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How Many Christians Does it Take to Send a Missionary?

March 3rd, 2009

How Many Christians Does it Take to Send a Missionary?

How many Christians does it take to send a missionary? None, of course. The Lord sends them. There is no disputing that fact. He raises up all the leaders that His church needs to “to prepare His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12,13)

A lot of what God does is mysterious, even unexplainable. This is especially true concerning the way He calls and sends missionaries. It does not seem to me that He raises them up though any standard, common or preferred channels from one generation to the next. He delivers their support, both financial and spiritual, from some of the most unexpected sources – so unexpected that that I often miss seeing them. At times His movement is brought into sharper focus, for me, through research data. Such clarity came to me recently when I was invited by Missions Resource Network to attend The State of the Gospel 2009 a Mission Exchange webinar presented by Jason Mandryk.

Among the wealth of data that Mandryk presented was a set of facts that changed the way I perceive what the Lord is doing among churches in the Majority World. You may be unfamiliar with the term ‘Majority World’, but more familiar with the terms ‘third world’, ‘developing countries’, or ‘poorer nations’. The designation Majority World refers to those same people, but highlights the reality that the majority of humankind lives in these countries.

Mandryk revealed that currently it takes far fewer Christians in the majority world to send out a missionary than it takes for Christians in richer countries to send one out. According to Mandryk’s data, it takes one thousand Canadian Christians to send out a missionary, close to double that many in the United States, and 3,500 in the UK. Among the Churches of Christ, the fellowship I belong to, it takes 2,200 USA members to send out a missionary couple or a single. In parts of the majority world the picture is quite different. It takes 222 Mongolian Christians to sent out a missionary and four hundred Singaporeans to do the same. In the much poorer African countries of Niger and Mali it takes 451 and 608 respectively. Spain is the only non-majority world country ranking in the top ten countries when it comes to membership/missionaries sent ratio. Other countries in the top ten are Lebanon, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Faeroe Islands, and Thailand. This data was collected from Protestant, Anglican, and independent churches and includes only countries where Christians have sent out fifty or more missionaries.

Why such a disparity between majority world churches and the resource flush churches of the west? There may not be any clear answer, but one can deduce some likely realities. (1) Churches do not have to be wealthy to send out missionaries. People in Nepal, Niger, and Mali rank among the poorest of poor, yet they support missionaries. (2) Very small congregations can be extremely missional in outlook and actions. Of course there are large congregations in Singapore and Thailand, but small groups of believers typical to countries like Mongolia, Niger, and Mali seem to understand that the Lord wants them to reach out across cultural barriers and plant churches. It does not take a mega church to send missionaries. (3) Young, evangelical congregations, where most of the members are first or second generation believers, have missions in their very DNA. For them, sending out missionaries is normal and doable.

In an article titled Costa Rica: Sending Missionaries to Africa the Christian World News reported that a congregation of one hundred in one of San Jose’s poorest neighborhoods uses eighty percent of its income to train and support their own members to be church planters in Africa. Read the amazing story of how these poor Christians have started a bakery and an auto repair business to support their missionaries. “With the Bible in one hand and tools in the other, future missionaries work hard to maintain their companions in Africa.” In the past eight years, this congregation has sent out 21 missionaries. Make no mistake these are true missionaries – they learn the language and culture of the Senegalese and Malians they minister among. God has blessed them.

Then there is the story of, Philippe and Ruth Sagara, who are missionaries to the Bozo people of Mali. In the early 1990s the Sagara were the first Malians sent out as cross-cultural missionaries by their brothers and sisters in the Gospel Missionary Union. God blessed their efforts and before the year 2000 had arrived, nine other couples were sent out by this Malian denomination. The fact that they are Malian has not sheltered them from the adjustment struggles common to all cross-cultural missionaries. In some cases “the temptation is not to put a priority on language learning,” and settle for using a trade language like Bambara. But, the time and effort put in mother-tongue language learning has paid great church growth dividends. Today, some of the more experienced Malian missionaries train and counsel Western missionaries who continue to arrive to labor along side them.

Some might say these case studies and data only points out the obvious – it cost less to send missionaries from the majority world than those from richer nations. That may be true, but it has very little to do with the results revealed in this data. Western Christians send western missionaries at western support levels. The majority world Christians make similar financial sacrifices to send their brothers and sisters out at majority world support levels.

