As the year A.D. 2000 began to loom into view, Christian leaders started praying and dreaming about what could be accomplished by the the end of the century (and millennium).
As the year A.D. 2000 began to loom into view, Christian leaders started praying and dreaming about what could be accomplished by the the end of the century (and millennium). "A Church for Every People by the Year 2000" was the theme of the Edinburgh ’80 consultations. Many A.D. 2000 global plans appeared, proclaiming bold goals for denominations and mission agencies. Thomas Wang saw a convergence and asked, "Is God trying to tell us something?"1 Most of these global plans were documented in Barrett and Reapsome’s Seven hundred plans to evangelize the world.2
A train of zeal was set in motion that led to the "Global Consultation on World Evangelization by AD 2000 and Beyond" (GCOWE), Singapore, January 5-8, 1989. The GCOWE "Great Commission Manifesto" was later condensed to the declaration, "A Church for Every People and the Gospel for Every Person by the Year 2000."
In the midst of this enthusiasm, participants at GCOWE ’89 were reminded that there had been a very similar movement a hundred years earlier, and that the drive to evangelize the world by the year 1900 had failed.3
THE WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
At GCOWE, and before, some had the wisdom to recognize that the achievement of ambitious A.D. 2000 goals required ambitious, and immediate, mobilization and redeployment. Ralph Winter wrote, "We may only have a 24-month window. If in these next months major new interest does not flower, people will begin to say, ‘We knew we could not reach the world by the year 2000.’"4 Later he returned to the subject: "The question we face is not what we are going to do by the year 2000, but what we’re going to do by, let us say, December of 1993…..Time is running out."5
GCOWE documents and speakers referred to this same "window of opportunity." The Kaleidoscopic Global Action Plan pointed to "the current 4-year window of opportunity, which is probably all we have today (1989, 1990, 1991, 1992)" and insisted that all global plans had to be "placed firmly on (their) feet en route to A.D. 2000" within that window.6
That window of opportunity has now closed. Has enough happened? Is the Christian world mission on track to see the A.D. 2000 goals reached?
Since the GCOWE meeting the AD2000 Movement, and others, have been tirelessly promoting the vision. Their work has brought focus (witness the popularity of the 10/40 Window),7 has promoted the idea of closure, has fostered unity, has motivated significant national and regional conferences, has encouraged many to believe that world evangelization can be achieved, and has given a whole new motivating force to the frontier missions movement. The amount of intercessory prayer being planned for world evangelization is likely unprecedented in the history of evangelical Protestantism. Many good things have happened.
HOW DO WE KNOW?
Week by week we hear stories from around the world of goals being set, of intercession being offered, of unreached peoples being adopted, of missionaries being sent, of Scriptures being translated, of the gospel being proclaimed, of churches being planted, of decisions, of miracles, of baptisms-and we rejoice. But how do we know if all these victory stories will add up to the achievement of "A Church for Every People and the Gospel for Every Person by the Year 2000"? After all, we can go back and read wonderful missionary victory stories from the 1980s, the 1970s – even from the 1880s, the 1870s – but no one ever claimed that the world had become evangelized by 1900, or by 1990.
On questions of this kind there is a vast difference between anecdotal case-study evidence and scientifically valid statistical evidence. Anecdotal case-study evidence might lead one to think, for example, that China is close to being fully evangelized: We hear so many stories of miracles, of conversions, of explosive growth in the house church movement,andofzealousindigenous evangelists. But careful research shows that China is still only about 8 percent Christian and about 40 percent unevangelized; in other words, about half a billion people in China alone have yet to hear the gospel for the first time.
It is easy to present a stirring message that sweeps around the world citing anecdotal victory stories from Russia, Mongolia, Brazil, Canada, Zaire, and Romania and then to declare, "We’re right on target for A.D. 2000!" It is easy, and exciting, but wrong. A string of anecdotal stories does not provide an adequate basis for such a conclusion.
