Recent Developments in the Concept
Amazing developments have taken place in the last 15 years since the first Lausanne congress in Switzerland, in 1974. We have begun to see, for example, that we cannot merely focus upon the winning of individuals, but must, even before that, unlock the cultural puzzle of the group to which an individual belongs. And then, if groups must be taken into account, we need to go on to ask what kinds and sizes of groups are to be dealt with first, and how we can evaluate our progress. Then, finally, how do we, as a global Christian movment, go about dividing that task up?
Thus, it seems that we can now understand far more clearly 1) the significant background of our present thinking, 2) the very nature of missionary endeavor, 3) the definitions of the kinds of peoples which deserve highest priority, 4) the good and not-so-good methods for the measurement of our progress toward our goals, and 5) a spectacular method for promoting the completion of the task. We can do this under the following points:
- The Background
- Our Method: Pioneer Church Planting
- The Target: Unreached Peoples
- Measurements of Progress
- Promoting the Effort
1. The Background
We’ll first glance at the distant background of our discussion, and then specifically at the results of a very special Lausanne-sponsored meeting in 1982
A. Beginning at the Beginning
1.The Old Testament. An important aspect of the development of the Unreached Peoples concept is portrayed centrally in the period of the Old Testament. We now have a new understanding of what the Bible has been talking about all along. The whole Bible talks of the peoples of the earth. At the very beginning, just beyond Genesis 1-11 (which constitutes a general introduction to the whole Bible), right in Genesis 12 we are introduced to the plan of the ages—the comissioning of Abraham through whom all the peoples of the earth will be blessed. This throbbing theme then unifies the Bible into a single book on redemption, beginning in the promised land and moving out to the ends of the earth. We see this theme again and again all through the Old Testament.
2. The New Testament and Beyond. In the New Testament and in the history of the expansion of the church beyond the pages of the Bible, we have gained a new appreciation of what earlier missionary efforts have encountered, and how missionaries have reacted to the realities of actual mission field experience. The fascinating twists and turns especially within the last century, have been treated in some detail in my chapter in the book Unreached Peoples, edited by Harvie Conn (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1983).
3. From Lausanne I to 1982. Events rapidly accelerated during the eight years between Lausanne ‘74 and a Lausanne-sponsored meeting in March of 1982, which resulted from the initiative of Ed Dayton and the Lausanne Strategy Working Group. Many of those details are also in the Conn chapters just mentioned.
4. From March 1982 to 1989. In the following seven years still further develoments have taken place. This paper will concentrate on these last seven years, which build on the solid foundation of that unique March 1982 meeting. It would seem logical to summarize briefly what was accomplished at that meeting before going on to describe more recent developments.
B. The Unreached Peoples Meeting of March 1982
A fine example of the catalytic power of the Lausanne movement was the timeliness and representative nature of the meeting in 1982. At no time before or since this meeting has as large or as representative a group gathered for two days to focus specifically upon the necessary definitions for a strategy to reach unreached peoples. (The full document presenting the results, prepared by Edward Dayton, is published in the International Journal of Frontier Missions, Vol 2:1)
Two basic definitions came from this meeting:
1. A People Group is “a significantly large grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, occupation, class or caste, situation, etc. or combinations of these.” For evangelistic purposes it is “the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”
2. An Unreached People Group is “a people group within which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize this people group.”
The following additional terms were also agreed upon as a series of reasonable steps in the process of reaching a people group. I have added my own abbreviated descriptions.
- Reported— a group is reported to exist.
- Verified—a group is verified to exist.
- Evaluated—that is, how large is the group; what previous evangelization? Etc.
- Selected (or “targeted”)—a group has been selected by a mission agency for later work.
- Supported (or “adopted”)—the necessary resources of prayer, manpower, and money have been pledged.
- Engaged—work has begun on site or in specific “non-residential” endeavor.
- Reached—the group has been reached by the the definition above.
Further on in this paper, I will refer to these terms in the process of dealing with the more pragmatic questions of the concept of “Closure” (which defines the completion of the task), and the “Adopt-A-People” movement which seeks to bring implementation to the task.
2. Our Method: Pioneer Church Planting
(Or, is winning individuals good enough?)
By the time of the huge meeting at Lausanne in 1974, a substantial consensus among mission scholars had been reached, mainly through the influence of the teaching of Donald A. McGavran—namely, that merely evangelizing individuals is not a good enough mission strategy.
Winning people to Christ is a concept that is absolutely basic, in the entire evangelical movement. It is the foundational and unshakeable platform on which all other endeavors must be built. But in the last few decades, the Navigators, for example, have put great emphasis upon the need for “follow up.” More recently a great emphasis upon discipleship is seen in our churches, recognizing that the initial decision is merely the beginning of a process as important as the first step. The proliferating evangelistic models in the last two decades all seem to stress the importance of what happens beyond the winning of persons, namely, the accountability between individuals in disciplined Bible studies or “support groups.”
