Taking the Gospel to the Unreached

Desiring God 2011 National Conference

Finish the Mission: For the Joy of All Peoples

Good afternoon to all of you. I’m going to break one of the first rules of giving a seminar, and that’s try to put way too much information in way too little time, just so you are forewarned. My apologies to the PowerPoint operator, and I’m also going to commit one of the second sins of seminar giving, and that’s to admit beforehand that I’m going to be doing that.

There’s just so much out there that God is doing and so much of it is amazing, exciting, mind-boggling, challenging, bewildering, and heartbreaking. It’s really difficult to reduce the scale and the scope of the Great Commission and God’s role in bringing salvation to the world in a short amount of time, but we’re going to do our best. I’ve divided this time out into two major sections. In one of them we’re going to be looking at how God is at work around the world and some of the big-picture global changes and trends that are affecting mission, and that are being shaped by mission.

In the second half, we’re going to be looking at the challenges that remain and some of the main issues that Christians are going to face in the context of doing the Great Commission and bringing Jesus all the way to the ends of the earth and to every people.

Without further ado, we’ll start by looking at what God is doing around the world. The first thing that we have to recognize is that Christianity is, as never before, a truly global faith. We have to qualify this by saying Christianity in the broad sense. I don’t want to get bogged down in definitions and details and distinctions too much, but people who understand and identify themselves to be Christians are represented in every single country in the world today. They’re in almost every geographical location around the world in terms of the regions.

Of course, we know that there are still hundreds of languages without any Scripture, thousands of peoples without any churches, but Christianity has spread in a truly remarkable way, particularly in the last 200 years. You can see from this first map that even despite all of the work of mission, despite all of the immigration and diaspora populations that we see around the world today, the world is still, at least geographically, divided into some very huge blocks.

There’s a Christian block, which constitutes much of Europe, the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Pacific. Then in the center of that you have this green block of predominantly Islamic countries. Over in east and Southeast Asia, you have Buddhism and Hinduism with a few countries that also are predominantly non-religious or atheist. So despite all the diversity that we see in the world today, the planet is still divided into these very big chunks where a particular faith predominates.

World Religions

If you want to look more specifically at the faiths in our world today, if we look at Islam, we can see that actually it is quite widespread throughout the world as well. It has a presence even in countries where there were no Muslims five, 10, or 20 years ago through immigration and through growth. I think one very interesting thing to note, apart from Islam being the second largest religion and the fastest growing religion, is that the countries that have the biggest Muslim populations in the world today are not Arab countries.

The biggest Muslim populations in the world today are all, or almost all, in Asia, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Iran. These are the places with the highest concentrations of Muslims. The Muslim populations range in countries where they’re the majority from West Africa all the way through the Middle East, through south and Central Asia, down into Indonesia and Southeast Asia, and there’s a great degree of diversity. We can no longer equate the Arab world with the Muslim world, because Islam is much more widespread and diverse than that.

By contrast, Hinduism is very geographically concentrated in the Indian subcontinent. Ninety percent of the world’s Hindus live in India itself. Buddhism is a little more widespread, but still the vast majority of the world’s Buddhists live in east and Southeast Asia. Despite being officially an atheist nation, China has the world’s largest Buddhist population, followed by a number of other Asian countries with different expressions of Buddhism.

Regarding the non-religious, it’s no surprise that China is also the largest population when it comes to people who claim to have no religion. Interestingly though, the United States is second on this list. So before we get too comfortable with the spiritual state of this nation, or the nation in which I’ve resided for 16 years, the UK, we need to soberly look at what has allowed the lack of faith to become so prevalent and so widely present in the countries that have such a rich and strong Christian tradition.