It would be a misuse of this data for Christians of richer nations to justify a scaling back of the number of Western missionaries they send out and redirect their funds to sponsoring majority world missionaries who can be sent for less. What this data shows is that Majority World Christians have taken seriously the task of sending their own to the unreached. For western Christians, agencies, and churches to step in and take over what these sacrificial Christians are already doing well would be counter productive. Why take from them what God is already allowing them to do on their own? Western Christians may need to view what their Majority World brethren are doing as an example or model of what they ought to be about. In these times it seems God is using Christians in what used to be considered ‘the mission field’ to set the pace for the ‘historically Christian nations.’

I am convinced that this shift has little to do with any recent strategy adjustments. For it is evident that God is, in many cases, using those who have very little understanding of strategic matters. They simply have a healthy understanding of what He has done and is doing among them. They are grateful and prayerful. They trust in His promises and move out in faith, expecting Him to be faithful, not based upon what they do, but upon who He is.

What is ahead in this new era of missions? What else will the Western church learn from their Majority World brethren? I am not sure. What I do know is – this is an exciting time I are living in. Thank you Lord for allow me to to witness it.

Stories of Africa

February 2nd, 2009

We have just gone live with an additional website Stories of Africa. The site presents African writers and non-Africans who have written about Africa.  It is about the authors and their works.

Stories of Africa does contain a RSS newsfeed of BBC’s Africa Service, however it goes behind the news are reveals the careers of the Reporters of news from Africa.

The Stories Tellers of Africa, including novelists, short story writers, and poets are presented.

Stories of Africa will present both noted and obscure Scholars who written on the gambit of African Studies from the politics and people groups to the religion and philosophy.

If you enjoy reading about Africa, you will enjoy knowing something about the writers themselves.

If you are a non-fiction or fiction writer who has explored Africa and her people in your work, we could be interested in highlighting you and your material.

Give Stories of Africa a look.

Security and Missions

December 30th, 2008

The recent arrest and jailing of David and Fiona Fulton brings to the fore once again that missionaries are not immune to the laws of the land in which they serve. Freedom of press in Scotland would have protected this couple from prosecution for sending emails to friends that were viewed as seditious to the Gambian government. For reasons known only to them the Fultons had been critical of the government in email messages, a media they must have thought secure. Email is not secure at all. Many governments and zealots regularly monitor such messages.

Email is not the only security issue for missionaries today. Security is such a serious concern that many current missionaries do not allow stories to be written about them, especially stories that mention their names, where they are working, or the methods they are employing to share the message of Christ. The number of missionaries working in security conscious settings will continue to increase for the foreseeable future as denominations and agencies begin to place more and more personnel among the remaining unreached people groups.

In past generations, very few missionaries were sent to the ‘closed’ areas of the world. If a government forbade ‘proselytizing’ or denied work permits to Christian workers, denominations and agencies would look elsewhere to plant churches. In many cases nationals in those same countries risk their lives, and some even paid with their lives, to share the Good News, but missionaries from the United States and Europe stayed away. That was the past generation’s response. Currently the unreached people groups in these countries are being penetrated by a bold breed of missionary with a ‘creative access’ approaches that takes many forms.

Mentioning the names and places such missionaries work would place them, and nationals who work alone side them, in danger. These courageous couriers of the Gospel dare not publicly report what they are seeing the Lord doing. If they think of praise at all, it is that the Lord and a small band of prayer warriors alone will laud them.

Recruiting missionaries for these areas is a challenge. Agencies and denominations must target some of these unreached people without the fanfare of promotional materials they use to publicize the more open opportunities in the world. Internships and short-term experience for aspirants are virtually nonexistent in these security conscious areas.

The risk is real for those who do make it to these ‘creative access’ countries and the anonymity is just as real. As Michelle Malkin stated last year in her Real Clear Politics blog article The Martyrs No One Cares About , “The blood of innocent Christian missionaries spills on Afghan sands. The world watches and yawns.”

Denominations and agencies have to reckon with how to respond when their personnel are captured by terrorists. Many agencies have policies against paying ransoms to terrorists. But others do not see it so clear cut. As Ted Olsen points out in his June 2003 Christianity Today article, “Did Martin Die Needlessly?” , New Tribes missionary Martin Burnham’s wife Gracia believes her husband would be alive today if someone had paid the proper ransom. To deal with this sticky question and other security issues many agencies have top notch security firms on retainer ready to advise them in extremely dangerous situations.

Without a doubt we are in a new age of missions, especially a new age of missions to the unreached. With it comes many challenges, security is indeed a major contemporary issue for the world and missions. What do you foresee as security issues missions must face? How should they be dealt with?