MEASURING "A CHURCH FOR EVERY PEOPLE"
The most effective, and most widely used, tool for galvanizing the church’s attention on unreached peoples has been the U.S. Center for World Mission’s pie charts, published, among other places, in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.8
Can the pie charts be used for monitoring progress toward "A Church for Every People"? No. The charts were never intended to serve a monitoring purpose. The process used to compile the statistics behind the charts does not lend itself to accurate updating. Over the years the estimated total of unreached peoples has changed.9 Those who produced the changed estimates are not claiming the changes are due to sudden progress. It is simply not true that the number of unreached peoples changed from 17,000 to 11,000 because 6,000 unreached people groups had become reached. Nor is it true, as some might assume (from the recent Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse document), that the number has changed from 11,000 to about 6,000 because suddenly another 5,000 groups have become reached.
The MARC Unreached Peoples Annuals of 1979-87 also cannot help us here. The editors admitted, "It has never been the purpose of this series to catalog all the unreached people groups of the world."10 Therefore, the Registry of the Unreached is not a list that could be used to measure progress toward "A Church for Every People."
Some are optimistic because of various claims that from 50 to 80 percent of the unreached peoples have been targeted by mission agencies. But mission agencies vary wildly in their application of what qualifies as an "unreached people." No consistent criteria have been applied to evaluate the lists from which these 50 to 80 percent estimates are drawn. Also, many groups that are targeted are never engaged, or once engaged are later abandoned, or the work is simply not successful. Until more careful studies of peoples and deployment are done, we cannot make confident statements about how many truly unreached peoples have become targeted.
Between 1989 and 1992 the widely reported number of unreached peoples changed from 12,000 to 11,000.11 It appears, therefore, that only 1,000 peoples were reached in that three-year period. Though this can only offer a general impression about the rate of progress, it is not encouraging. We know there are many thousands of unreached peoples remaining. The amount of time normally required for cross-cultural missionaries to be deployed and effectively bearing fruit in new cultures is no small matter. The work in mobilization and deployment can be hurried, but the work on the field is a different matter. And the window that is now closed was (more than anything else) a window for the mobilization work.
We wish we had a clearer picture, but we know enough now to venture that "A Church for Every People by the Year 2000" is possible, but not likely.
MEASURING "THE GOSPEL FOR EVERY PERSON"
There has only been one method ever proposed and discussed widely in the missiological literature for measuring how many people have heard the gospel. Missionary researcher David Barrett’s methodology was first published in 1965,12 and has been developed and discussed extensively in his, and others’, writings since.13
AccordingtoBarrett,people havebecome evangelized when they (1) have heard the gospel (heard, with understanding, about Christianity, Christ, and the gospel); (2) had adequate opportunity or opportunities to respond to it; and (3) signs have followed (in supernatural power, in compassionate deed, in conversions, and/or in new understanding; if nothing resulted, there was no evangelization).14 In his 1987 book on the subject Barrett defended his usage of the word "evangelize," biblically and historically, against those who hold that "to evangelize" is equal to "to convert."15 (See euangelizo in Acts 8:25, 35, 40; 14:21; and an example of the effects of evangelization in Acts 17:32, 34).
His computation of the resulting comparative index of demographic evangelization takes into consideration the most significant factors that could contribute to a population hearing the gospel: the presence of Christians, churches, missionaries, literature, personal evangelism, campaigns, crusades, organized evangelism, Christian aid ministries, films, radio, cassettes, the Bible in the local language, etc. Each item is weighed and factored into his equation depending on the extent to which it contributes to the population hearing the gospel and having an adequate opportunity to respond.
So, on the basis of this, how many people have yet to hear the gospel? In 1900 the unevangelized were 48.7 percent of the world population; that dropped to 38.6 percent in 1970 and to 21.5 percent in 1993. As things now stand, according to Barrett’s calculations, 16.6 percent of the world’s population are likely to remain unevan-gelized in the year 2000. That means our world will still have more than one billion people who have yet to hear the gospel for the first time. In the year 1900 the world had nearly 800 million unevangelized.16 Picture that huge block of humanity, hundreds of millions, nearly a billion, that has passed through this entire 20th century untouched by the gospel of our Lord.
For the world to become 100 percent evangelized by the year 2000 is possible, but not likely.