In contrast to all of these, the Christian population around the world is far more widespread, in far more places, in a far richer tapestry of different expressions, represented by far more languages and ethnicities and cultural expressions. Christianity really and truly is a global faith. It’s not only global in terms of how it’s spread, but in terms of where it’s concentrated. The 25 largest Christian populations in the world today include the U.S. on top of that list. When you look at a list of these countries, what is striking is that there are all kinds of different areas of the world represented here as well. So there is a dense population of Christians represented not just in North America, but also in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, and in Europe, and in different parts of those regions as well. You have these critical mass concentrations of Christians in all kinds of different places in the world.

It really represents the fact that missions has worked, that people have been going for hundreds of years, taking the message of Jesus to these places, and generations later it has borne fruit in the presence of literally millions and tens of millions of people who’ve called on the Lord Jesus.

The Emergence of Evangelicals

The second major trend that is essential to understand is the emergence of evangelicals, particularly in the last 50 to 60 years. I’m going to be using the Operation World understanding of what constitutes an evangelical. Again, I want to be very succinct about this. It’s based on a UK Christian sociologist’s model. If you want to look him up, it’s called Bebbington’s Quadrilateral, and our definition is very close to that.

It’s based on four main pillars. The first is the uniqueness of Christ and the importance of his uniqueness in his life, in his crucifixion, and in his resurrection. The second is the necessity of new birth through regeneration by the Holy Spirit. The third is the authority of God’s word as the ultimate authority for all things of human and moral and spiritual importance. Finally, the essence of Christian Christianity is not transactional, but it’s relational. There is an element of discipleship, evangelism, and mission that comes after our experience of that new birth. So those are the four basic pillars on which we build our understanding of evangelicals.

Evangelicals have emerged from 1960 onward, though they were only in a few pockets in the West. They have been spreading decade by decade into Africa, into Asia, into Latin America, back again into Europe once more, and into many different parts of the world. It’s been a staggering and praiseworthy dynamic that we’ve seen. God has taken his word and brought it into places where there’s been no presence of believers, and also he has brought rejuvenation into places where Christianity had been present for centuries and had become stagnant and dead.

Evangelicals today are actually predominantly from the majority world. Probably around 77 percent of evangelicals in the world today are from the non-Western world. A third of all evangelicals are from Africa, from Asia, and from Latin America. Europe only has three percent of the world’s evangelicals. North America only has 17 percent. Despite the richness in wealth and size of evangelicals here in the West, we are very much in the minority today. I’d say praise God for that, because population wise we’re just a small sliver of humanity.

The Growth of the Church

Not only in terms of size, but also in terms of growth, we are very much in the minority. When you look at the West, Europe, North America, much of the Pacific, we see that evangelicals even in these places, even in Europe where it’s so spiritually dark in so many areas, the evangelical church is growing. This is despite the overall population decline in many of these places. In the non-Western world, in the majority world, we see evangelicals growing explosively, exponentially, in Africa, Latin America, and in many parts of Asia, although not all parts.

We see this as a work of God and as the response of these people to the preaching of his word, to the translating of the Bible, to the activity of missionaries and evangelists going into these places. Out of the 25 highest percentages of evangelicals in the world, almost all of them are, again, in the majority world. They’re non-Western. The only two that come from the Western world are the US, which by global standards is a real freak of nature, in terms of religious demography. All the things that we think are normal, all the dynamics and the changes and the issues that shape religion and spirituality in the US, these are not replicated anywhere else in the world. We have a very unique situation here in the US and in North America. The only other exception to this list here is the Faroe Islands, a tiny enclave in the North Atlantic with about 52,000 people and a really strong heritage and tradition of genuine biblical faith.

If you look at the other side, the places where evangelicals are the least proportion, we have a very sobering picture. These are places like Turkey, which we read about just now. How much of the book of Acts was actually written in or was told about in Turkey? How much of the New Testament was written in what is today Turkey? Yet today, it is the lowest proportion of evangelicals of any country in the world. We see North Africa represented here, we see the Arab Peninsula, we see Central Asia, we see the Horn of Africa, we see parts of Europe, and we see the central part of Africa as well. These are all kinds of places which are dangerous, which are risky, and yet which are in great and desperate need for the Gospel to be proclaimed and to be lived out.

