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Can We Reach the World in Our Lifetime?
Can We Reach the World in Our Lifetime?

By Ed Hindson with Roscoe Brewer

Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). The early Christians risked their lives to take the “Good News” of the Gospel to their generation. Within 50 years they had penetrated the Roman Empire with the message of salvation.

But that was only the beginning. Over the centuries, Christianity spread across Europe, Africa and parts of Asia. In time, Christianity spread from England to Russia. It seemed that the world was ripe for the Gospel as the Middle Ages dawned.

However, there were incredible obstacles to overcome; the rise of militant Islam, the ultimate failure of the Crusades and the spiritual decadence of the church itself. By the 16th Century, Martin Luther and others were calling for a total reformation of the church. When the pope refused, the Protestant movement was born in the heart of Europe with a focus of clarifying the theology of the church.

The Missionary Movement

The modern missionary movement is a little more than 200 years old. Missiologists speculate that there are now more than three million churches in the world. They also estimate that it could take ten million total churches to complete the Great Commission. The 21st Century could be the time when closure to the mandate given by Jesus 20 centuries ago is realized. The question is: What’s the plan and how do we implement it?

In 1792, when William Carey, known as the father of the modern missionary movement, went to India, the Protestant Reformation was entirely confined to the then northwestern edge of Europe. At this time, the expansion of Catholicism far outstripped Protestant missions. Since then, there have been four distinctive waves of Protestant missions sweeping into new fields previously not touched by the Gospel.

FIRST WAVE—Denominational Missions to the Continental Coastlands (1792-1865)

This period is bracketed by Carey and the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society and by Hudson Taylor founding the China Inland Mission. This was the period of predominantly denominational missions involving long sea voyages and lengthy land journeys to distant places. David Livingstone’s trek across Africa is the most famous example in this period. It is hard to comprehend how difficult communications and provisions of supplies were during this time. It was common for a missionary to wait an entire year for a reply to a letter sent to Europe. During this era, Protestant missions were established and churches planted in the coastal areas of the continents of the world.

SECOND WAVE—Interdenomnational Missions to the Continental Heartlands (1865-1910)

The emphasis of this era was “preach the Gospel to every creature.” There was little emphasis on discipleship and church planting. The geographical penetration took the missionaries to the heartland of the continents. Another factor of this era was the recruitment of ordinary people to serve as missionaries. It was during this period that African Inland Mission, Sudan Interior Mission and China Inland Mission were founded. There were between 8,000 and 9,000 missionaries in the world at the end of this wave.

THIRD WAVE—Evangelical Missions to the Countries of the World (1910-1966)

Two world wars and the dramatic decline of the student volunteer movement after 1920 brought severe decline to the development of global initiatives that marked the second wave. However, the number of evangelical missionaries increased after each World War in spite of hostile political climates. Subsequently, nearly every country in the world was either entered or targeted for entry. Church growth in the nonwestern world was only moderate. However, the real change came after World War II. Evangelist Billy Graham conducted several international conferences of world evangelization, the first being in 1966. These conferences brought the Great Commission to center stage in the Christian world.

FOURTH WAVE—Global Missions to the Peoples of the World (1966 to present)

Pioneer missionary C. T. Studd best described the global missions outreach: “To reach the remaining unevangelized people on earth in the shortest possible time.” The central focus of Protestant Evangelicalism has moved decisively away from the western world. The “people” emphasis has birthed Bible societies, translation ministries like Wycliffe Bible Translators, and specialist ministries like Radio HCJB in Ecuador, New Tribes Mission, Far East Broadcasting Company in the Philippines, plus many others. The largest missionary-sending agency in the world today is the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, which lists 5,600 missionaries operating in 1,473 “people groups.”

Focusing on People

It was the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974 that made “people groups” become the emphasis of world missions.

The theme of missions for the 21st Century will be to develop church planting movements among the unreached people groups of our world. Most missiologists estimate that there are approximately 10,000 of these groups remaining on the globe.

In 1978, Campus Crusade introduced the “Jesus Film” at a cost of $6 million. Today, more than one billion people have seen it. A forum of agencies involved in Bible translation have set goals to provide the New Testament in every language spoken by more than 500,000 people. Of the more than 6,700 languages in the world today, less than 400 have the entire Bible in their language.

In the last decade of the 20th Century, Luis Bush called the attention of the church to a rectangular geographical box stretching from the West of Africa to Japan and between the tenth and fortieth parallels. Ninety-seven percent of the unreached people groups of our world live within the 10/40 Window.

Today, the majority of the countries in the 10/40 Window do not grant visas to traditional missionaries which forces the Western church to develop “missions programs” involving nationals for these nations. There are approximately 65,000 missionaries in the world today from the United States. At the same time, there are more than 200,000 world missionaries in developing countries. However, most of them lack training and equipping. The future of missions is going to involve the national workforce partnering with Western missionaries and ministries who serve them in birthing church planting movements.

Campus Crusade is now in the process of launching the “Global Pastors Network” to provide digital training via the Internet for the hundreds of thousands of untrained pastors worldwide.

The Final Challenge

Where do we go from here with what we now know? Today, with the benefit of worldwide data, information and communication, we have a greater opportunity than ever.

Consider “the peoples of the world” in light of Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations (peoples); and then shall the end come.” While prophetic scholars view this task as being completed in the Tribulation Period (based on Revelation 7:9-14), it is a worthy goal for the Church Age as well. There are now 300 Protestant churches in the world for every unreached people group. The goal is attainable. It can be done.

The strategy is clear. The key elements are: (1) view the world as unreached people groups, (2) the methodology to reach them is church planting, (3) the national work force coached by outsiders will accomplish the strategy, and (4) focus on the places in the world where the unreached people groups are located.

The true meaning of being strategic comes from two Greek words: stratos which means “in line” and agein which means “to lead.” Together they carry the idea of aligning ourselves and our resources with what God is seeking to accomplish. Being involved with God in missions is no simple task. It is hard, soul-searching and lifechanging work. We all have a role to play in fulfilling God’s purpose in this strategic mission.

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