Academic Dean and Professor of Intercultural Studies
Sioux Falls Seminary
As we continue to move into 2019, there is much to be hopeful for in terms of global missions, as well as many challenges.
Here are a few hopeful facts to consider:
- There are over 400,000 western and non-western missionaries in the world today.
- Some 174,000 individuals become Christians every day.
- Around 3,500 new churches open every week worldwide.
- Over $45 billion USD is given to global missions annually.
These facts are cause for great hope. Surely we have much to praise God for!
Unfortunately, the above facts only tell half the story, for there are many challenges facing global missions as well. Again, here are a few:
- There are around three billion people worldwide who have never once heard the Good News of Jesus. These are the unreached people groups (UPGs) of our world.
- Most of the missionaries in the world today are working among reached people groups who have already had many opportunities to hear the Gospel. Only some 13,000 missionaries are working among UPGs.
- Each and every day, over 140,000 babies are born among UPGs, and over 58,000 individuals die.
- Only about one percent of the global missions budget goes to ministry among UPGs, for a total of about $450 million.
Clearly we’ve still got a big job left to do! The global missions task is hardly over.
It Won’t Be Easy
There are a lot of opportunities for the global church to get involved in helping to reach UPGs, especially the churches in North America. But it won’t be easy. The UPGs are still unreached for a reason: they are located in parts of the world that are experiencing great political upheaval and social unrest, and/or they are located in religious environments that are especially hostile to the Gospel. Many are found among some of the most resistant Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists of our world. Most (97 percent) are geographically located in what is called The 10/40 Window, which stretches from West Africa across Asia between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north of the equator. North Americans who desire to go and minister among UPGs will face great challenges.
But God Is Making It Easier
Since it’s difficult for most of us in North America to “go there” where the UPGs are, God is bring these people groups here to North America. While God has always been in the business of moving peoples (like Abraham from Ur to Canaan and the Jews to captivity in Babylon), what He is doing today is unprecedented in human history. Millions upon millions of people (including those from most of the UPGs) are on the move because of conflict, famine, or economic hardship. And many of these millions are now found in North America. What a tremendous opportunity for our North American churches! No longer do we need to travel across the world to reach UPGs; today we oftentimes just need to cross the street.
For example, my hometown is Sioux Falls, South Dakota. When I grew up in Sioux Falls, it was ethnically about 98 percent white, with a few Native Americans and African-Americans. Today, some forty years later, Sioux Falls is made up of refugees and immigrants from almost one hundred different countries and regions—many from UPGs—with over 120 different languages and dialects spoken at home. Approximately one of every ten individuals now living in Sioux Falls was born outside of the United States. Clearly God is doing something in Sioux Falls, giving the 250 mostly white churches here unprecedented opportunities to reach out to peoples different from themselves.
What God is doing is Sioux Falls, He is doing throughout North America. Most of you reading this are well aware of what God is doing in your own area. It’s no accident. The questions in light of what God is doing are two:
- What are you going to do about it?
- What is your church going to do about it?
Good News: God Promises It Will Happen!
The good news in all of this is that reaching all of the UPGs—both globally and locally—is what God Himself longs for. The Great Commission that Jesus gave to us was to make disciples of all of the people groups of the world (Matthew 28:19–20). Moreover, Jesus made it clear that He won’t return until all of the people groups are reached (Matthew 24:14), so we still have some time to reach them. And most importantly, the book of Revelation makes clear that one day these UPGs will be reached with the Gospel, as peoples from “every nation, tribe, people and language” stand before the throne and worship (Revelation 7:9).
Certainly all of this gives us great hope, despite the great challenges. God wins in the end and He, in His grace, is giving us the privilege to participate with Him in His global missions task.