Gospel Growth in Dangerous Places

Again, this is not just in terms of the presence, or the lack of presence, of evangelicals and of the gospel, we also see the amazing story of the places where the gospel is growing fastest. When we did our research with Operation World and we had completed all of our statistical work, we basically ran the reports that were going to generate the results to show in the last five years where evangelicals were growing and at what percent. We were surprised and staggered to see that Iran is the country where evangelicals are growing faster than any other place in the world today.

Second on that list is Afghanistan. Then we have places like The Gambia, Cambodia, Algeria, Somalia, and Mongolia, and the list goes on. There are incredible stories of how the gospel is going into places where there’s a huge spiritual vacuum or a huge spiritual opposition to Jesus, and is growing there in incredible situations of stress and persecution and, again, danger. But the gospel is growing in those places. The only Western countries represented here are very tiny countries that are really statistical anomalies.

Greenland is predominantly Inuit and not Western. Andorra is a place where evangelical growth is fueled by Latin American immigration. San Marino is a place where the evangelical church is so small that one or two new converts virtually doubles the size of the evangelical population there. So if you want to go to a place where you can report high percentage church growth as a missionary, then that’s the place you want to go. Win one convert and you’ve doubled your church.

What about annual growth rates globally? We know that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. We also know that Christianity is not growing proportionally. A hundred years ago, Christians were one third of the world’s population and today we’re just under one third, but evangelicals are growing at a much more significant rate. This is because not only of natural reproduction, which is the way Muslims predominantly grow, but because of mission and evangelism, church planting, and leading people into a living relationship with the Lord Jesus.

Persecution and Growth

Persecution and growth is the third major and essential point. What I want to do is just illustrate this. I don’t want to just talk about it, I want to illustrate it from a little research exercise that I did. We took the Open Doors’ World Watch List, which includes the 50 countries where persecution is highest. It’s an index that they base on a number of factors. We took those 50 countries and we correlated that to the growth rates of evangelicals in those countries. We were once again staggered and surprised by the results that came out.

The first thing we looked at was countries on this list of the highest persecution rates where the church is growing, but it’s growing slower than the overall population. In every single instance, evangelicals were growing in these countries. Now in places like Turkey and Palestine, evangelicals are growing, but they’re not growing as fast as the overall population. If you move one further and we go to the list of countries where evangelicals are actually growing faster than the overall population, then it spreads. It spreads to places like Ethiopia, northern Nigeria, Yemen, Pakistan, and Iraq. This is in the midst of persecution, and as I used to say, this is despite a great intensity of persecution.

As we went further and we looked at places where evangelicals are growing more than double the rate of the overall population, suddenly a whole new vista of countries rises onto the scene, including countries where persecution has been sustained and intense not for decades but for generations. Then last of all, we looked at countries where the evangelical church is growing at more than quadruple the rates of the population.

Some of these countries we know are places where persecution is most intense out of anywhere in the world. This includes places like North Korea, places like Afghanistan, places like Turkmenistan, and yet these are the places where evangelicals are growing at rates far exceeding the overall population rate. They might be small proportionately, they might be less than 1% of that population, but the growth that they’re seeing occur is just incredible. I used to say that this growth is occurring despite intense persecution, but now I really believe that growth is occurring at least in part because of the persecution. When you see every single one of those countries on that list of 50 where evangelical growth is occurring, in many of them it’s occurring rapidly and exponentially. We have to see the correlation between these two things.

We know from the book of Revelation and we know from the quotes of the early church fathers that persecution is one of the parts of the picture that sees the church grow on a sustained level. Just remember this quote from Hebrews 13:3:

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.