With similar meaning, the overall goal for most mission agencies is nowadays most often stated as the planting of the church. McGavran’s thinking has emphasized the fact that we cannot say that we have genuinely given a person an opportunity to accept Christ if that person does not have the opportunity to become incorporated into a warm, living, loving accountable fellowship of his own people, a structure which McGavran would prefer to call a “church.”
This last emphasis is what stood behind the wording of the definition of “reaching” a people that was hammered out by the Lausanne-sponsored meeting of March 1982, namely, An unreached people group is “a people group within which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize this people group.”
If properly to give a person the opportunity to “say yes” to Jesus Christ requires the planting of an accountable church fellowship, it is obvious that this requirement defines a fairly lofty goal for our evangelizing method. At the same time we must recognize that we can often approach this lofty goal most efficiently by going at it indirectly through an intermediate step we may call preliminary evangelism. This intermediate step will then introduce us to a another kind of group—one that is not really a candidate for the planting of a church movment, but nevertheless, whose penetration by preliminary evangelism may actually be an essential pathway to a larger kind of group which IS a candidate for a full- blown church movement. And, under our next major point, we’ll need to tussle with names for these two different kinds of groups.
A. Preliminary Evangelism
The very best way to plant a church is often to begin a Bible study, a Navigator discipling relationship, or a small prayer group within some relatively small group of people with natural affinity for each other—such as women washing at a stream, businessmen at lunch, college students living in dorms, new arrivals in the big city from a particular rural group, or military men separated from their families. Let’s take three examples.
Two of the most celebrated examples of church planting flowing from evangelistic work of this kind of preliminary evangelism would certainly be found in the recent story of the amazing growth of Christianity in Korea. In Korea, as a providential supplement to direct, intentional church planting, there have been two powerful mechanisms exemplifying preliminary evangelism, each functioning indirectly in the planting of thousands of churches and the development of hundreds of thousands of wonderful Christians within those churches.
One has been evangelism in the military, where virtually all of the male population growing up is required to spend a certain amount of time. For at least 40 years, this military experience has brought young men from all over Korea into an environment where close to 50% of the people, including virtually all of the military leaders, have been fervent Christians! This factor is often given credit in discussions of the phenomenon of church growth in Korea.
A second, slightly less well known phenomenon, but with equally gargantuan impact on the runaway story of Christianity in Korea, is the existence of the so-called Bible Club Movement. This movement brought together young people in small towns and village settings in what we would call grade-school and high-school classes, all conducted in a high-quality Biblical and evangelistic environment. The movement (as with the early Sunday School movement in Britain) has been a type of Boy Scouts of America which emphasizes fundamental education. Somehow the people of Korea acquired major motivation in the area of schooling, and even non-Christian parents encouraged their young people to be involved in a school/club movement like this, whether or not a Christian testimony would result. The social momentum of this movement has created thousands of schools, many of which have become stable, formal institutions—a fact which may not be as important as the spiritual impact on the young people involved. Nationwide festivals involving close to a quarter of a million young people have taken place in the history of this movement.
In American history we see a third and somewhat similar phenomenon, only occasionally discussed by church growth enthusiasts, namely, the sudden emergence of church-based youth fellowships. In 1881, the first youth fellowship known to have been organized formally within a local congregation was started by a woman interested in imbuing young people with a missionary vision. It is a fantastic story. Within months, many other local congregations adopted the same youth fellowship pattern, and in ten years an interdenominational rally of young people associated with Christian Endeavor brought 30,000 together at the Madison Square Garden in New York City. Four years later 56,000 registered for a week of meetings in Boston, practically gridlocking the city for that period, overflowing into 25 auditoriums from tents that held 10,000. In a short time the movement not only planted 60,000 youth fellowships in the U.S. but an equal number overseas in a movement which today is still in 80 countries of the world, numbering over a million young people!
Thus, whether we consider the military, village schools, or church-based youth fellowships, it is clear that preliminary evangelism of the kind that generates accountable Christian fellowship within affinity groups, while merely preliminary to church planting, is a nevertheless a highly strategic thing. Along this line, John Robb’s little book, The Power of People Group Thinking, (MARC, 1989), is a marvelous exploration of the potent evangelistic value of accountable Christian fellowships established within social groupings of the type which are not usually to be considered candidates for full-blown church planting. It would be very unfortunate if this level of strategy —preliminary evangelism of sociologically defined groups—were unintentionally downplayed or in any way ignored by the concern for church planting, which is where preliminary evangelism can effectively lead.