Many good things happened during the window of opportunity, but we did not see drastic, extensive change in mission agency and local church mission strategies. We did not see an adequate explosion of new missionary mobilization. We did not see a large-scale redeployment of Christian resources to the unreached peoples and to the unevangelized. We did not see the things happen which would allow us to have confidence that the A.D. 2000 goals will be achieved.
A CRUCIAL QUESTION
It may seem at this point that I have given my answer to the question posed in the title of this article. But in fact there remains a crucial question, a matter that looms over the entire subject, namely: Are we clear about our target?
Specifically, what about Catholics, Orthodox, and other Christians outside of evangelical Protestantism?17 Certainly missionary work among them is valuable. But should they be counted among the unevangelized? (Note again, from the definition discussed above, that "unevangelized" is something very different from "unconverted" or "unsaved".) Should Catholic, Orthodox, and other predominantly Christian groups be counted among the unreached peoples?
Until this question is settled, the A.D. 2000 goals have no connection to measurable reality, and firm strategizing for closure is impossible. This is absolutely crucial to the question of world evangelization by A.D. 2000 or any later date.
In the frontier missions movement, this question has sometimes been answered in one way and sometimes in another. On the one hand, from the start, the modern frontier missions movement has focused on non-Christian peoples (Chinese, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, tribals). The U.S. Center’s widely circulated pie charts, from 1980 forward, have consistently set all "nominal" Christians in the "reached"categories.In the1992 revisedPerspectives text pie charts, the 1.2 billion "Nominal ‘Christians’" are under "Reached Peoples."18 Ralph Winter has always distinguished between the work needed among nominal Christians (sometimes calling it "conversion," sometimes calling it "bringing about spiritual renewal") and the work needed among non-Christian peoples. His position has always been that the neglected, priority task of frontier missions is among non-Christian peoples.19
And yet, on the other hand, many mission agencies that have entered into the frontier missions movement by targeting "unreached peoples" have targeted many peoples that are largely, or entirely, Catholic or other Christian. Sometimes such Christian groups dominate the target lists. Mission agencies were not helped in this by the MARC annuals, which listed hundreds of largely Catholic groups in their "Registry of the Unreached." More recently, the Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse’s list of "Unreached and Adoptable Peoples" is similarly flawed: Hundreds of largely Christian peoples are mixed in with non-Christian peoples in such a way that the one cannot be distinguished from the other.
Not only in the frontier missions movement, but also in the AD2000 Movement, this question of the place of Catholics, Orthodox, and other Christians outside of evangelical Protestantism has sometimes been answered in one way and sometimes in another.
On the one hand, at the start, at least some Roman Catholics were treated as partners in the harvest. Among the nine significant A.D. 2000 global plans Thomas Wang highlighted in his seminal 1987 article were three Roman Catholic plans. A pre-GCOWE paper defined "The Worldwide Body of Christ" as follows: "This phrase refers to the whole world Christian movement, including all Christ-centered traditions, all Christians of various degrees of commitment, and all of Christianity’s structured relations."20 It was recognized that this kind of broader cooperation was essential if there was to be any hope of achieving the ambitious A.D. 2000 global goals. As Luis Bush stated at GCOWE, "Thus far, all the distinct attempts to finish the job of world evangelization have fallen short of the mark. All had a shortcoming-they were not in touch with a large enough segment of the total worldwide Christian population."21 One of the models at GCOWE was presented by Gino Henriques, a Goanese Catholic missionary priest, though his participation in the consultation caused a storm of controversy, especially from Latin American participants.
Also, the AD2000 Movement has constantly emphasized the need to direct workers, prayer, and resources to the 10/40 Window. That concept makes no sense unless the non-Christian peoples across North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia are somehow in greater need than Catholic and other Christian peoples.
And yet, on the other hand, the AD2000 Movement has also treated non-evangelical Christians as significant targets in the remaining task. After GCOWE Thomas Wang spoke to the annual meeting of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association and clearly distanced the AD2000 Movement from any cooperation with Catholics. The agency DAWN Ministries has been prominent in the AD2000 Movement, and many of the most highly regarded DAWN programs have been within Catholic countries, or countries with large state churches. When Luis Bush spoke at GCOWE he highlighted testimonies from Italy, Belgium, Haiti, and Latin America, thus implying that much of the remaining AD 2000 task is in such largely Catholic areas.
