Mapping Resources for Missions

by A. Scott Moreau and Mike O’Rear

Finding map resources on the web.

The power and availability of geographic mapping resources on the web have radically changed since we first covered the topic nine years ago (“Mapping Missions an Easy Odyssey with Web Resources,” October 1999). Today, the online geographic landscape is far more broad and diverse, with rapidly emerging new applications for missions. Accordingly, mission leaders are making more extensive use of maps and mapping to help them better learn, plan, manage, and communicate their work. In this column, we use the term “pure geography” to talk about maps that are more or less limited to displaying physical and political geography. In contrast, we use “thematic mapping” to describe images that display (in our case) mission information over top of a geopolitical background. We use the term “static maps” to refer to fixed, stand-alone images, in contrast with dynamic, interactive, online mapping services and mapping software.

As always, we have space to mention only a few of the more important, information-rich, and popular sites. We point to both free mapping resources and some commercial sites we feel are particularly valuable for missionaries. Our corresponding web page is found at:;1 we invite you to browse it as you read the article.

Geo-political maps enable us to see the geographic context of ministry and to answer questions such as: Where am I? What is nearby? Where is the place I’m seeking? and How do I get there? These include static maps such as one might see on a wall or in an atlas, as well as interactive online mapping sites.

For an initial introduction to the world of maps, geography, and cartography, try the World Atlas Page on (, or browse the extensive listing of mapping-related websites at Odden’s Bookmarks (

1. Static maps. The World Factbook ( provides a simple geo-political country map along with each country profile; you can download world and regional maps as well

The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection (, hosted by the University of Texas at Austin, provides over eleven thousand free map images online, including most published CIA maps. Click on the “Maps on Other Web Sites” link for a wide array of links to many more maps.

The National Geographic Map Store ( offers beautiful wall maps, atlases, and globes; its classic geo-political world wall map (43” x 30”) sells for $12.99. The society also offers the free online Atlas Explorer ( that lets you zoom in on detailed continent maps. provides both free clip art (world images, continents, globes, outline maps, and flags;
as well as an online atlas ( of continent and country maps. ( describes itself as the “world’s largest map store,” but also has a few free maps and map games.

Graphic Maps ( carries an excellent assortment of U.S. and state maps, continents, countries, flags, globes, world, and U.S. images.

Omnimap ( offers over 250,000 maps, guides, and map-related items for sale.

Rand McNally also sells a good variety of international maps (

Environmental Graphics, famous for its striking wall murals
(, offers a 13’ x 8’8” wallpaper map of the world, current as of 2007. It comes in eight panels which you can configure to fit your tastes.

In somewhat smaller sizes, Raven Maps & Images ( produces some of the world’s most beautiful wall maps. For the publishing and graphic design audiences, a few sites offer more expensive, but royalty-free world, regional, and country maps. These are editable, high-quality, high-resolution digital vector maps in Adobe Illustrator, PDF, and EPS formats. Two leading vendors are Map Resources ( and Digital Vector Maps (

2. Navigation and driving directions. Many readers are familiar with popular sites that enable you to move around the world, zoom in, see different views of the geography, find nearby businesses and get driving directions. For locations within the U.S. and Canada, MapQuest ( is perhaps the best-known.

Google Maps ( is similar, with better global coverage. You can alternate between the typical geo-political highway map, satellite view, terrain view, street view, and, within major cities, a street-level photograph view.

Microsoft’s Live Search Maps ( provides similar features. Rand McNally ( also provides online maps and driving directions, as well as real-time traffic information.

There are numerous commercial GPS-based navigation systems, most of which come with the on-board GPS you might buy for your car or as a feature with your cell phone plan. Microsoft Streets & Trips ( and DeLorme Street Atlas ( are two popular software packages for planning travel within North America. They both integrate with GPS tools and provide spoken directions as you travel. offers an online driving directions service for $14.95 per month (

3. Interactive online mapping. Microsoft’s free Encarta online atlas
( lets you zoom in to view detailed geo-political maps of anywhere on the planet. Encarta Premium adds a variety of thematic mapping for $29.95 per year or $4.95 per month.

With National Geographic’s free online atlas, MapMachine (, you can zoom and pan in any direction and choose between various views: road map, satellite, and physical, along with several thematic coverages, such as population density and natural disasters.

Google Earth ( brings a much richer set of geographic viewing and editing tools based on satellite and conventional aerial photography. Fly, zoom, search, tilt, rotate, get driving directions, and save your favorite locations. You will need to download and install the free software, and a fairly fast Internet connection is helpful for using Google Earth. In addition to the basic free system, Google Earth Plus ($20) and Google Earth Pro ($400) provide additional functionality such as GPS support and the ability to import your own spreadsheets (see below for innovative ways Google Earth is beginning to be used for missions themes).