The Use of Christian Money and Personnel Among the Unreached People Groups and Bibleless People Groups

November 19th, 2008

I am often defensive when the topic of money, and how I how I ought to spend it, is being preached at me. So I am well aware that discussing money and missions can be a sensitive subject, especially during the current, world-wide financial turmoil. It is not my intention to make any individual, congregation or agency feel guilty about their allocation of funds or personnel. Guilt may be a strong motivator in the world, but it has no place in Christian discourse unless it is to point to God’s grace to alleviate it. My sense is that outside of a small circle of informed Christians, most of us are unaware of the disparity between the resources spent on the reached and those spent on the unreached and Bibleless people groups of the world. Armed with knowledge of the reality of this situation, I believe we will begin to realign our mission monies and personnel.

So, I offer some pertinent facts. In 2004, according to Mission Frontiers, Christians gave about two hundred and thirteen billion dollars to Christian endeavors, including their local congregation. $213,000,000,000. Wow! That is a lot of zeros (yet it amounts to less than two percent of their earned income). Of that amount, only 11.4 billion dollars, or 5.4%, went to foreign missions. The bulk of that mission money, 87%, was allocated to mission work among those people groups that have already been reached. Ministries to the unreached made do with the remaining 13%. The bottom line is that only .000918% of all funds contributed to Christian causes (that’s nine cents out of every one hundred dollars) went to works concentrating on unreached people groups.

I recently discovered a great tool for showing this disparity. Rev. Shari Hobby, Co-Director Ethne, has developed a tool to “visually and experientially” impress a congregation or small group with the reality of the number of unreached peoples and the paucity of resources concentrated on them. The tool consists of a set of note cards that can be marked and distributed to among any gathering. You can find the procedure for marking the cards in Rev. Shari’s paper, DEVELOPING A PERSPECTIVE OF WORLD MISSION. I encourage you to use the tool.

Another recent discovery for me was an outstanding student developed and maintained website by the name of The Traveling Team with the purpose “to glorify God by educating and equipping college students to become World Christians who fulfill their responsibility in World Evangelization.” In Lesson 4 of their resources they point out that only 4% of foreign missions work force is working to reach unreached people groups. The other 96% labor among the reached.

On the first of this month, (Nov. 2008), the World Evangelical Alliance General Assembly concluded in Pattaya, Thailand. They adopted six resolutions, one of which concerned the worldwide financial crisis. “While we hope that the painful consequences of the turmoil will be mitigated, our concern is that its impact will continue to permeate into more regions and economies of the world. We recognize that this economic crisis will have the most painful impact on the poor, who are the most vulnerable.” The resolution went on to call on Christians to care for the poor during the crisis and live simply and generously.

While trusting in the Lord to provide for the unreached people groups of the world, I must be honest that I wonder if efforts directed toward them might suffer greatly. Join with me in prayer that the unreached people groups and those working among them may truly experience the presence of the Lord in their lives and that their lives may be changed on this earth and the one to come. What are you seeing or foreseeing concerning the impact of the world financial crisis on the unreached people groups and missions working among them?

Unreached People Groups, Last Frontier People Groups, Bibleless People Groups and Scripture Use…some definitions

November 3rd, 2008


I am convinced that the present generation is going to be more conscientious about answering God’s call to reach the unreached and Bibleless peoples of the world. There are several signs that such a thrust has already begun.


There has been an increase in the number of short-term mission experiences that have a component that introduces young, prospective missionaries to unreached people groups. Due to the security issues, these mission trips are not publicized widely.


The number of blogs discussing unreached peoples is swelling. They are written by a diverse band of Christians – from a church planter on Vegas Strip ( to a Student Minister in Georgia (Our Generation). They all seem to have a common understanding stated clearly by Martin Tucker in his Mission To Mexico blog on January 28th, 2008. “While there may be a few believers, there is no established local church that can reach out to the rest of the group. Therefore, for the people group to come to know Jesus Christ, one of two things must happen. They must receive a divine revelation from God, like Paul on the road to Damascus, or believers elsewhere must bring Jesus to them.“


Who are these unreached people? There are a couple popular definitions with subtle, yet important, differences. David Barrett in his annual survey uses unreached to refer to only those who have never heard the gospel whether from a face to face encounter with an evangelist or through some form of mass evangelism (radio, television, or print). He has another category Evangelized Non-Christians for “persons who are not Christians in any recognized sense but who have become aware of Christianity, Christ, and the gospel and yet have not, or not yet, responded positively by accepting them.”