What would be the consequences of classifying all largely Catholic or Orthodox peoples as "unreached peoples," and of classifying all Christians, other than evangelical Protestants, as "unevangelized"?
1. The number of "unreached peoples" would suddenly expand by many thousand.
2. The number of"unevangelized"wouldsuddenlyquadruple to nearly five billion.22
3. Any talk of achieving the A.D. 2000 goals any time soon would suddenly become not just bold, but ridiculous.
4. There would suddenly be a new bloc of the "unreached," larger than the Chinese or Muslim blocs, composed of Christians (other than evangelical Protestant Christians), since Catholics and Orthodox together number 1.2 billion.23
5. Because of that, the present deployment of the world’s missionaries (the vast majority of whom are serving among Christians) would be endorsed, even encouraged, not challenged. After all, Christian countries tend to be easier to enter and easier to live and work in. If Christian peoples are on the same priority level as Muslim or Hindu peoples, why suffer the stresses of deploying to non-Christian peoples? The frontier missions movement would suddenly no longer have much to say.
6. Similarly, there would suddenly be no reason for urging priority attention to the 10/40 Window.
7. The non-Christian peoples (Chinese, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and tribals), would continue to be severely neglected. There would be no reason to urge priority deployment to them.
The AD2000 Movement cannot have it both ways: It cannot emphasize the needs of the 10/40 Window and at the same time consider Catholic and Orthodox peoples to be frontier peoples. Nor can the frontier missions movement have it both ways: It cannot advocate priority attention to the non-Christian blocs and at the same time accept (or even assist) mission agency targeting of largely Christian peoples as "unreached peoples."
WE MUST SET PRIORITIES
Certainly, some missionary work among Christian peoples is needed. Many Christians across the globe are spiritually destitute or spiritually dead, in desperate need of renewal. But it would be both wrong and foolish to re-define frontier missions in a way that denies that the non-Christian peoples of the world stand in the darkest place of spiritual need and the darkest place of missionary neglect.
I advocate this position not because our A.D. 2000 goals would thereby be brought closer to fulfillment, but because there is a clear difference between the work needed among Christians and the work needed among Hindus, Muslims, and other non-Christian peoples, and it is the latter work that is neglected. While "missions" includes work in all regions of the globe, the more specific term "frontier missions" should be reserved for work among non-Christian peoples.
Only by setting a priority on non-Christian peoples can we honestly say we are joining in Paul’s "ambition to preach the gospel where Christ (is) not known, so that (we) would not be building on someone else’s foundation" (Rom.15:20).
One of the main reasons we are not able at this time to be confident about the achievement of the A.D. 2000 goals is this: Much of the work that has been taking place in recent decades under the name of "reaching unreached peoples" has in fact been missionary work among other varieties of Christians. For example, a certain agency has often been held up as a model of frontier missions achievement. It is certainly to be commended for its bold action in entering many new people groups in recent years. In 1979 it pledged to reach 100 unreached peoples. Anticipating success, it raised its goal. More success and higher goals followed until by 1992 it was working in 250 unreached peoples. But a careful analysis revealed that 75 percent of its "unreached peoples" were already predominantly Christian or heavily evangelized.
The window of opportunity has closed. The solution now is not simply greater haste. It is not that we are moving in the right direction but not fast enough for the goals to be reached in time. To a large extent we are not even moving in the right direction. The A.D. 2000 vision was never simply to continue present work, but at afaster pace. It wastoredirect our workmore to the unreached and the unevangelized-those in the great non-Christian blocs.
It is not likely that the world will be evangelized by the year 2000, but "A Church for Every People" and "The Gospel for Every Person" are certainly still the right goals, when rightly understood. We must be sure to design our plans and mobilization in such a way that inertia is not lost late in this decade or at the turn of the century. It would be wrong to give up on the deliberate quest for closure, or to despair of global planning. In the context of the centuries behind us, we are still tantalizingly close to victory.