B. Church Planting Evangelism
On the other hand, we must uphold also the importance of going beyond preliminary efforts. Most mission leaders agree that God intends that all of those who “Say Yes” to Jesus Christ should be introduced to something more than mere “fellowship.” The master image of salvation in the Bible is the re-creation of the family of God. The fellowship of the church must offer renewed and vital relationships to one’s own biological family, if at all possible. But in addition, or, if necessary, as a second-best substitute, the church offers a surrogate family—a potentially marvelous cluster of families that edify and uphold one another. New believers must necessarily be involved in the process of re-establishing a Biblical relationship with both their earthly parents and their heavenly father. For new believers to have to settle for peer or vocational fellowship (however Christian and vital such things are as preliminary steps in an ongoing fellowship) must be considered a desperately incomplete answer.
Thus we must applaud and uphold the ultimate significance of church planting and all that phrase implies. At the same time, we must also recognize that the planting of a church fellowship, which heals and holds together both biological and surrogate family structures, is considerably more complicated than many forms of preliminary evangelism, even though church planting is basically quite natural and not difficult. The church family is a considerably more sophistcated vehicle for salvation than a vocational fellowship. Dr. McGavran may be right that unless an individual is able to “say yes” to Jesus Christ and become thereby incorporated into such a fellowship, our missionary and evangelistic efforts have not offered that person the full gospel.
It is important to realize that such a “lofty” church-planting goal is one of the most essential concepts in world evangelization—especially as we ask ourselves just what is the minimum mission achievement (or “missiological breakthrough”). Dr. McGavran would go even further. He is not content with “a” congregation. He is not sure we have done our job unless within every society there is a fully indigenous church movement which others within that society (even outside of the church) acknowledge to belong to that society, because it is so fully indigenous. His now classical phrase for this kind of a goal is the establishment of a “people movement.” It is likely that we should settle for nothing less, and that what he means by a people movement is what should be defined as the minimum mission achievement, e.g. the “missiological breakthrough.”
At least I personally am convinced that we must hold this concept of a people movement as the essential minimum achievement within a society in order to fulfill our obligation to make it possible for everyone in the world to say “yes” to Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I believe this is the concept that was intended by the phraseology of the Lausanne-sponsored meeting of March 1982 in which it was said that an unreached people can be defined as one in which a group does not yet have a community of believers able to evangelize its own people without outside help.
As soon as we emphasize the family nature of the church, it becomes clear that such a church movement is not immediately possible if all we are doing is what I have already referred to as the “preliminary evangelism within affinity groups.” Thus it becomes clear that we need to spend a little time reflecting on the nature of 1) those human groups which are candidates for a full-blown “people movement” by comparison to 2) those which are merely potential bridges leading from affinity groups to larger groups which are candidates for full blown church-planting efforts.
3. The Target: Unreached Peoples
One of the landmark efforts since Lausanne 1974 is the book entitled Clarifying the Task, by Harvey Shreck and David Barrett. In this book, it becomes eminently clear that it is both feasible and important to target groups of both kinds. Those which are candidates for full-blown church movements are referred to as “ethno-linguistic peoples” while those which are merely candidates for affinity evangelism (or what I have here called preliminary evangelism) are called simply “people groups.” It may in fact be hard to remember to make a distinction between “peoples” and “people groups,” since there is nothing inherent in the two phrases that would tend to indicate what the difference is. But the explanation in the book of the nature and relevance of both kinds of groups is both clear and impressive. That is, the two concepts, by whatever name, are crucial. (In some of my writings, for example, I flew the trial balloon of people groups and bridge groups, the latter being bridges to people groups within which a church movement is appropriate. For the moment let us not choose terms but use descriptive phrases.
1. Smaller, overlapping groups. For one thing, these two different types of groups really are two radically different concepts. One type of affinity group typically overlaps, such that it is readily possible, say, for a rural woman to be part of group that washes clothes at the river and also be involved in a group that produces a certain type of textiles. Or, an urban man can meet with one group at lunch and another group in an exercise program and still a third group in hunting expeditions.
Preliminary evangelism can exploit any one of these groups as the opportunity presents itself. Missionaries with special interests and vocation skills will find it only natural to pursue their skills and interests and do so in preliminary evangelism. There are thus hundreds of thousands of potential avenues for this kind of preliminary evangelism in our world today. However, trying to count up such groups would not be easy, due to the degree of omnipresent overlap.
It would be possible, theoretically, to count every individual in the world in all groups to which an individual belongs—and end up with many times the world’s population. It would also be possible to categorize each person in the world within the one group in which that person would appear most likely to be reach-able, in which case you would end up with a discrete number of non-overlapping groups in which all of the world’s individuals are counted only once.
