Bridges and Peoples
This is no time to get these two confused÷both are essential to mission strategy. We must know the difference.
Yes, MOMENTUM IS BUILDING, but it is at least inconvenient that confusion is continuing in regard to certain issues. In the last issue of Mission Frontiers we spent most of our space detailing the relative unimportance of apparent discrepancies between different ways of "measuring the size of the task." The basic question hinges on the distinction between groups of different kinds, and peoples needing their own church movement.
In the latter part of our Part I last time we entered the subject, much too big for the space we had left, of how best to categorize the peoples missionaries must still reach. We compared two very legitimate approaches. The Wycliffe approach naturally asks how many printed translations can we get by with so that everyone may read the Gospel in his own language. The Gospel Recordings approach asks how many sets of cassettes need we to produce to let everyone hear the Gospel in his own language.
Strange as it may seem, writing language down on paper allows you to avoid all kinds of phonetic differences which are picked up by the ear, and requires fewer printed translations than would be the number of audio cassettes! This means the number of groups comes out differently.
The audio approach actually lands us nearer to the number of tasks to perform if we ask our key question: how many peoples need at least initially a separate church movement within their group in order for everyone to have the opportunity to become a responsible member of a church?
"A Church for Every People by the Year 2000"
The Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization convened a fairly large, and widely representative group of mission leaders in March of 1982 in Chicago. They addressed the question of how to describe the kind of people group within which it would possibly be necessary to found an indigenous church tradition. The resulting definition is quoted at the bottom of the facing page.
The diagram to the right shows how inherently confusing the reality of human diversity actually is! Obviously if you count all the subgroups in the world it would run up in to the hundreds of thousands. All subgroups are potentially key "bridges of opportunity" to get through to individuals, but these small groups are by no means Unreached Peoples because they are not candidates for their own church!
Thus, the number of groups which are candidates for their own church, and as such are the focus of strategic mission attention for church planting purposes, is a much smaller number. My own thought is that it would be better to call these small groups "bridge groups" rather than "peoples" when they are merely opportunities for evangelism, not peoples of the kind defined in Chicago - groups where you expect to have to plant a separate, indigenous church.
Donald A. McGavran, the world's leading, living mission strategist, years ago entitled his classic book. The Bridges of God. He refers in part to the fact that once the Gospel penetrates what he calls a "segment" of society then, as if crossing a bridge, the Gospel can spread rapidly throughout that subcommunity. He called this phenomenon a "people" movement.
Thus I think we can speak of still smaller groups that lead into the community and family types of true peoples as "bridge groups" rather than peoples in their own right, where a church is the goal, not mere individual conversion.
Note, on the diagram, that the castes of India are ethnic - they do not intermarry -yet they are not linguistically distinguishable. Their primary identification is that of social status, standing, or role. However, the necessary strategy is to incorporate people into the larger body of Christ, whether as a hand, an eye, etc. We need to be very sensitive to what will allow people truly to find Christ and not get involved in what the New Testament describes as "pro'selytizing" which makes cultural and linguistic differences tests of faith. To this day, huge numbers of people in India and elsewhere are being shut out of the Christian faith due to unbiblical requirements laid upon them, forcing them to go up or down the social scale in order to be Christian. D. L. Moody was denied membership in a slightly too cultured Congregational church in Chicago. The opposite is the case where would-be Christians are faced with the necessity of marrying into lower class groups in which the only form of Christianity in their area is found.
Once again we can only begin this subject in this issue. One way this problem comes up is in what could be called "selective pessimism" where people who are already fearful hear and repeat awesome and gloomy tales of decline and failure. The facts are not necessarily false, their selection gives a false impression.
Another faulty use of statistics is an intriguing, anti-intuitive quirk about mathematics. Stated briefly it is the fact that projecting future statistical totals is inherently pessimistic where the growth rate you are working with is a composite of both fast and slow growing groups, which is almost always the case.
Anew book, by Dr. James Hunter, Evangelicalism.the Coming Generation (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987) has a chapter entitled, "Evangelicalism as a Global Phenomenon" which falls into both of the problems mentioned.
David Barrett himself has some new global statistics out as his estimates for 1987 (Hunter is quoting Barrett's 1982 work, which projects in some cases from 1970.) We'll be referring to that next time as well. Patrick Johnstone's work (see back cover for special price for this most valuable of all such books) will also be mentioned next time.
NEXT TIME, Part III, MOMENTUM BUILDING. The question of "countdown" -can something very significant be done by the year 2000?
When is a group a people÷a people needing its own church?
Don't let this diagram throw you. This is what might actually happen in a suburb of New Delhi, India:
1. Three different languages.
2. Two different religions.
3. Four different, entirely exclusive (non-overlapping) social groupings (castes, in this case).
4. That makes a total of 9 groupings not counting overlap, but with overlap there are another 10 smaller groupings.
Do missionaries need to target all 19 groupings for church planting strategy?
The missionary strategy question therefore is not, "How many groupings are there?" but "How many groups need an indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize the group?" This latter category is a PEOPLE. Yet, the smaller groupings may provide "bridges" to the "peoples."
Highly important to mission strategy, then, is the definition of a PEOPLE, hammered out by the Lausanne-sponsored gathering in March of 1982 (see opposite page). It reads, "The largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church-planting movement without encountering barriers of acceptance or understanding."
What this means is that those individuals who fall into the itty bitty groups may very well be won to Christ in that grouping, but still they may feel comfortable in a grouping larger than that. Note the definition: "the largest group within which the Gospel can spread . . . ." In the diagram above, the four castes may exert the most force in the early stages!