Sizing Up the Remaining Task
The complexities of India make it difficult to define the remaining task. We thought it would be useful to get opinions of some experts.
INDIA--The State of Missions
In spite of the Church's presence in India since the time of the apostles, a sizable number of Christians live in only 8 percent of the 3,000 people groups.
The Church is strong in only 30 groups. About 70 percent of today's Christians are converts from tribal groups and scheduled castes (untouchables). But the combined population of these two categories of people constitutes less than one-fourth of the total population. The middle-range castes, which form 52 percent of the Indian population, are very much neglected in evangelistic efforts. Some conclusions that can be drawn from the People of India Study (produced by the Anthropological Society of India) regarding the presence of Christians in the people groups are listed below. In all seven northeast Indian states, which are predominantly tribal, considerable numbers of groups contain Christians.
About 82.3 percent of the 339 groups in which Christians exist are found in the seven northeast Indian states, the four southern states, and the islands of Goa, Andaman, and Nicobar.
The progress of the Gospel in the Hindi belt is disturbingly slow. People from 267 groups have become Christians in recent years; they mostly belong to tribal groups and lower castes.
In India, indigenous missions are on the cutting edge of evangelism. The following observations are made by these indigenous missions regarding their church-planting efforts.
Most of the missions are strong in promotional work but weak in evangelism and church planting.
For most of the agencies Church growth goals and strategies are either entirely absent or unclear.
The main concentration of the mission effort is on the tribal groups.
Most of the efforts of the indigenous mission societies are concentrated on nurturing the existing Christians, and maturing the people in discipleship. Very few missions have a strong emphasis on church planting; and those that do tend to work with tribal groups.
Carefully thought out strategy for reaching the unreached is absent in many missions.
Vasantharaj Albert -- Director Church Growth Research Center, Madras, India
The Great Battlefield
Gaining a clear picture of India's myriad of societal segments is vital in order to effectively reach India with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Remarkable victories are taking place in the trenches in India. Battles are being fought and won against the enemy of man's soul. But considering the entire battlefield and the scope of the spiritual war, these appear as small pinpoints of light in a vast domain of darkness.
Multiplied millions living in spiritual poverty (there are 900 million people in over 26,000 different societal segments) have no notion that the Creator of the universe loves them and has a wonder- filled, meaningful and overcoming life for them. Hidden behind the heavy veil of a system of castes, languages, religions and politics, this ocean of humanity is so complex that documenting the identity, location and status of the many groups for the purpose of "making disciples" has been an overwhelming task.
There is a crying need to prepare "profiles" of the language groups, communities, tribes and castes. More resources of personnel and finances are needed to accomplish this crucial task, which is a prerequisite to mobilizing the "harvest forces" needed to engage the enemy everywhere in India.
The structure and basic materials are in place. The Church Growth Research Center, the Serve-A-People Clearinghouse and the National Research Committee are all currently functioning in India. The People Profiles, the plans, the people group and village surveys, the databases and the mapping systems are all tested, proven and implemented.
But the task is much larger than can be tackled with the current task force and resources. Hundreds of workers are needed to make up an "intelligence corps" to spy out and document the land. Bob Waymire is International Coordinator for the AD2000 Movement, National Research Mobilization Track, and LIGHT International.
India - People Group Status
Ebenezer Sunder Raj
Today the 8,000 cross-cultural Indian evangelists represent one half of all missionaries originating in Asia. They know very well the native peoples, cultures and faiths and can communicate with them most effectively. Their level of long-term commitment is very high, and they serve at a high level of sacrifice.
On the other hand, Indian missions lack experience. Most of these missions are just one generation old. We in IMA (India Missions Association) are trying to build and facilitate increasing rapport between the Indian missions and the older international missions so that there can be mutual learning.
Since the time of Ziegenbalg (almost 300 years ago) and through the laudable efforts of many saintly missionaries from various backgrounds, small movements have occurred in about 200 people groups across India. The Church in India consists primarily of these 200 people groups.
In the last twenty-five years, efforts of indigenous missions and churches have seen people movements begin in another 200 people groups.,While these 200 new people groups may not add significantly to the total number of Christians, it is very significant that we've taken a major step toward fulfilling our Lord's mandate to "make disciples of all people groups."
To a large extent, credit for this growth goes to international missions of the past quarter millennium, which faithfully sowed the seed and persevered for decades, maintaining a visible Christian presence and service among these people groups. The Bible reminds us that "one sows, another waters, another reaps."
According to the latest research of the Anthropological Society of India, there are 3,000 distinct people groups. This means that only one-eighth of the total number of people groups have been reached with the Gospel. Most of the reached or partly-reached groups belong to scheduled tribes (ST) and scheduled castes (SC) out of a total of 751 SC and 635 ST groups. Whether you define priority by population, socio-economic needs, social justice, spiritual openess, or number of Christian workers, they are all priority groups. For example, the Chamar, a single caste group in the Hindi belt, equal the population of Australia. Very little work is being done among them.
The three upper castes, traditionally called the Dvijis (twice born), constitute only 15% of the total population of India. All the powers of politics, money, the courts, and mass media belong to them. Very few missions concentrate on presenting the Gospel to them. Most missions and churches want to send their workers to receptive areas. While there is some rationale in this idea, there is currently an excessive rush to those few receptive areas. As a result, churches are being planted, but sadly, they are usually the product of sheep and shepherd stealing.