2. Larger, non-overlapping groups. On the other hand, groups within which the family-life structure of the church can properly be born and flourish are much more likely to count people only once—although there are no doubt millions of individuals who find themselves halfway between two different ethno-linguistic groups and able to function as natives in either group.
But the key question is whether or not a given group happens to be the kind appropriate for a full-blown, church-planting movement which could result in a “people movement.” If so, such a group must then contain natural families involving all ages, and such a group will often tend to be larger than many of the overlapping affinity groups, although not always. This is why the Lausanne meeting in March of ‘82 proposed in its terminology that this second kind of group is the “Largest group within which it is possible for the gospel to spread as a church-planting movement without encountering barriers of acceptance or understanding.” Note that this definition emphasized two things: the potential for church planting (and the full-blown family relationships which that requires) and 2) the absence of barriers of understanding and acceptance.
(Since this definition points to groups which are the maximum in size still sufficiently unified to be reached with one missiological breakthrough, I suggested, at the IFMA meeting in the fall of 1982, that we might call these groups Unimax Groups. Note also the phrase, missiological breakthrough—we’ll be using that later.)
Later on, in 1982, the Lausanne Strategy Working Group decided it would be helpful to launch a definition which did not emphasize the need for family relationships within evangelistic efforts but merely the absence of barriers of understanding and acceptance. This desire produced a definition which would apply to the generally smaller, overlapping, sociologically definable affinity groups as well as to the generally larger, mostly non-overlapping, ethnolinguistic groups. In order to deal with the smaller groups, the phrase “as a church-planting movement” was removed in order to accomplish this purpose and to implement the high strategy of what we have called here “preliminary evangelism” in sociologically defined groups. It is probably true that the majority of those gathered in March of ‘82 felt it more important to define the kind of group which is a church-planting target than the kind of group which is a preliminary evangelism target. But at this point in history, it is clear that both are highly important.
In any event, both definitions for both kinds of groups stress the fundamental importance of efficient communication within the group, undisrupted by barriers of acceptance or understanding.
It is equally obvious that, depending upon which kind of group you are counting, you will arrive at radically different totals.
3. Micro, mini, macro and mega “peoples.” A further strategic dimension involves the fact that once one group has been penetrated by a church planting movement, neighboring groups that are very similar, even if antagonistic, may be readily reachable by the same mission structure whether or not individuals from the first group are willing to be involved in that outreach. This fact gives rise to the distinctions between E-1, E-2 and E-3 evangelism, and recognizes that “language families” like Cantonese, contain dozens of dialects that are linguistically close cousins, but are sufficiently different to be mutually unintelligible, some of them including millions of people.
It would be an underestimation of the remaining task to count the Cantonese as a single group, e.g. a unimax group, needing a missiological breakthrough. We can be glad everyone of the 26 Cantonese groups now has within it an effective people movement to Christ. Since it is not and never was a single group we can call the Cantonese as a whole a macropeople. If we want to include the Mandarin, the Swatow, the Fukien, the Minnan, etc, that is, the entire “Han Chinese” sphere, we can call that a megapeople. Having named the larger groups, it would seem reasonable to call Unimax groups minipeoples, and the still smaller, bridge groups, micropeoples. Employing these terms, then, we could say that the Han Chinese are a megapeople, the Cantonese a macropeople, the Toishan Cantonese a minipeople, and then clans and secret societies within the Toishan would be micropeoples.
Christian Keysser tells of winning one tribal group from within what we can call a macropeople, and then attempting to win a second group within that same macropeople further up the same river valley, a group whose language and culture were very similar but which was walled off by intense antagonism and prejudice. He, as a missionary, was able to go to the second village even though the believers within the first village were defiantly opposed to such efforts. Although it was relatively easy for him to adjust to the differing dialect, it was relatively hard for the people in the first group to summon the Christian grace to reach out with blessing to centuries-old enemies. But, as group after group up the river valley yielded to Christ, these warring ethnolinguistic groups—a single macropeople—eventually coalesced into a larger Christian fellowship within which even linguistic differences gradually dissolved! This kind of coalescing is the phenomenon that has reduced an estimated 60,000 ethnolinguistic groups in A.D. 100 to say 20,000 today.
It is for these practical reasons, then, that the phrase “barriers of acceptance or understanding” includes the word “acceptance,” not just “understanding.”
4. Geography again—and politics. Interestingly enough, the 1982 definition of people groups makes no reference to geographical barriers or political boundaries, for the important reason that the missionary task is not strategically one of surmounting geographical or political barriers but barriers of “acceptance or understanding.”
An illustration involving the unimportance of geography is the case of the Oromo from Ethiopia who have settled both in Seattle and in Portland, Oregon. There are a number of Christians, pastors and congregations among the 1,000 or more who are in Seattle and there is an even larger people movement to Christ within the Oromo who are still in Ethiopia. But in Portland, at one point there were only 100 Oromo, and none of them were Christians, even though on Sundays Christians from the Seattle area were attempting to reach them.
