We should be dumbfounded at how doable the remaining task of world missions is. But first, let’s clarify some definitions.
Missions is not the same as evangelism. Evangelism is sharing the gospel with any unbelievers, and that work will never be done till Jesus comes.
Missions, on the other hand, relates to people groups, not just people, and the number is finite and relatively stable — like the “every people, tongue, tribe and nation” of Revelation 5:9.
Missions is crossing a culture, learning a language, and planting a church through preaching the gospel among people groups that have no churches strong enough to evangelize their group.
According to the Joshua Project (as of February 16, 2013) there are 16,598 people groups in the world. Of these, 7,165 are “unreached” (fewer than 2% evangelical).
Defining things somewhat differently, the research arm of the Southern Baptist International Missions Board estimates that there are 11,310 people groups, of which 6,405 are unreached and 3,100 are “unengaged” (no evangelical mission effort to reach them is underway).
Does that number sound large to you? 3,100? These are the people groups yet to be pursued and penetrated with a missions effort. The number is, in fact, amazingly small compared to the resources available to us.
Consider these numbers from the January 2013 issue of The International Bulletin of Missionary Research (vol. 37, no. 1):
There are 44,000 Christian denominations in the world — 14 for every unengaged people group.
There are 700 million evangelical Christians in the world — 225,000 for every unengaged people group.
There are 4.5 million Christian congregations in the world — 1,451 congregations for every unengaged people group.
There are 4,900 Christian foreign mission sending agencies in the world — 1.5 agencies for every unengaged people group.
This is simply mindboggling. I am aware that most of these 3,100 unengaged people groups are in places, and are under regimes, that are hostile to a Christian presence. So I am not saying that it will be easy to reach them. It will be very costly.
But if God would grant the passion and courage and wisdom, the remaining task is not vague, enormous or unattainable. Would you join me in obeying Matthew 9:38: “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest”?
And then be a radical, sacrificial goer, or a radical, sacrificial sender. Jesus has all authority to accomplish this. He promises to be with us to the end of the age as we mobilize for this. What a thrilling prospect! What a cause to live for! What a holy ambition.