In areas where there are no hospitals or schools, most people would agree that it should be a priority to provide medical help or education to the people who live there. In a similar way, where very few people have heard the gospel, most Christians would agree that we should prioritize bringing the truth about Jesus. As Paul said,
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation. Rather, as it is written, “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” (Romans 15:20-21)
David Bryant said, “Today, five out of six non-Christians in our world have no hope unless missionaries come to them and plant the church among them.” If this is true, perhaps we should do something about it.
Where are the people who have not heard about Jesus? This is a critical question that will be addressed in this article since there is a great need to prioritize and strategize. Because many Christians and churches cannot locate unreached people groups on a map or target them with their mission giving, this article focuses on a country-by-country approach.
Thus we will look at the status of the Great Commission in the nations of the world to answer the question, “Where do people have the least opportunity to hear the gospel?” The nations will then be prioritized using available data. Such findings can be helpful for praying, for churches regarding their mission programs, for individual giving toward the Great Commission, etc. Possible next steps are offered. It is hoped that a country prioritization approach will provide a more concrete, understandable way for Christians to emphasize the least reached in their Great Commission involvement.
Excellent missions-related information is available today. For example, the Joshua Project (JP) has large amounts of data available freely to churches, organizations, and individuals who can apply it to their specific applications as was done in this paper. Similarly, information from World Christian Trends AD 30 – AD 2200 (WCT)1 was also used in this country prioritization.
There are numerous parameters that could be used to evaluate the state of the Great Commission in the nations of the world. The weighting of the final ten criteria used here to evaluate countries and produce an overall score out of one hundred possible points is shown in Figure A1.
For 15,893 people groups, the Joshua Project has scores for progress, ministry tools, and location (identified as “Country Indices” in Table A1). The JP article, MFPrioritizationArticle.doc, provides a description of these three criteria. Using a simple computer program, these three scores were separately multiplied by the respective populations of all the people groups in a given country and then added together. These country totals were then divided by the total population of the people groups in each country to provide an average score for these three categories in each nation.
The JP website also provides information about each country regarding the percentage of people living in a least-reached people group, the population in least-reached people groups, the number of least-reached people groups, and the total population. David Barrett and Todd Johnson provide data regarding the number of disciple offers per person per year, the number of Christian workers per million population, and the cost (to lead to the baptism) of each new convert.
Table 1 shows the resulting total scores for 222 countries in common between the JP and WCT using the previously mentioned weighting. The highest scores indicate the poorest Great Commission status and the highest priority, starting with rank/priority #1. Great Commission prioritization scores for the countries are shown by color on a world map in Figure 1, with red representing the highest priority.
These scores are not intended to show minute differences that can distinguish between consecutive countries in the list. Rather, one could possibly say that countries within twenty places or ten points may have a similar priority.
This study is based upon statistics. While it is certainly very important to be led by the Holy Spirit, the data here most likely reflect on the truth of the status of the Great Commission. Thus, such information can be used to help make prayerful and objective decisions regarding world evangelization efforts.
There are many possible applications for data like these. For example, the overall prioritization of the U.S. is 123 and of Afghanistan is 1. Table 2 emphasizes the severe lack of Christian resources in Afghanistan, India, and China and the excessive amount in America. 27.8% of the world’s full-time Christian workers and 34.1% of all Christian personal or church income are in the U.S., while 0.0013% and 0.00002% of these resources, respectively, are in Afghanistan.
Figure 2 shows the nations’ relative shares of the world’s Christian workers on a per capita basis. Considering the overabundance of Christian resources in the United States, perhaps we should consider minimizing our Great Commission investment in this country, where most people have many opportunities to hear the truth about Jesus while there are so many people around the world who have heard little or nothing. For the sake of highlighting the current allocation, consider that of the 1,533,000 Christian workers in the U.S., 1.28 million or 83.4% of these Christian workers would need to become missionaries in another country in order to achieve global equity.2
People living in the countries with the highest scores typically have little or no exposure to the gospel or opportunity to hear about Jesus. For this reason, the people in these countries really need prayer, especially since there are few Christians there to pray for all the lost people. It could also be strategic to send new missionaries and focus more outreach on the higher priority nations because many of the people groups in these nations have little or no evangelical activity.
There is a great need to prioritize the Great Commission and strategize. There are many ways this information can be practically applied to prioritize participation in the Great Commission based upon need. For example, we can all maximize our investment in high priority nations:
- Churches and individuals can evaluate the missionaries/organizations they support and consider focusing more on countries near the top 1/3 of the priority list.
- Churches can especially think about adding more new missionaries in high priority nations.
- Churches can establish goals to increase the percentage of their support in the top nations.
- Scripture/gospel literature support could be earmarked for high priority countries.
- Greater emphasis can be placed on international student ministry, in particular seeking to reach people from high priority nations. It can be very easy and strategic to befriend and reach out to future international leaders who are studying in universities away from home.
As agreed upon by more than 2,300 evangelicals from more than 150 nations in the Lausanne Covenant of 1974,
We are convinced that this is the time for churches and para-church agencies to pray earnestly for the salvation of the unreached and to launch new efforts to achieve world evangelization. A reduction of foreign missionaries and money in an evangelized country may sometimes be necessary to facilitate the national church's growth in self-reliance and to release resources for unevangelized areas….The goal should be, by all available means and at the earliest possible time, that every person will have the opportunity to hear, understand, and receive the good news…
In conclusion, in order to more quickly complete the task Jesus left the Church to do, there is a great need to prioritize reaching people who have little or no access to the gospel. Country prioritization like that done in this article can be used to help churches, ministries, and individuals prioritize their participation in the Great Commission. Many follow-up actions like more focused prayer and new missionaries or gospel resources targeted for countries with many least-reached people can be pursued.
1. Barrett, David, and Todd Johnson. 2001. World Christian Trends AD 30 – AD 2200. Pasadena, California, USA: William Carey Library, 416-425.