8 Significant Great Commission Stories of 2023

A list of opportunity and challenge

Editors note: This article was first published on Ted Esler’s Substack. Ted is the president of Missio Nexus. We will post occasional articles from his Substack on the Missio Nexus website. If you want to receive his weekly post, you can subscribe at the Substack site.

the numbers are written with sparkles in the dark
Photo by Moritz Knöringer on Unsplash

This is the time of the year when lists of “Top Lists” and “Best ofs” come out. As I look back on the year I have been reflecting on the events and trends that have been the most significant for the advancement of the Great Commission globally. Here is a list of items that had significant impact on the Great Commission globally. There are not provided in any sort of order of importance.

India Blocks Foreign Assistance

In 2023, Indian authorities were aggressive in blocking non-profit work in the country. They implemented legislation that restricts the funding of projects from education to health. Christian non-profits were the primary target of this effort. On September 30th, 2023, rules went into effect that were detrimental to about 13,300 organizations, comprising 80% of all nonprofits in India receiving foreign funds. This will limit the right of millions of people’s access to the Gospel. This caps off a decade of regulations surrounding religious freedom.

Boomers Age Out

On April 14th, 2023, George Verwer passed away after a lifetime of missionary activism. I include him on this list because he represents a generation of boomer leaders that founded many of the ministries that we know today. This generation, for better or for worse, did more to see the rise of the majority world church than just about any other. As they depart, Evangelical missions has no leaders who have a public ministry and influence like many of this age demographic had. Verwer and his tribe will be missed.

The Rise of AI

Yes, AI is on everybody’s list this year. Its impact on the Great Commission has been felt first among Bible translators. Some are predicting that the Bible translation task will be finished within the decade. Before the next year is out, I predict that real time translation will make missions conferences truly global for the first time. Let’s see if that happens over 2024.

The Assault on Israel

The October 7th attack by Hamas on Israel will have far reaching Great Commission ramifications. The brutality of the attacks will reverberate in the hearts and minds of Muslims for years.

I remember interviewing a Christian who converted from Islam after spending time in a Taliban militia. The morality of the Taliban led him to question Islam and seek out Christians who told him about Jesus. A similar questioning is already going on among Muslims. This will create opportunities for the Gospel globally among Muslims. In fact, it already has given way to a such testimonies as Aayan Hirsi Ali’s.

The New Christians

Ali’s conversion gives way to another important story, this one focused mostly on the secular West. For the past two decades we have heard much from the “New Atheists.” These were philosophers and authors who became aggressively anti-God and missionaries in their own right. In 2023, a counter-philosophy rose up representing Western intellectuals who were embracing the influence of Jesus in Western (and therefore global) culture.

The most prominent of these is historian Tom Holland but he is certainly not alone. These thinkers recognize that all of the liberal values we cherish as human values (various freedoms, the value of the human person, and the ability to have morality) stem from Jesus. I have not witnessed a more significant apologetic shift in my lifetime. In 2023, the New Christians rose to prominence.

The Rise of Anti-Colonial Missiology

The polemical power of anti-colonialism appeals to millennials and Gen-Z and will have significant impact on the recruitment of missionaries. With a ready audience in place, Disney/National Geographic released the movie, The Mission, in November of 2023. The power of anti-colonialism spilled over into the church and is taking root at seminaries and other Evangelical institutions.

Anti-colonialism has been wed with missiology. Anti-colonial missiology hollows out soteriology and replaces it with a form of liberation theology. Can Evangelicals accept that colonialism and missions has a checkered partnership while also being obedient to Jesus’ commission? Can we understand atonement at the atomic level (yes, it is personal) while also recognizing that systems of sin exist? I suspect division will grow over these questions.

The End of Globalization

Globalization has been dying since about 2017, but in 2023 pundits and observers within the Great Commission community began to take note for the first time. The Western missionary movement was built on top of globalization over the past fifty years and enjoyed incredible success. Now that the rules are changing for how countries relate to one another, there is a need for a new way of thinking about how to proactively respond. Other items in this list are examples of the changes we might expect in our near-term future.

Mass Immigration

My final event is a bit less global, but with global ramifications. Unprecedented mass immigration at what is essentially an open US southern border affects the Great Commission both in the US and abroad. In 2023, more immigrants entered the US unlawfully than the combined population of 26 US states. The US church is finding itself in a historic redefinition of missions around immigration issues. Funding, deployment, and missiology are in flux because of this reality. It is both an opportunity and a challenge.

It should be noted that there are other big immigration stories globally. There are Palestinians from Gaza, Sudanese in Cairo, and many immigrants from the ongoing war in Ukraine in Poland and other European nations. As I have traveled internationally in 2023, immigration was a topic of missions leaders in every nation I visited.

What is in store for 2024? Only God knows, but I predict a bumpy ride. This is a great time to reflect on Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Happy New Year!!

Feel free to comment and suggest items that I may have left out of my list.

Related Articles

Welcoming the Stranger

Presenter: Matthew Soerens, US Director of Church Mobilization, World Relief Description: Refugee and immigration issues have dominated headlines globally recently. While many American Christians view these…


  1. THANKS for this Ted, I always value your perspective and hearing what you are seeing “out there” (which, means here to of course).
    I know you needed to limit this, but George was only one of the global mission founders who died in 2023 – so mentioning Loren Cunningham (YWAM) and Paul Eshleman (“founder” sort, of, of the Jesus Film Project) fit your point as you know.

    Hamas’ attack was beyond terrible, and I agree too, that we’ve seen the impact of the radical Muslim fringe drawing people to the Prince of Peace. BUT at the same time, since the response by Israel has been so brutal, unrelenting and indiscriminate, I fear (with good reason historically) that the reverse will happen. It is not that Islam will seem less prone to violence (most, of course, are NOT violent of course) but that anti-American often translates into any “Christian.” Many have suggested we are creating more terrorist at this point.
    Good thing that many witnesses out there are not from the U.S. these days.

    THANKS again…great points to reflect on and watch in the coming days. As well as whatever new shows up in this radically shifting world. Aslan seems to be on the move!

Upcoming Events