What is important about this illustration is to note that the evangelistic efforts of the Christian Oromo in Seattle (or in Ethiopia) to reach their own people was distinctly easier once there was a people movement to Christ clearly established within their ethnolinguistic group. This is true even though within a given geographical locality there may have been no Christians at all among a group of Oromo. That is, by the 1982 definition, the small group of Oromos in Portland could not be considered an “unreached group” even though they were geographically at some distance from Christians within their own ethnolinguistic sphere. That is, a missiological breakthrough had already occurred for that group. And we count one group for the Oromo, whether they are in Ethiopia or in the United States. The breakthrough has taken place!
This concept of whether or not a “missiological breakthrough” has occurred is so all-important that, for me, the most important single strategic question in global missions is “How many missiological breakthroughs are still necessary?” This is the same as asking how much more distinctly pioneer or frontier mission work is necessary. Right away, of course, the question of measurement arises, which is our next major point.
4. Measurements of Progress
(And, the concept of closure)
"This Gospel must be published in all the world, as a testimony to all peoples, and then shall the end come,” (Matt. 24:14).
The word “closure” refers simply to the idea of finishing. To finish is a happy concept. To finish a task God has asked us to do is even more exciting. But nothing could be more thrilling than to talk about finishing the Great Commission, or finishing what Jesus described as bringing us to the end of history, as this verse in Matthew does, whether or not that great event transpires in A.D. 2000 or sooner, or later.
"To publish this Gospel..as a testimony to all peoples” is a phrase worth pondering a great deal. Everything we have talked about depends on this phrase. The two phrases, “minimum essential mission achievement” and “missiological breakthrough,” of which we have already spoken, are both simply attempts to suggest what this Bible passage talks about.
But within this there are several dimensions:
A. Factors in Closure
- Hard or easy? Surely the precise kind of “testimony” of which Jesus speaks is intended to be adequate to allow individuals to respond properly to the saving Gospel of Christ. Surely this is not some superficial, technical achievement. And, surely it is better to deal with a serious interpretation of this phrase than a simplistic one.
- Resolve all problems? On the other hand it is probably unwise to assume that along with our efforts to publish the Gospel such that it is “a testimony to all peoples,” we must also solve all the problems of mankind. I do not think that this phrase, or any other statement in scripture, allows us to think that God is waiting for human beings to resolve all crime, injustice, and evil before Jesus returns. If so, then why does it say in Revelation 21:4 that upon His return, “He shall wipe away every tear” and there would then be no more “mourning, or crying, or pain"?
- Certainty of definition? On the other hand, we must not lightly assume that our human, current definitions of completion are exactly what God has in mind. I don’t believe we are interpreting scripture correctly if we assume that there is an inevitable linking between completion and His return, although this verse may mean that. I certainly do not feel we ought to try to predict the date of His return, even if we feel we can be certain what kind of work can be done by the year 2000. It is very different to say that we can hope to plant a “people movement to Christ” within every unimax people group by the year 2000, and to predict that it will happen, or that Jesus will return on that date.
- Good basis for optimism. But it is our very profound privilege to reflect upon, and rejoice over, how much, how incredibly much, God has already accomplished by the present time in history. Thus, we cannot talk about closure without taking into account progress to date, and the accelerating momentum of the Christian movement across the world. But to measure that?
B. Measuring Progress toward Closure
1. The number of Non-Christians versus the number of Believers. One of the simplest measures of the advancing Kingdom of Christ is to ask, for any given date in history, “How many people in the world at this date still do not consider themselves Christians?” and then compare that number with “How large is this number in proportion to the number of believing Christians?"—is it 10%? is it 20%, etc.
All you need to do this is to have an estimate for a given date in history of the number of people who do not claim to be Christians and an estimate of—not the number of “Christians” in the world but—the number of people who truly have a faith they can share. In both cases these numbers are provided for us by David Barrett and the LCWE Statistics Task Force, and you can see them in the table below. The drop from 11 to 7 (to 62%) from 1980 to 1989—in the last nine years—is equivalent to the drop from 360 to 220 (to 62%)—in the first nine hundred years! Note that any given number could be wrong by a large margin without disguising the overall trend, which is breathtaking.
2. Congregations per Unreached People Group. A second way to size up the remaining task is to go directly to a theme basic to this paper: the Unreached Peoples way of looking at things. Again, the statistics come from the LCWE Statistics Task Force. And, again, the trend is truly breathtaking—see the far column. I have to confess that these two measurements (in the shaded columns) and the trends that they reveal are two of the most hopeful insights I know of. And their significance is virtually irrefutable, in my opinion.
