“Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people”
Mark 16, vs.15
I never gave more than a passing thought to the “Great Commission,” delivered by Jesus just shortly before his ascension into heaven. Most people, I reasoned, had heard about Christianity and could easily look into its claims if they truly had an interest. And most of the non-Christians that I had spoken to left no doubt that they were definitely not interested. So I decided to let matters be, and not bother people with a topic that didn’t resonate with them.
But something changed for me. A good friend of mine suddenly began confronting me with questions about my faith. He was very respectful, but he was looking for answers. I discovered that I had nothing satisfying to offer him. In fact I had nothing satisfying to offer myself. I could hardly formulate a thought that didn’t sound completely absurd.
One of his observations was that Christianity is rapidly losing ground in today’s world. For some reason my defenses went up, and I felt the need to argue his point and prove him wrong.
Not long after that I came across an article written by a high-ranking Catholic Cardinal, lamenting the condition of the European Catholic Church. He was saying that Europe’s Christian legacy is at risk “because we Europeans have squandered it”.
Even more recently I read that in Great Britain, the Christian underpinnings of their legal system are being quietly put aside, and are being replaced by a type of sharia, or Islamic, law. The article goes on to say, “Given the current trends, Christianity in England is becoming a relic, while Islam will be the religion of the future.
Suspecting that all of these people couldn’t be wrong, and beginning to feel a growing alarm, I decided to look into the status of Christianity in our world today. Some of what I discovered reassured me, but then as I looked further I seemed to fall into an open chasm.
My friend was indeed spot-on about the church’s dwindling numbers in North America and Europe. I guess I wasn’t completely surprised at that discovery. Globally, on the other hand, Christianity seems to be holding its own, and is actually quite robust in some large areas of the world. In China, for instance, one statistic claims that Christianity is growing at the rate of 10,000 to 25,000 converts a day.
So all is well, is it not?
Well, not exactly. There are other more disturbing statistics out there.
For starters, after over two thousand years, Christians only make up approximately 30% of the world’s population. That’s 2.2 billion adherents, true. But 5 billion souls have yet to be reached by Christ’s offer of love and redemption. Five billion souls.
The total world population at this time (2017) is approximately 7.2 billion people, and the average age of these people is a youthful 26 years old.
Two-thirds of the world’s population (4.4 billion people) live in a region of the globe that is almost completely closed to any sort of Christian missionary activity, a policy of hostility enforced by most of the governments in that portion of the world. Although there are Christian missions in existence throughout this region, they are barely holding their own and are under the daily threat of persecution or extinction.
The region I speak of stretches from the Sahara in Western Africa to the eastern shore of Asia, lying between 10 degrees and 40 degrees north of the equator. I am talking about the countries of North Africa, all of the Middle East, all of India, most of China, and all of Southeast Asia.
Regrettably, there is almost zero new penetration of the gospel into vast stretches of that region, a region sometimes referred to as the “10/40 window.”
And although missionary activity is being carried out heroically, and with real joy and fervor, statistics reveal that 99% of the missionary funds, and 99% of the missionary efforts, go towards supporting those souls who have already been evangelized. Small churches are being built (or repaired), schools are being established, water systems are being installed, farming techniques are being explained, catechists are being trained. Some new converts are made due to the exemplary Christian witness being demonstrated, but often those gains are more than erased by the terror and destruction of persecution. Meanwhile only one percent of missionary funds and effort are being expended on what could be referred to as “unreached people groups.”
So if what I read is true, if Europe’s and North America’s Christian legacy is at risk, and two-thirds of the world is closed to Christian activity, and no missionary funds are being allocated toward the unevangelized population of the world, then the church does appear to be in a negative downward spiral. Red flags are beginning to fly in my head. I can feel myself being radicalized. Can anything be done about this? Is the situation hopeless? Does anybody even care?
But I know that there are people who care. And many more would care if they were aware of the situation. Something certainly can be done to turn the tide. However, one piece of wisdom coming from our strange and turbulent times rings true: If you keep on doing the same things, you will keep on getting the same results.
Perhaps an adjustment in our evangelistic technique could supplement our global missionary efforts and put us on a more positive trajectory. I intend to explore a particular model of evangelism during the course of this blog.