This afternoon I went to a seminar led by the fab Eddie Arthur on Unreached People Groups:
The first Christian missionaries to the Kouya people in the Ivory Coast were in 1958. They were rejected by all but one person. The first Christian convert in 1958, the second in 1981 – 23 years later. For 23 years he had to pray, do fellowship, read the scriptures in another language. In 1988 missionaries turned up to translate the scriptures into his language. He prayed for thirty years and ended up with a bald fat bloke from Sunderland. He could have expected the Archbishop of Canterbury or
There is a church in every village, the scriptures are available, this last week the Jesus film came out in Kouya. Most of us hadn’t heard of the Kouya but God had and is reaching out to the hidden peoples.
God answers prayer – yes the prayers of his faithful missionary prayer groups but also the prayers of these hidden groups.
God does thing in surprising ways, it isn’t how you expect it.
“My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else.” Romans 15:20. We take the idea of a British church for granted, but if the Roman missionaries hadn’t come here we wouldn’t be Christians without pioneer missionaries. The only way that people come to our faith is when we go to the places that has no church.
The Good News
Seoul in South Korea in 1900 has no churches. In the year 2000 there were 7000 churches. So much so that the Korean church is making plans to plant churches and supporting planting of church in the UK!
14 million of 140 million Dalits (sometimes called the Untouchables) are committed Christians. There are higher percentages of Christians in comparison with anywhere in Europe.
Indonesia is the largest Muslim population in the world. They used to release religious statistics annually, but now don’t do that as they’re embarrassed as to how many Christians there were. Now estimated to be about 15%.
Estimated that there are more followers of Jesus in China than members of the Communist party.
Countries with fastest growing evangelical population:
19.6% per year – Iran – both the Persian and the Kurdish groups.
16.7% per year – Afghanistan – growing by 1 in 6 every year – that’s huge growth. A Christian had been asked to head up adult education in a whole province due to the Churches being the best at helping people learn to read.
8.9% per year – The Gambia – where British Tourists go in the middle of Senegal. Strongly Muslim country, but the Church still growing at nearly 10% a year.
This is the most exciting time in history, there has been no time in history as to when more people were coming to faith. More people in the Islamic world have come to Christ in the last 25 years than in the entire history of Christian mission.
The centre of gravity of world Christianity has shifted – it used to be White – British, Europe and America alongside some colonies. There are more Christians in Africa, Latin America and Asia. God is reaching out into the world and reaching to people in ways he has never done before. We don’t see it in our country perhaps but it doesn’t negate what is happening.
The Bad News
Worldwide, only 1 in 7 Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus know a Christian. If you are born a Hindu the likelihood is you will go your whole life without ever meeting a Christian. Increasingly the same if you are born an atheist.
The Worse News
85% of Christian Workers are in locations where there role is to support the existing church, focussed on maintaining churches, not focussed on reaching out to the world. In money terms about 10% goes to the church from Christians, of that, a further 10% goes to cross-cultural international missions, so about 1% of the total money Christians own. Of that 10% goes on reaching the unreached, so about 0.1% of our income as Christians goes on spreading the gospel in places that have never heard of it before.
Many churches in the UK form links with countries such as Tanzania, Gambia etc. due to British language, nice beaches, good safaris, and more % Christians than the UK has. Very rare for a church to have links to Iraq, Afghanistan, Central African Republic.
Who are the Unreached
It’s easy when you are a Bible translator – they have the Bible or they don’t. To say whether they have Christians is harder, and so there are lots of different definitions:
A people group is unreached when the number of Evangelical Christians is less than 2% of its population.
It is further called unengaged when there is no church planting strategy consistent with Evangelical faith and practice under way.
Lots of questions – why 2%, why Evangelical, helpful for strategy – it leaves us 6,545 Unreached People Groups, of those 3,055 are Unengaged – they have no Christian witness amongst them. This is the biggest issue that faces our Church today.
These statistics help to focus prayer, missionary ideas. The problems is that you can’t take the statistics too seriously. One of the groups on the list from the Lausanne congress is where Sue Arthur was working with three denominations including two pastors! It also focuses on smaller ethnic groups, missing out that the majority live in cities and the mission strategy is focussed on rural communities and not the mega-cities e.g. Tokyo. People groups are complex some inheritance comes through the father, some through the mother so when inter-marrying across people groups happen it is not straightforward to put them in a neat box as seen in books and or websites.
Is the UK really reached? We probably have more than 2% of evangelicals, so technically yes, but there are large swathes of communities that have no Christian community. How much contact do we have with our neighbours from other religious backgrounds.
What Should We Do?
It’s always the biggest question. We need to revisit our mission priorities. Mission notice boards have all sorts of interests including poverty relief, justice issues, someone teaching theology somewhere, but very often nobody who is reaching out where no one has planted a church before.
Get in touch with an agency focusing on the unreached. When churches do their own mission they tend to stay within a certain comfort level. Talk to WEC, Interserve, Friends International, Wycliffe and others.
Pray – it is the most important thing. It feels like a cop out to say it is the most important thing to do as it feels like you aren’ doing anything. But God has limited his own sovereignty and action he waits for us to ask, he wants us to be involved. God answers our prayer, and God will answer the unreached through the prayers of his people.
Unreached people of the day – you get an email or tweet to help you pray for groups.
The Joshua Project – daily prayer for a different people group.
Bibleless People Project – daily prayers for a different people group.
First Gospel Prayer – for four years Wycliffe will send you info to pray for one people group, and at the end of the four years hope to have a gospel and Jesus film in their language.
What about the unreached on our doorsteps?
The hardest missionary situation is post-Christian, post-modern Europe. Not likely to be beaten or thrown into jail. Harder than where there is a strong religion as people are used to talking about their believes.
People often say: “Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words” – a misquote of St. Francis, but we need to explain why, otherwise we have hungry people still at risk of hell.
We often look at Matthew’s commission. We need to move from that commission to this commission from Jesus: John 20:21 – “Peace be with you; Just as the father has sent me, so I send you.”
Every year there are 50 plans for world evangelisation, the fact they have to keep making them says something about their success. The Commission gets us excited, but God balances this by saying do it in the way that he sent Jesus – in humility, not to order people around, born in a poor home, rode into Jerusalem in triumph on a donkey, always pointing at his father. We will only reach the unreached people groups who we give up our life – literally or in comfort – for those people.
What are we seeing that is working in the UK? 20 Schemes – planting churches in 20 housing schemes seeing drug addicts and prostitutes coming to faith.
Moving into an estate in Brixton to work with drug addicts, where do you start? Start with prayer and making friends – which takes time.
How long does it take? How long is a piece of string, in Britain we are finding people trust each other less. People meet in the pub together instead of in the homes. People work longer hours, they don’t want to spend time meeting with Christians after a long day. Take 15-30 years to translate the Bible normally for Wycliffe.
Do Messy Church weekly as focussing on relationships, not enough to do it once a month.