C. Inadequate Yet Popular Concepts of Closure
1. Reaching all countries. By now it is obvious that to plant the Gospel in all of the countries of the world is an inadequate measure of closure. Even if it had not already happened, we would have to acknowlege that this is not what the Bible is talking about. It is doubtful whether the Bible ever refers to the kinds of political states we talk about today.
However, we must face the fact that the present day statistical resources of the world are mostly arranged in political units. But even the word country is slippery. Is Hong Kong a separate country, since it still officially “belongs” to Great Britain? Patrick Johnstone, for example, speaks of the only two “countries” in the world where there are no known evangelical Christians. It is to be noted that he is not referring to separate countries such as would be invited to be members of the United Nations, but is referring to tiny, French possessions, which involve only a few hundred thousand people (who are solidly Roman Catholic). But, in any case, even if you count separately all political units, like Hong Kong, rather than include them as part of the countries which govern them, it is obvious that there are Christians of one sort or another in all such political entities. Thus, getting Christians in all countries—by any current definition—is not a good enough measure of closure.
It is probable, then, in terms of mission strategy, that any counting which takes countries into the picture—as targets of pioneer church planting—is probably misleading to that extent. For example, I personally would much rather see Operation World take up 365 clusters of ethnic peoples throughout the year (mini, macro, and megapeoples) than to take up the political units of the world. The obvious reason we do not more often employ such a Biblical frame of reference is that data collection is primarily packaged according to countries. That is, Patrick can much more easily track the political units than the peoples of God’s perspective. And his Operation World is a phenomenal devotional blessing. At present it could not exist if he did not simply take the country data that tends to be much more available!
But why not at least try to talk about peoples and the countries in which they are found, rather than to cut the peoples up with country boundaries! We are told that 800 peoples in Africa alone are isolated in two or more populations by country boundaries. That way we can mention what countries a given people is in rather than start with countries and mention pieces of various peoples as sub-points under each country.
If only a few members of a group mainly in one country are in some other country, that small group can be the key to reaching the entire group they come from. This has accidentally happened many times. This fact is the basis of the concept of “Non-residential missionaries.” People separated from their homeland are often more open to new things and influencial when they return. It is not as strategic to know that 10 million Kazakhs are in the Soviet Union, or that 16 million Zhuang are in China, as it is to know that 10 thousand Kazakhs are in Munich, Germany and that members of the Zhuang peoples can be reached in Hong Kong.
As a matter of fact—as unconventional as this may sound—it is true, at least as a generalization, that fragments of populations, whether refugee, student, business, or governmental, are probably always more strategic as preliminary beachheads than is the main body of a group approached indiscriminately. Taking ethnicity more seriously than geography or politics can introduce us into a whole new perspective on the massive phenomenon of migration in our time. It should be seen as God’s opportunity rather than man’s nuisance!
2. Winning individuals. Whenever we hear someone saying “What will it take to win the world to Christ?” we probably encounter a point of view based upon winning individuals. But we are not called to make everyone in the world into a Christian. We are called to confront everyone, to invite everyone, not necessarily win them. Thus, counting how many are won to Christ is not an ultimate measure. What if everyone in the world from this point on simply said “no?” Would that stop us from giving everyone a chance? Yes and no. We do believe that the Bible expects “some from every nation, tribe and tongue and people” to be present among God’s peoples (plural) in the final day. Note that most English translations of Rev 21:3 mistakenly put peoples in the singular. Thus, we would have to expect that there ought to be the possibility of at least a beachhead in every people group. But, beyond that essential missiological breakthrough, the Bible does not assure us that everyone will be won to Christ.
3. A certain number of churches. A measure superior to counting individuals won to Christ is the counting of churches, and to report the rate of increase in the number of churches. This is superior because it requires us to produce the minimal context of a full opportunity for anyone to “say yes” to Jesus Christ.
Jim Montgomery, of DAWN (Discipling A Whole Nation), in saying we need 7,000,000 churches by the year 2000, hurries on to specifiy that there are to be some in every people group. To plant 7,000,000 churches ought not to be too difficult. That is only double the number of evangelical Bible believing churches in the world today. The crucial point, however, is that it would be possible to double the number of churches we have today without penetrating every people group. That is not the way the DAWN people intend this goal to be interpreted. But a sheer “number of churches” goal is not, by itself, good enough to assure that everyone in the world has an adequate chance to “say yes” to Jesus Christ.
4. Exhausting the limits of a given communication tool. Many mission enterprises have gained special skills in the use of particular communication tools. In each case, whether it is radio, film, cassette or printed page, it is possible to define a type of closure which is appropriate to the use of that particular medium.