The roughly equivalent Microsoft package is Virtual Earth (

Maps can help us see distribution, contrasts, and trends within key data much better than a spreadsheet or database can. Relevant textual and database information, as well as images and video, can be added to the geography to help provide a deeper understanding of mission contexts and communicate specific mission ideas and themes.

1. Static maps. Joshua Project ( focuses on providing online profiles of over sixteen thousand people groups, of which over 3,200 include maps to show their primary location within a country. Click on a people group map to view a larger version or to download and save it as a PDF file. Similar maps are available in Spanish within the people profiles on Etnopedia (

Joshua Project uses a 4-point scale to track evangelization for the Progress of the Gospel by People Group map, available for free download as a 2.5 MB PDF file ( In addition, Joshua Project provides, upon request, South Asia people group maps (
) showing district-level distribution of people groups, languages, and religions of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

The collaborative World Missions Atlas Project ( provides regional and country-level maps showing world evangelization themes, especially focused on JESUS Film coverage and Bible translation status. In 2006, the World Missions Atlas Project produced a beautifully detailed Global Status of Evangelical Christianity wall map, using colored dots to display the status of evangelicals for over 100,000 individual cities and town around the world. It is available for download as either a 1 MB JPEG file or a high-resolution 45 MB PDF file; printed versions are available from Campus Crusade for Christ
( for $3.00 per map, in either 32” x 58” or 40” x 72.”

A similar wall map, updated in 2008 and printed in either English or Spanish, is available for free from the International Missions Board’s Resource Catalog (

The Mission InfoBank ( is a new collaborative mission information sharing site. Its library contains over one thousand maps of interest to missions, in PDF, TIFF, and GIF formats. To download map files for free, you’ll need to create an account and log in.

Marv Bowers (ILS International) created beautifully detailed maps of Africa, along with country, city, and people group profiles for the 2008 Movement of African National Initiatives (MANI) conference. His Africa continental and regional maps displaying languages, evangelization, scripture translation, and JESUS Film status, as well as dozens of country maps, are available for free download from the Mission InfoBank

Jason Mandryk’s “State of the Gospel” PowerPoint presentation given at the 2006 Lausanne Younger Leaders Gathering is full of missions-related maps; download it from the Operation World website (

Momentum Magazine, edited by Justin Long, presents an insightful series of mission themes via global maps

The website of SIL’s Ethnologue, the definitive listing of the world’s nearly seven thousand languages (, includes country-level maps showing the homeland of many language’s speakers.

Links to many other themes of interest to missions leaders can be found in the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection mentioned above (, and National Geographic’s EarthPulse ( presents “a visual guide to global trends.”

Worldmapper ( features a library of hundreds of cartograms, global maps in which the countries are sized and reshaped according to a statistic. Particularly fascinating is the animation of cartograms from one theme to another (

In addition, cartogram generating software can be downloaded
( to enable you to create your own cartograms.

2. Interactive online mission mapping. The World Missions Atlas Project ( offers detailed interactive mapping focused on country-by-country exploration of evangelism status. On the home page, use the “Explore a country” feature to select a country and then click the Interactive Maps link at the top of the page.

The related WorldMAP Partnership ( is a secure, members-only site for entering and viewing ministry locations (churches and mission stations), ministry activity (outreaches and trainings), and contacts (staff, volunteers, and students); evangelical missions can apply for membership via the “Request Access” link.

The Mission InfoBank ( provides online mapping of data from the Mission InfoBank Database. Click on the Database link, select the desired type and columns of data to include in your table, and select the globe icon in any mappable column header to view the resulting map. You can control key aspects of the map, including data classification, colors, and zoom level, and maps can be saved and downloaded as PDF files (log in first to enable higher resolution downloads).

YWAM’s 4K ( project provides online mapping of the world’s “Omega Zones,” some four thousand approximately equal-size population segments. A few demographic variables are available to be mapped on a country level.

ESRI’s Arc GIS Explorer ( gives you the power to create your own maps (connecting to both free and fee-based data published by ESRI and others, integrated with your own local data), analyze them, and share the results with anyone on the web.

Google Earth is becoming an increasingly popular platform for churches and agencies wishing to easily and publicly communicate mission information. For instance, take a look at the International Mission Board’s Google Earth People Group map (, an outgrowth of the emerging People Group Mapping Project led by the IMB. Download the KMZ file, a point map of thousands of people groups around the world, with evangelization status, and descriptive information attached (click on a dot to bring up notes and links related to the specific people group). You will need the free Google Earth software ( installed in order to view this file (note that Google Earth KMZ files are fully public and searchable by anyone with Internet access, for better and for worse; so be careful not to upload KMZ files containing sensitive information).

Microsoft’s Live Search ( offers similar capabilities for thematic overlays.