I’m just taking a little aside here to remember that those places where persecution is intense, it is our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering there. As they suffer, we are one with them in the body and we are called to pray for them in many different ways. We are called to support not just them, but the families and the congregations and the friends who are left behind by their imprisonment and by their martyrdom. It’s important that we don’t forget that in our own lives of leisure and comfort.

A Global Harvest Force

My fourth point is that there is a truly global harvest force. No longer is the word missionary identified with the white westerner, with his pith helmet and his khaki outfit in the deepest, darkest jungles of Africa, bringing the light of civilization and the gospel to the uncivilized natives. This is as outdated and outmoded an image as can possibly be for the term missionary. In fact, today the majority of missionaries in the world are from the non-Western world.

There are more missionaries, at least in the sense that they use the word, who are from India than there are from the USA. There are more missionaries from South Korea than there are from the United Kingdom. The place where missionary movements are growing most rapidly and with all kinds of new expressions and models of how to bring the gospel are not places in the West with all the resources and education and imagination. It’s places like Latin America, it’s places like Southeast Asia, it’s places like Sub-Saharan Africa, and it’s places like Central China. That’s where the new missionary movements are emerging.

When we looked in Operation World at the countries that are most effective at sending missionaries — that is, they send the most missionaries per congregation according to the relationship between the size of the church and the number of missionaries — we found all the countries at the top of that list tended to be countries where Christians were around 10 percent or less of the population, not where Christians were the majority, interestingly. We found that these were countries that were predominantly poor or in the bottom half of the economic scale of planet Earth and all the nations therein. It’s not the countries that have the wealth, that have the resources, that have the expendable income to give, to send and give to missionary work.

Third of all, these were countries where the gospel was young and raw and fresh and new. It wasn’t countries that had the benefit of centuries of church history and all kinds of established theological training institutions to make sure that we understand Scripture in the right way and we teach it in the right way. These were countries where people were going as missionaries, because they heard the gospel from someone outside of their culture and they felt it was only natural for them to go and do the same thing. That’s what made them effective at sending.

So in all the areas of missionary sending that we think are important, even essential, there’s a counterintuitive element. It’s actually countries where the church is smaller, countries where the church is poorer, and countries where the church is younger. Those are the places that are really doing an amazing job of sending out workers and really putting us in the West to shame, in a sense.

Global Immigration

Number five is immigration. I didn’t know whether to put this in what God is doing or in challenges, but I think I was going to put it here, because I see it more as good news. It’s important to note that all of the countries where the population is growing most rapidly today are non-Western countries. All of the countries that are expected to increase the most, population-wise, in the next 40 years are non-Western countries.

When you look at the map here of GDP per capita, you also see that the countries where growth is fastest are the countries where poverty tends to be most intense. Countries that are the most affluent are countries where growth is the lowest, and that’s a whole lecture in itself that we can’t touch on. Then you also look at the average age or the presence of children in these populations, and we see that the countries that are the youngest populations with the highest proportion of children, these are the countries that are the poorest. And these are the countries that are growing the fastest.

What happens when you add into that equation the issues of demographics, issues of economics? Add to that political instability, because of dictatorships, or because of unstable democracies, or because of general anarchy. Add to that civil unrest, civil war, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Add to that the relative lack of educational opportunities or any kind of opportunities for advancement, for planning a future, for raising children, for improving one’s life. Last of all, add to that the difficulties in terms of arid and infertile and over-exploited land, or a general lack of land. These include the challenges of a hostile climate and the lack of a solid ecology — places where the land is being destroyed or has been worn out from centuries of overuse.

When you add all of those things together, what you end up with in that cocktail is the largest mass movement of humanity ever in the history of our race, and that is what is happening today. Immigration is an unstoppable and inevitable tide of people. The way we understand it when we read about the US tends to be one particular expression or a few expressions. The way that it’s experienced in Europe is different. People are coming from different places in different ways.

