionary Research) is pretty much the authority on this issue. And according to the 2015 edition, there are still 2.1 billion people who are unevangelized in the world today.
This is remarkable, in a century where instantaneous communication spans the globe, where at least some literature (and literacy) exists in virtually every major language, and where fellowships of Christians gather together in every country.

What's more remarkable is that the number of unevangelized individuals in the world is rising. The total is projected to be 2.3 billion by the year 2025. We are actually losing ground when it comes to the goal of reaching every person with the Gospel. The populations of the world amongst whom the Good News has not made an impact are reproducing at a rate that is faster than the rate at which the Gospel is reaching them. Additionally, some regions of the world are moving so far into a post-Christian existence that even the nominal understanding of Christianity they once had in generations past is disappearing.

Beyond mere individuals, the Joshua Project (probably the most well-sourced of the three major efforts to catalogue the world's people groups) counts 6,570 least-reached peoples, totalling over three billion people. That's 6,570 unique cultures, languages, worldviews, social values, religious frameworks, and the rest. Each one of them still waiting for the Gospel to take root in their soil and produce a Church that looks like it belongs there.

Some 86 per cent of non-Christians do not even personally know a Christian. The Perspectives Course does a helpful job of defining a missiological breakthrough: when there is a viable, indigenous, church-planting movement in a people. That's a step beyond even having a significant number of churches in a people group, to the point where churches can thrive without external support, are seen as a local expression, and are replicating themselves. That still needs to be done 6,570 more times.

It was not that long ago that much of the evangelical world was caught up in the fervour of the AD2000 movement. A lot of awareness, energy, and momentum came out of this movement. AD2000's rallying cry was: "The Gospel for every person and a church for every people by the year 2000." Consider that. Consider that many people actually believed that we could achieve that goal in that time. And then remember the 2.1 billion unevangelized people and 6,570 least reached peoples that exist today.

We didn't even come close. In truth, we barely scratched the surface. That realization sapped a lot of the evangelistic and church-planting enthusiasm from the missions' movement. The monstrous scale of the unfinished task was going to need an even greater amount of effort and resources from the worldwide Church. Added to this was the concurrent intensifying reaction against the Global North oriented business-driven approach to missions that was labelled "managerial missiology" – a view that assumed the right data combined with the right strategy would always bring the right results.

Then, a year later, 9/11 happened. Security became a huge issue for Christian agencies both at home and abroad, foreign policies turned hawkish, wars ensued, fundamentalist and extremist strains of religion gained increasing influence, and the mission field was deeply affected. All of this happened right as missionary sending and even church growth was plateauing or declining in many parts of the world. It was a perfect storm of changes that profoundly reshaped global mission. Perhaps erring on the side of naïve optimism, the Church started being influenced by the xenophobia and fear that Global North governments and media had been peddling.

But it was not exclusively external factors that caused this storm. At the same time that a shaking world was cracking the foundations of 20th century missions' practices, shifts inside the Church were taking effect as well.

The next post will take a look at some of those factors and how they have blunted the edge of missional vision in the church.


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