Barrett’s exposure approach seems to classify the unreached people on the activity of the evangelizing agent (missionary) and not the impact on the target community. Dayton and Fraser in the revised edition of Planning Strategies for World Evangelism differ with Barrett stating that they “consider a people as unreached until there are worshiping groups of Christians in sufficient numbers with enough resources to complete the task of evangelization within their own kind without outside help.”


The International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention adds another category: Last Frontier People Groups – this classifies the unreached as those people groups that are less than 2% evangelical with no active church planting in the past two years. According to the IMB, in their September 2008 report of the Status of Global Christianity, 50.5% of the world’s people groups (5,841), comprising 23% of the world’s population, fit into this category (this report comes with some great graphics locating the unreached and last frontier peoples). These definitions seem to even cover what I call stalled church growth movements. I consider this definition to be the most comprehensive and useful for planning and prayer for reaching the unreached.


No matter which definition you prefer, there are still thousands of people groups who are unreached and deserve attention.


Ethnologue is probably the best publicly available source for finding which language groups still do not have Bibles in their own language. As far as the numbers are concerned, current Bible agencies’ data shows that there are a little over 6,900 languages in the world (not to be confused with people groups). Only around 430 of them have entire Bibles and another 1,100 have New Testaments or scripture portions. That leaves more than 2,400 languages without any Christian scriptures.


Why is it important to translate scriptures in the vernaculars of the world? Roger E. Hedlund pointed out in a presentation titled THE WITNESS OF NEW CHRISTIAN MOVEMENTS IN INDIA at an IAMS conference in Malaysia in July of 2004, that there were three elements found in all expressions of growing Christian movements in the non-Western world: “(1) indigenous grassroots leadership, (2) embeddedness in local cultures, and (3) reliance on a vernacular Bible.”


Speaking directly to the African context, the late African theologian, Kwame Bediako of Ghana, believed that “It is to the undying credit of the modern missionary enterprise from the West, and to the lasting benefit of the newer churches which have resulted, that the value of the vernacular Bible for converts was generally recognized quite early. There is probably no more important single explanation for the massive presence of Christianity on the African continent than the availability of the Scripture in the many African languages. By rejecting the notion of sacred language for the Bible, Christianity makes every translation of its Scriptures substantially and equally the Word of God. Thus the existence of vernacular Bibles not only facilitates access to the particular communities speaking those languages, but also creates the likelihood that the hearers of the Word in their own languages will make their own response to it and on their own terms.”


Translating scripture into the vernaculars of the world is not enough. These scriptures have to be put to use. I have been part of discussions at Pioneer Bible Translators and the International Forum of Bible Agencies (IFOBA) over what is called variously scripture impact, scripture engagement, and scripture use. There is the understanding that translating scriptures is just the beginning. They must be introduced in ways that transforms lives and societies.


Understanding the terms unreached people groups, last frontier people groups, Bibleless peoples and scripture use, is an important step toward focusing our prayers. This generation of Christians is a praying generation. And, our God listens to his people, especially when our prayers coincide with his desires for the world. Set aside a time to pray each week for the unreached and Bibleless peoples of the world. Keep looking back here for more ideas to focus your prayers.


What do you think would help us focus our prayers on the unreached?
Any creative ideas of how to get other Christians to pray for the unreached and Bibleless people groups?


Thousands of People Groups Are Still Unreached and Bibleless

October 27th, 2008


I just returned from the World Mission Workshop at Faulkner University where I gave two presentations. One concerned my Pilgrimage in Africa (more on that later), and the other was titled “What About the Remaining Unreached People“. That second presentation keeps playing over and over in my soul. I want to ask, “How is it that near the end of 2008 there are still over 5,000 people who have not had a new congregation planted among them in the past two years? Why are there more than 4,000 language groups without any scriptures, not even a gospel in their own language?” But, the answer to that question will not make any difference in the world. “What will I, and what will we do about it?” is a much more pertinent question.


The Southern Baptist International Mission Board has a live table showing the increase in the number of people born each second who do not have an adequate opportunity to hear the gospel. Look at it at Tick, tick, tick…. and let it sink into your soul.


In 1974, at the Lausanne International Congress on World Evangelization, mission leaders cast a vision to see a church planted in every people group on the planet by the year 2000. Here we are 34 years later, not having made substantial progress toward that vision.


 What can we do right now? Three things: pray, pray, pray. If you feel moved by the Lord, join with me and set aside a time each day to pray for the unreached and Bibleless people of the world. I will continue to discuss this topic in this blog, but right now join with me in asking the Father to show us what He wants us to do about this sad situation.