Remember that for every person who makes it to the shores of the United States or Canada or the UK, there’s another 99 who were uprooted from their own home context and didn’t make it all that way. They were displaced within their own country or made it to a neighboring country, or they are stuck in some kind of holding place, detention center, or asylum seeking center somewhere in the world today. No amount of fences or walls or policies or laws or armies are going to be able to stop this movement of humanity, especially as all of those factors that we just looked at are only going to keep occurring. They’re not suddenly going to be stopping anytime soon.

This immigration issue is an incredible challenge, especially to Westernized, modern, materialist society, but it’s also an unprecedented opportunity for the gospel. We have people coming to our doorstep from places and from peoples who are completely unevangelized, places that we would have an extremely difficult time getting into and an even harder time operating in if we were to try to go there as missionaries. Yet they’re coming right here to learn our language, to live in our communities, to go to our schools, to become our work colleagues and our fellow students. God is bringing them right to us when we can go to them.

I hope that as we look back in the future on the 21st century and on the early part of this century we see a church that distinguished itself in a wonderful way by reaching out with love, compassion, and empathy to these peoples, to bring the light of Jesus into their lives. The amount that they’ve suffered to get here is Infinitesimally small to the suffering that awaits them if they don’t hear the gospel.

Partnerships and Collaboration

Number six, unprecedented partnerships in collaboration. Never before in Christian history have we seen such a global spread of agencies and organizations. And never before — praise God for this — have we seen the kind of partnerships, the kind of collaborations, and the kind of harmony that exists today in the world. These are regionally specific groups. These are globally spread groups. They’re sometimes issue-driven groups, but what we see today is a level of working together that we’ve never seen before, and praise God for that. He’s doing a new thing in his people and for his mission.

An Awakening of Prayer

Then last of all in these trends is the issue of prayer. God has been awakening his people to prayer like never before. Although we might not be as aware of it in the West, the way that the prayer movements and the mission movements relate and fuel one another in places like Brazil, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and Nigeria, it is truly remarkable. When these two begin to interact and relate and overlap, we see the Holy Spirit doing incredible things in the church and through the church. I hope that we in the West can also become a part of this incredible new global movement of prayer that is emerging today.

From the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town Commitment that was framed just last year, there is this excellent quote:

Prayer is the indispensable foundation and the resource for all elements of our mission.

It’s not the afterthought, it’s not the spiritual rubber stamp that we put on our own ideas. It is indispensable and foundational to every aspect of our mission.

Challenges and Obstacles to the Remaining Task

Now, moving on to the second part, what remains to be done? Well, again, there’s no way we can cover all of this, but what I want is a few staccato points of the highlights in some of the main and most significant challenges that face us today as Christians who long to see the Great Commission fulfilled. The first one is very close to home.

Challenges in Evangelicalism

There are many changes in evangelicalism today. It was an excellent little conversation I had last night with a brother who’s been serving in Honduras, and he wanted to point out to me that the Operation World percent of evangelicals in Honduras is much higher than he has observed having been there for about 10 years, serving on the ground. This is in part due to definition and also due to the methodology in the way that you can measure populations.

Also, it illustrates a new challenge, and that is the issue of evangelical nominalism. It doesn’t just exist in places like Latin America. It exists very much here today in the US. It exists very much in Canada and the United Kingdom. It exists very much even in Africa, even in Southeast Asia, even in places where the church is new. This challenge is already facing us. People who can tick all the right boxes in terms of their theology, but the fruit is not evident in their lives.

Second Generation Evangelicals

Then, there are new, second generation evangelicals and they have challenges that they’re facing. This is another challenge. What happens when you have a church that’s so new that there are no Christians who have been believers for more than a few years? Who disciples? Who teaches? What do they do about raising their kids in a godly way? What do they do about youth programs and Sunday schools? How does that even work? They have no experience with it. How do they deal with the kind of challenges that they’ve had no experience facing, like how to be a Christian in the workplace? Why shouldn’t they cheat on my exams in university? What prevents them from venerating their ancestors or sacrificing animals to the spirits? All of these kinds of questions new Christians have, and they have no means of really answering because the church is so new. This is a wonderful problem to have, because it means the church is growing, but it is a problem nonetheless.