Google Motion Charts (formerly GapMinder), while not geographic maps, provide an engaging way of tracking multiple data points to see changes over time. The technology is now available as a spreadsheet gadget within Google Doc’s free online spreadsheet software (

Justin Long’s “Global Population by Religions, 1800-2025” chart (
) is a great mission example. Do a Google search for “motion chart” to view other examples and find help for developing your own charts.

If your mission focus is North America, you might be interested in the state-level and county-level maps provided by the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA;, showing religious, denominational, and demographic data. You can compare two U.S. maps on the screen simultaneously; for instance, one showing the number of Catholic congregations per state and the other showing Assemblies of God congregations.

A similar set of religious and demographic data and maps is provided by North American Religion Atlas ( The North America People Groups Project (, provided by the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, gives distribution statistics for people groups (including nationality, language, ancestry, and race) by city, county, and postal code. The U.S. Census Bureau provides online mapping of extensive census data by state and county.

3. Thematic mapping software. Increasingly, church and mission leaders are using mapping software to display key variables from their ministry spreadsheets and databases, especially for planning, coordinating, and communicating ministry. Microsoft’s MapPoint ( provides simple, easy-to-use thematic mapping of your spreadsheet data (as either an Excel add-in or a stand-alone product). Try the online test drive or download a free 60-day evaluation copy; use thereafter requires a $299 license fee.

Epi Info ( is a freely available thematic mapping package designed for public health practitioners and researchers, and it is used by some missions that focus on healthcare or relief and development. It provides for easy form and database construction, data entry, and analysis with statistics, maps, and graphs. Neither MapPoint nor Epi Info, however, allows you to create or edit the underlying geography (city locations, boundaries, rivers, etc.); to do this, you’ll need to consider a GIS package. Geographic Information System (GIS) software provides robust geographic editing, data analysis, and viewing features, and comes in a wide variety of packages and prices, including many free and open source versions. Beware, however, that “free” does not necessarily mean free if it requires more time to learn and use or greater expense for acquiring and converting data than commercial alternatives.

Wikipedia has a good introduction to GIS technology ( and a list of GIS software sites ( of GIS software). In choosing a GIS system, you’ll want to make sure it can work with the data sets you need. It’s best to get a GIS package that allows you to easily integrate your own data (e.g., Excel or Access files) into the geographic data sets that come with the GIS. And, if you want to create and edit your own geography (e.g., drawing people group locations), make sure your GIS software allows this.

There are several good directories of free and open source GIS software. MapCruzin provides descriptive summaries with its list of links (

Likewise, the FreeGIS database ( provides a listing of GIS software and geographic data sets; click on the “Software” link, and sort by either name or importance.

Open Source GIS ( provides a similar directory of annotated links to GIS software sites. ESRI ( is the world’s leading publisher of GIS software; its software is used extensively by governments and educational institutions throughout the world.

Global Mapping International’s Global Ministry Mapping System (GMMS; packages ESRI’s ArcView (the world’s most popular desktop mapping software) with global geographic data sets and key mission data collections (such as the Operation World database) especially for the international mission community. GMMS pricing is designed for missions and tied to the per capita income of the country of use.

Extensive geographic data sets—detailed coastline, political borders, city locations, rivers and lakes, highways and railroads, language locations, and much more—are available online. Data sets of the U.S. tend to be somewhat more detailed and readily available, and more often free, than are data sets of other parts of the world. A directory of links to free and fee-based data sets is available on the GMMS Community site ( For mission work focused within the U.S., The Mapping Center for Evangelism and Church Growth ( provides mapping software and data sets to support local church ministries. Percept ( produces detailed community profiles and maps of religious and demographic data of U.S. neighborhoods, per client request.

4. Custom mapping services. A wealth of custom mapping services can be found on the web. These vendors create maps tailored to meet the specific requirements of the client and pricing is typically on a time and materials basis. The North American Cartographic Information Society provides an extensive list of links to custom cartography companies (

Global Mapping International provides a dedicated custom mapping service for mission applications ( built on its GIS software and global mission information collections.

5. Biblical maps. The web also offers plenty of help if you need to learn and/or teach about biblical events within their geographic context. A Google search for “bible maps” yields over 500,000 hits. Take a look at (, an innovative work-in-progress Bible atlas that uses Google Maps to tie specific biblical references to geographic locations.

As you become aware of other valuable online mapping resources for missions, we invite you to send us an email with the pertinent information so we can consider adding them to the MisLinks page.

1. All URLs start with http:// unless otherwise noted.


A. Scott Moreau is editor of EMQ and a professor in the Intercultural Studies department at Wheaton College Graduate School (Wheaton, Ill.). His email address is, and the Wheaton Missions Department web address is

Mike O’Rear is the president of Global Mapping International (Colorado Springs, Colo.), which is dedicated to providing access to information for church and mission leaders, especially in the Two-thirds World. His email address is, and the GMI web address is

Copyright © 2008 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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