The missionary radio sphere sparkles with competence and global muscle. Nothing in the secular world corresponds to the linguistic diversity and geographic penetrating power of present-day missionary radio stations, whose transmitting wattage commonly exceeds the power of U.S. domestic stations by a factor of ten or more. On the other hand, such enormous wattage cannot be harnessed economically for small languages. Thus, they hope, by the year 2000, to reach every person in the world with a radio signal which is at least in a trade language. That is, closure for them is measurable by how close they are to the goal of working in the 280 languages which have a million speakers or more. By that measure they are over half way, and feel confident they can make the total by A.D. 2000.
A similar and similarly spectacular achievement exists in the program of Campus Crusade, utilizing on-the-spot showings of the Jesus film. They, also, are working in the same languages, with a million or more speakers, and they also are more than half way, with the goal in sight by A.D.2000.
The printed page is still one of the most durable and penetrating means of communication, and the Wycliffe Bible Translators employ printed translations of portions of the Bible, normally the New Testament, at least. From the standpoint of how many such translations are necessary to reach every person in the world, they figure that of 6,170 languages, more than half have adequate scriptures, and a relatively small number remain, when you consider that many of those remaining are not yet verified as to need.
Curiously, if you employ cassette tapes, the job gets both smaller and bigger, smaller because it is a lot easier to put the Gospel into tape than to translate the whole New Testament, develop an alphabet, and teach the people to read. But the job is bigger, too, because people are much more discriminating by ear than by eye. Three different groups which will not speak to each other can read the same printed New Testament, while they will object to the precise dialect which is captured on tape. Gospel Recordings, which is the specialist in this area, has already dealt with over 4,000 languages in this way, but they figure that there are another 8,000 to go—again, not impossible by the year 2000.
All of these communication tools are a blessing and a help in the process of establishing a people movement to Christ in every remaining Unreached People. All of the specialized organizations employing these tools recognize that there are other aspects of the task besides the use of their own special tool. It is marvelous for these particular skills to be so effectively employed and the corresponding goals pursued. But no one claims that the full employment of any given means of communication is in itself a fully adequate measure of completion of the task.
5. Promoting the Effort
Now that the concept of Unreached Peoples has taken hold very widely, it is immediately possible to make plans and unfold intermediate goals with far greater confidence and precision. As a result, there is considerable interest all around the globe today in local churches “adopting” a specific unreached people group by name, and there has been considerable effort to try to make these efforts into an effective movement.
A. The March 1982 meeting, again. At that meeting, the possible stages in the people reaching process were discussed in detail, as already mentioned above. One of the key points was number 5, “Supported, or Adopted”—the mobilization of sufficient prayer, manpower and funds for a given people group to be reached.
B. The crucial role of mission agencies. A dangerous trend in some quarters today is the idea that a local church, without the help of a mission agency, can send, or ought to send, its own missionaries directly overseas. This method has been tried. It is probably the one method that has most universally failed. It means the missionaries are not properly supervised, guided, or, in the last analysis, even properly supported, since a single congregation is not as stable as a group of congregations working through a tried and true mission agency. It is very important to realize that Paul was not “sent out” by the Antioch congregation, but Paul and Barnabus were “sent off” by the group. Paul reported back but did not ask for orders. His missionary team had all the authority of a local church. They were, in effect, a “traveling church.”
The reason to stress this here is that built in to the Adopt A People program is the very basic idea that the first move a local congregation should make is to go to and through their favorite mission board to find and adopt a specific people group. They ought not to look in the encyclopedia, but to support with their prayers, financial and manpower resources the frontier mission work that is already going on, or is soon slated to begin, under the auspices of well-established mission agencies.
C. What is the time table? I am sure that God has many surprises in store for us. We need to realize that we cannot minutely plan the future. On the other hand it does not seem impossible for the evangelical congregations of the world to “adopt” by name all of the remaining Unreached Peoples by the end of 1991. This, at least, is a good goal to shoot for. Then, the agencies need to try to “engage” every group by the year 1995—that means for missionaries to be at work, either on the spot or as non-residents. As the world Christian movement gains momentum, every remaining unreached group becomes closer and closer to other groups where the Gospel is already being preached; as is often the case it may become easier and easier for people in the remaining new groups to accept the Gospel. There does not seem to be any overarching obstacle which would make it impossible for there to be “A Church for Every People by the Year 2000.” But, as mentioned earlier, to say that this can be done is quite different from predicting that it will be done. A great deal depends on the success of a global Adopt A People movement, it would seem.