Independent and Unaffiliated Evangelicals

Then there are independent and unaffiliated evangelicals, people who might truly believe and even follow Jesus devotedly but have no real meaningful connection with the body of Christ at large. This might be out of geographic isolation. They might be the only believer in their village. It might be out of choice, because they’ve been burned by the church in the past, because they’re prohibited sometimes from attending church because they come from a family that’s hostile to the gospel. It is a challenge and the kind of challenge that is in the West is different than in many other places.

Also, the challenge, if I dare say it — or the praiseworthy reality — is that there are increasing numbers of evangelicals in the mainline churches. Now, the Anglican church globally is a very strange creature and it’s incredibly diverse. I know that this is nowhere more keenly felt than here in the US. In the UK, it’s incredible that I can go to three different Anglican services on a Sunday. In the first service in the morning, I can get the incense and the smells and bells, as we call it over there, and I can hear the liturgy that’s read sometimes in languages that I don’t even understand.

I can go to the second service and it’s a solid, born-again evangelical church that if it weren’t for the building that you were meeting in, you might not even believe it’s Anglican. You would think it’s possibly a Baptist gathering or some other conservative, Protestant denomination. Then you go to a service in the evening and they’re raising their hands in worship and, as we call in England, it’s one of the happy clappy churches. A lot of them speak in tongues in the service, in an Anglican church, and no one bats an eyelid at it.

You have those three services which are pretty representative of the diversity of the Anglican church in the UK today. We have to recognize that not just in Anglicanism, but in other forms, even within the Catholic and the Orthodox Church, there are people who truly call on the Lord and believe in him and follow him in very real and very legitimate ways. We might not agree with all that they believe in the finer details, but in the core elements, they are as close to us as we might be able to imagine.

How do we work with them? How do we encourage them? How do we help them to be a force for renewal and change within their own denominations?

Evangelical Syncretism

There is also the challenge of evangelical syncretism, and I don’t just mean an African Christian, who goes to church on a Sunday and goes to a witch doctor on a Monday, or an East Asian who goes to church on a Sunday and then prays to their ancestors, or venerates their ancestors, the next day. I’m talking about right here in the West where syncretism with an individualistic, consumeristic, secular world is rampant within the church as well.

Insider Movements

There is also the challenge of insider movements, evangelical non-Christians. Is it possible for someone to call themselves a Muslim and to refuse the term Christian, in terms of a label for them, and yet to believe in and follow Jesus? This is an issue of great debate and intensity within the missionary community. It’s a very real question today because it is happening on an increasing scale, not just in Islam, but in other faith groups as well.

Discipleship and Training

Second, a great challenge (possibly, I would say the greatest challenge) that faces the church today globally. It is the issue of discipleship and training these great bottlenecks that exist. We have this huge body of new believers coming into faith and coming into the church. The discipleship process is so limited, because in many of these contexts, there’s just not enough older, mature, discipled believers to mentor and to train and to teach all of these new Christians, which is a great problem to have again, but it’s a problem.

Then we have our methods of taking maturer Christians and shaping them into pastors and leaders and teachers. Well, that also is a huge bottleneck. How do we manage to make that happen without being too slow, without being too culturally prescriptive, without facing many of the challenges that come with that, financially, family-wise, denominationally, and theologically? There are many challenges in the area of discipleship and leadership training. We take a Christian pastor away from his community for three years to give them a good seminary education, and if he gets a good seminary education at all, he goes back and he finds that there’s another five congregations that have been born out of his church in that intervening time. We can’t train good Christian leaders fast enough using the models that we have today.

