When I returned to Australia after nine years in Africa I found the mission scene vastly changed. When I first joined WEC the model for a church’s cross-cultural mission mainly involved people, usually with the support of their churches, going overseas. These missionaries would mostly go with a mission agency. They would spend time learning the language and culture, building relationships, sharing the gospel, discipling new believers and planting churches. Some worked in support roles such as teaching missionaries’ kids. Most would stay on the field several years, some for decades.
What I found when I returned was that the model for doing mission has changed. Many churches now organise their own programs without mission agency involvement. There is much more interest in social justice and community development projects to help the poor. Short-term ministries are much more prominent. Short-term mission trips, individual and group, giving opportunities to participate and possibly help in ministries such as orphanages, street kids’ programs, street evangelism, building projects and medical work are popular.
Now to be honest, there are advantages in this model: There can be less organisation, a shorter time-commitment, and sometimes quicker and/or more visible results. But I wonder – Is this model strategic for reaching the 1.7 billion people who are still considered “unreached”? (See here for our definition of unreached.)
These unreached, comprising distinct people groups (India alone has 2,223 such groups), have little or no opportunity to hear the gospel, be discipled or meet in fellowship groups with other believers. 90% of Hindi speakers – there’s 430,000,000 of them – are unreached. There are 16,000,000 Somalis, and 96% are unreached. But it’s not just big people groups - the Ersu in south-west China number just 40,000. The number of Christians amongst them? Zero. None. Not one.
According to the video clip Lost People (IVF 2000), only 1% of the $12.3 trillion earned by Christians worldwide each year goes towards reaching these unreached people groups. Only 1 in 20,000 Christians go to tell the good news to the unreached.
The message for us?
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with them, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
(2 Peter 3:9, NIV, highlighting is ours)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you
(Matthew 28:19-20, NIV – highlighting is ours)
Unreached people groups are found in many countries where short-term activities are not possible or not the best way to reach people. In these places an approach in which time is taken to first learn the language and culture of the group to be reached before developing strategies to reach them is more strategic. This cannot be done in three or even six months. If churches put their resources only into short-term or quick-result activities, the danger is that the unreached can be neglected.
Short-term activities and trips can have value and be strategic, but I believe they are best done as part of a long-term program. Before your church embarks on its next mission activity, I think it’s worth considering how strategic it will be in helping fulfil God’s plans for these unreached people groups. So here are some questions that I think worth asking:
• Which activities provide the best opportunities to share the gospel, disciple new believers and establish new churches?
• Which activities result in more of the world’s unreached hearing about Jesus to the point where they can make an informed decision about following Him?
• Which activities will train and equip pastors and church leaders so that indigenous churches can become mature, reproducing and sending churches?
Still thinking? Comment below, or read our follow-up article to this one here.