D. The Singapore Consultation on World Evangelization by A.D. 2000 and Beyond. This meeting brought together for the first time in history the key mission agencies of the entire world, with plans for completing the task, or some significant portion of the task, by the year 2000. It set in motion more than one vehicle for keeping in touch. It demonstrated the vital readiness of the mission communities of the world
E. The Adopt A People Symposium of March 1989. At this symposium, which about 40 different entities attended (mostly mission agencies) an Unreached Peoples Clearinghouse was both designed and established. The idea is that as mission agencies offer to churches the adoption options which the agencies are ready to implement, the resulting countdown or “score” would be kept in a database, which would be available on an electronic bulletin board for consultation by either congregations and agencies. As Patrick Johnson so often stresses, we need to collaborate, and in no case to compete. There is enough to do for everyone to be involved, and there is no room for duplication or blind spots. This kind of centralized, easily accessible, constantly up-dated bulletin board would not only enable more efficient deployment of resources, but would encourage people by making progress visible. It will promote interest, not just facilitate progress.
F. The Lausanne II Congress on World Evangelization, Manila, July 1989. The people from 190 “countries” at this meeting demonstrated very dramatically the vitality of the global Christian tradition, and the relative nearness of its key leaders to each other. The 4,500 participants in this great meeting have gone back with urgent new convictions about attempting to complete the task. Many of the 46 groups of workshops pertained in one way or another to completing the task. One evening session was on the year 2000.
G. Costa Rica’s “Alcance 2000,” August 21-25, 1989. The chart on page 19 came out of this amazing meeting. If the evangelicals in every country in every continent will think in the “adoption” terms you see there, e.g. will take their share of the remaining task, it is perfectly easy to see that the job can be done by the year 2000—that is, it is not impossible.
In Costa Rica, a little country of 2.5 million people, the evangelical community is getting way up there in percentage of the general population. Guatemala is already 25% and Costa Rica is somewhere between 15 and 25%. (Operation World shows only 7%, but the book is four years old and the data might have been old at the time it went to press.) Remember that the galloping gains of the evangelicals in turbulent Central America are positively legendary! To be conservative I put down a figure somewhere between the 7 and 25 percent, and with the jubilant help of an outside speaker from Brazil, Edison Queiroz, head of the fabled COMIBAM for Brazil, pulled together the chart below, much to the delight and challenge of the thousand or morewho came to this national-level mission congress. Note, Costa Rica’s share is 50 Unreached Peoples.
H. Global division of labor. It is exciting to see the whole Latin American continent rising with eagerness to do its share. Latin American believers are a generally progressive, educated group, compared to some African and Asian brothers. If they can take 3,000 out of the 12,000 remaining Unreached Peoples, and if other areas of the world can emulate their example it will be a magnificent step forward. North America, for example, might feel obligated to try for 6,000 of the 12,000 peoples. Note that the Latin Americans have gone one step further: they have added 50% to their goal in order to compensate for any other group that may fall short. It would seem likely that church and mission leaders in the other parts of the world may soon begin to estimate how much falls to them, and which of the groups within their sphere are going to do what portion of the task. This kind of division of labor is the very core of completion.
I. Keeping up with what God is doing. One of our most difficult tasks is to try to keep up with things which God is apparently doing without asking us. Our task is only to fit in with His plans, not to engineer Him to fill out ours. He is doing amazing things. We need to let what God is doing come home to our hearts! The end of the job is in sight!
A Latin American Model for the World!
Will North Americans meet the Challenge?
Only a few days ago, in that alert little country of Costa Rica, in a brand-new auditorium seating more than 3,000 (a new church sanctuary), a nationwide Missions Congress of evangelicals from all over the country was held, with the name "Alcance 2000"--- meaning something like "Reaching toward the year 2000" (but it can imply "Finishing by the year 2000.") Read the details on page 18, point G, see table below.
Two of the most significant mission leaders in Latin America were there: Luis Bush of Argentina, El Salvador, etc, initiator of the amazing COMIBAM movement, and Edison Queiroz, present director of COMIBAM in that huge country of Brazil, where two-thirds of Latin America's evangelicals are to be found. Taking a cue from the Costa Ricans, Queiroz produced this chart overnight, extending to all of Latin America, the trenchant concept of proportional responsibility for the remaining 12,000 Unreached Peoples of the world.
In North America, similar plans (see following page) are well underway. Asia and Africa will surely follow!
Technical Note on the Numbers Above
Why are all of the numbers in the table above incorrect? Simple. Because populations don't stand still, and these numbers are four years old! Only if the number of evangelicals in a given country somehow did not change for four years would any of these numbers above be correct. These numbers come from Patrick Johnstone's spectacular Operation World (now in Spanish), which was published four years ago, while all of Latin America's evangelical populations are growing to beat the band. Some of the data was old when it was printed, so it would have been possible to increase all of these numbers by a certain average amount, like, say, 5% per year (which would mean 22% more in four years, about 50% in four more years). As a matter of fact the total above, over 34 million, now is over 40 million (a 22% gain) according to what everyone says.