The Unreached Nations of the World

Of course, the huge and crucial issue (I would dare say even central issue) facing the church today is that of the unevangelized. When we look at this map, we see all the Christians in blue. It might be hard to make out here. All the unevangelized are in that gray color. We see that there’s very little overlap between these two groups of people and that is a failure of the church to be missional in its activity. There was a study done by some colleagues of ours a couple of years ago, and they came to the conclusion that 86 percent of the world’s Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists do not personally know a Christian. How are they ever going to believe if they don’t hear? That’s a sobering challenge to us in the church today?

The total number of those people in the world today who are unevangelized is actually rising. We put it somewhere between 25 and 30 percent, depending on precisely how you define some of the issues. The fact is that the unevangelized populations in the world today are reproducing faster than we can reach them with the gospel. So, year-on-year, this number is actually increasing right now in the world. All the missionary activity that we’ve been doing in these last few years, which have incredible innovation, incredible commitment, and incredible sophistication of our methods, and yet we’re still not even keeping pace with the need that is out there.

Population and Diversity

Additionally to that, not just in terms of the raw human numbers of population but the complexity of reaching all of these groups, if we look at a map of the world as the UN would define it, we see quite a lot of diversity in those countries and colors and borders. If we look at a map that is defined by the ethno-linguistic populations of the world today, suddenly our task becomes much more complex as each one of those tiny shapes requires a unique strategy, a unique approach, a unique understanding of culture, and a unique Bible translation for that people. The task remaining is vast. We talk about closure, we talk about reaching the world in a generation, but sometimes I think we fail to appreciate the enormity of what remains to be done if we’re truly to reach and disciple all the peoples of the world.

There are 2 billion individual human beings beyond the reach of the Gospel,and nearly 7,000 distinct groups. Many of these groups have no churches, no missionaries reaching them, not a single word of scripture in their language, and no access to the gospel at all. The real difficulty of this is the places where those people are concentrated tend also to be the countries that are the poorest, the countries that are the youngest in populations, and the countries that are most vulnerable to political abuses, ecological degradation, civil war, natural disasters, and disease. What a challenge it is that lies before us.

The Challenge of India and China

Greatest among this challenge is the two mighty nations of India and China, and they deserve treatment in their own right. When you look at the populations of the unevangelized in the world, India by itself has 500 million people who haven’t heard the gospel before. China has 400 million. There are nearly a billion people just in those two lands alone. Regarding unreached people groups, India has over 2,000 distinct people groups that are beyond the reach or that don’t have an established church in their presence and in their midst. China has several hundred more.

In terms of the sheer size of these countries, when we broke down India and China into their states and provinces, we found that 32 of those states and provinces are big enough, in their own right by population, to be in the top 40 countries in the world. Thirty-two of them would fit within the top 40 of the world. That’s how massive these countries are. Uttar Pradesh has over 200 million people and would be one of the largest populations in the world, and it’s also probably the highest concentration of unevangelized people of any area in the entire planet. Actually we did the numbers on this, and it would be the third largest unevangelized population after China and India if it were its own country.

On the flip side, God is doing some amazing things in these places. You might be familiar with Henan province in China. It’s known as the engine room of church growth. If any of you are familiar with the incredible story of the heavenly man, he’s from that area. His story is part of the story of the house church movement there. If that province were a country unto itself, it would have, I believe, the fifth largest evangelical population in the world today. That’s how great a scale of what God has done just in that area alone.

The diversity and the spread of the Gospel in these places is on a huge level of inequity. Uttar Pradesh has very few Christians amongst the 200 million people there. If you go down to Nagaland, over 90 percent are Christian. In China, you go to some provinces where the church has grown and it’s over 20 percentChristian. Then you go to a place like Tibet and there’s virtually no believers at all. So even within these countries, there’s a huge spread and a huge level of inequity in terms of the gospel.