1. Thomas Wang, "By the year 2000: Is God trying to tell us something?" World Evangelization, May, 1987.
2. David B. Barrett and James W. Reapsome, Seven Hundred Plans to Evangelize the World (Birmingham, Ala: New Hope, 1988).
3. Todd M. Johnson, Countdown to 1900 (Birmingham, Ala: New Hope, 1988.)
4. Ralph D. Winter, "Challenge of mobilization," Mission Frontiers, February 1988, p. 5.
5. Ralph D. Winter, "We’re running out of time," Mission Frontiers, June-Oct. 1990, p. 44.
6. From Thomas Wang, ed., Countdown to AD 2000: The Official Compendium of the GCOWE (Pasadena, Calif.: AD 2000 Movement, 1989), p. 202.
7. A "window of opportunity" is a limited stretch of time wherein if certain key actions are done, large and/or valuable objectives are made possible. Each orbital launch by NASA, for example, has a specific window of opportunity: if the launch is not made within a certain set of days, great delays (weeks or months), are required. The term "10/40 Window" uses the word "window" differently. Apparently it is a "window" only because it is rectangular, though we also hear phrases such as, "praying through the window," as if it provides a frame for focus.
8. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1981, revised edition, 1992).
9. The first estimate was 16,750, published in 1980. This was changed to 17,000 in 1983 to better illustrate its imprecise character. In 1989, as it was about to be lowered to 16,000, an agreement was reached with other researchers to frame it in terms of slightly larger segments, thus resulting in a drop to 12,000. This was lowered to 11,000 in 1991 to reflect progress. The more recent Adopt-A-People Clearinghouse figure of nearly 6,000 was produced from a completely separate process with no reference to the earlier figures or the process that produced them, and so should not be used comparatively.
10. Edward R.Dayton and Samuel Wilson, eds., The Future of World Evangelization: Unreached Peoples ’84 (Monrovia, Calif.: MARC, 1984), p. 6.
11. Winter and Hawthorne, 1992, pp. B184-B185.
12. James Lawson, B.B. Ayam, and D.B. Barrett, The Evangelization of West Africa Today: A Survey Across 21 Nations and 150 Tribes (Nairobi: WERC, 1965), pp. 26ff.
13. See, for example, David B. Barrett, World Christian Encyclopedia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 117-121; David B. Barrett, "Annual statistical table on global mission" (International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 17, No. 1, January, 1993), pp. 22, 23; David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, Our Globe and How to Reach It (Birmingham, Ala: New Hope, 1990).
14. Barrett and Johnson, 1990, pp. 25, 122, 125.
15. David B. Barrett, Evangelize! A Historical Survey of The Concept (Birmingham, Ala: New Hope, 1987).
16. Barrett, 1993.
17. Often evangelicals use the term "Christian" to mean "born again" or "saved." Mission researchers know it is impossible to quantify the truly born again. Both David Barrett and Patrick Johnstone publish statistics for "Evangelical" Christians, but neither intend those figures to be equated with "born again." In this article I use the term "Christian" in a sociological sense that is quantifiable: "Christians" are professed followers of Jesus Christ of all kinds-of all traditions and confessions, and all degrees of commitment.
18. Winter and Hawthorne, 1992, pp. B184, 185.
19. Ralph D. Winter, "Who are the Three Billion? Part II," Global Church Growth Bulletin, Vol. XIII, No. 6, July 1977, pp. 139-144; Winter and Hawthorne 1992, pp. B176-B192.
20. Wang, 1989, p. 5.
21. Ibid., p. 57.
22. To the 1.2 billion unevangelized non-Christians in 1993 would have to be added 1.2 billion Catholic and Orthodox Christians, and also the number of non-Christians evangelized by them. Beyond that, if one follows the notion that all people are either evangelical Protestants or "unevangelized," then in a world of 5.4 billion souls and 400 million evangelicals, the category "unevangelized" rises to five billion.
A bibliography on World Evangelization by A.D. 2000 is available from the author (P.O. Box 129, Rockville, Va. 23146) on written request using the requester’s official or agency letterhead.
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