The Urban Century

Drawing to a close here, number five is the urban century. For the first time in human history, we are predominantly an urban race. It was about three years ago that we tipped the scales. Now over 50 percent is the urban population. This is a number that is increasing every single day. I don’t know if you have them in the States, but when you’re in the airport and you’re going down the gate to your plane, HSBC has all these signs about interesting little statistics that help you understand the world in a new light. One of them is that every day 200,000 people move from the countryside into the city. Every single day, there are 200,000 more. So the 21st century is very much an urban century.

When we’re talking about cities in the 21st century, we’re talking about tens of millions of people gathered together in the world’s megacities, most of these megacities being in the majority world and in the unevangelized world. So our mission strategies and our missional thinking has to take into account the reality that there will be tens and hundreds of millions of people who are existing in an urban environment. Our strategies to reach them must understand and appreciate that.

On the flip side, if you look at the countries that have the highest concentrations of unreached peoples and the highest concentrations of unevangelized individuals, they are still predominantly rural populations, even though it is changing there as well. So let’s not abandon all of the unreached who live in the villages, in the hamlets, and in the small towns out there in the world, in favor of those who live in the cities, because we really need to be reaching both.

Mission and Justice

Sixth, let’s focus on mission and justice. I don’t want to talk about justice as mission. What I want to say is that if we are trying to reach people who are unevangelized with the gospel, they tend to live in contexts where injustice is a part of everyday life. If we want to bring the love of Jesus to them, if we want to bring the word of God to them, if we want to see the church planted in those contexts, we have to take into account the reality of the physical suffering and the injustice that occurs in those places. If we don’t go with that in mind, we’re never going to be able to connect and we’re never going to be able to truly understand and to truly win them to the Lord.

There are areas of economic injustice and areas of human exploitation. I think of the trafficking of humans that exists in the world today, which has recently become a more lucrative business globally than drug trafficking or the arms trade. A lot of the traffickers are abandoning arms trading and drug trafficking, because they say it’s more profitable to traffic people and the punishment is much lighter if you get caught doing it. It’s amazing that the world thinks that people are less important and less valuable than the drugs and the guns that get smuggled. There is inequity that exists in these places, and again, there are issues of ecology. Many millions and millions of people are living in places — as we see in the Horn of Africa today with the famine that’s going on there — where life is virtually unsustainable.

The Cost of Getting the Job Done

Then just in closing, seventh, is getting the job done and what it will cost. I think that we heard and began to understand earlier, the cost that will be involved in bringing the glory of Christ to every nation and seeing the church present and growing in every people. It will cost everything. It’s going to cost us our lives, possibly in a very real and physical and permanent sense, in terms of this physical body that we have. It’s also going to cost us in terms of our careers and our education, possibly in terms of our commitment to finding a spouse, or to having a family, or to living in a place that is pleasant and green and safe and secure with a nice bungalow and a swimming pool and a dog and a SUV, and all of these things. We can throw that out the window if we really want to have an impact in the nations that are unevangelized today.

What we saw in that earlier point really brings this part home for me. That is, the places where persecution is most intense are the places where the church is growing most rapidly. It’s in the places of the greatest suffering, in the greatest loss, and in the greatest tragedy that God is most present. If we want to be there where God is really in action and where the Holy Spirit is really moving, we have to leave behind our notions of respectability, our notions of comfort, and our notions of safety. If we want to go out there and see the world reached for Jesus and see the hardest places reached with the gospel, we will have to give up those things.

The reason that the places that are unreached today are still unreached is because they’re the hardest. They’re the hardest to get to. They’re the hardest to stay in. They’re the hardest to survive in. They’re the hardest to reach out to. They have the greatest amount of spiritual opposition. What it took to get the job done to this point is not going to be enough to get what’s left of the job done. We have to go to another level in the way that we pray, in the way that we give, in the willingness we have to go and to leave everything behind and to give ourselves fully to the task of bringing the nations into the glory of God and into an understanding of Christ and a relationship with him.