There are 3,980 provinces in the world in my database.
Of these, I estimate 179 are less than 0.1% Christian (Stage 0), and 505 are less than 2% Christian (Stage 1). We can call these the “unreached” provinces in the world–they don’t precisely fit some definitions, but this is pretty close. These 684 provinces will be home to ~2.5 billion people in 2025. With so few Christians among them, this is the heart of the remaining “frontier mission” task.
A different situation is found in the middle tier of provinces. Stage 2 provinces are those between 2% and 8% Christian, and Stage 3 are those between 8% and 32% Christian. These contain 624 provinces, with about 2.8 billion people. This is roughly comparable to the World Christian Database’s “World B”–heavily evangelized, minority Christian. This is something of a grey zone – lots of Christians, and a fair amount of access, but many pockets of people who will never meet a Christian or hear the Gospel.
Finally, Stage 4 and Stage 5 are all the provinces over 32% Christian. These include 2,672 provinces, with about 2.8 billion people. These are the heavily engaged areas with significant Christian presence.
Most of my attention is focused on the Stage 0 and 1 provinces. Among these 684, there are 40 provinces each with populations in excess of 8 million people. Together they total 1.6 billion people–two-thirds of the least-reached 2.5 billion or 20% of the world’s 7.8 billion. Living in places that are less than 2% Christian, they have minimal access to the Gospel.
Changing this situation for any single one of these provinces would have dramatic global, political, economic and religious implications. But doing so is not easy.
One notable example: the per-province population is far larger in the less-reached areas. 2.5 billion people over 684 provinces is an average of about 3.6 million per province, whereas 2.8 billion people over 2,672 provinces is an average of about 1.1 million per. Each Stage 0/1 province would therefore likely need as many as 4x as many workers as the more heavily Christian ones do.
A further complication: many of the Stage 0 & 1 provinces are relatively poor in terms of economy, infrastructure, and resources. Tools which amplify the work of Christian workers in Stage 4 and 5 provinces are not available in these places. Worse, they are often deeply impacted by wars, diseases, poverty, and religious oppression. Fr example, the number two province on the Top 40 list, Maharashtra, is the most Covid-infected province in India.
Is the problem really workers and resources, however? These kinds of problems are solvable–if. There is a bigger problem to be grappled with.
All of the people in each of these provinces are equally in need of the Gospel. God loves all of them equally. However, they are not all equal in access. Reaching people in Stage 4 and 5 is largely a matter of marshaling Gospel resources already present in the province. While it is possible (and sometimes preferable) to send resources from other provinces (e.g. cross-cultural missionaries), it’s not essential.
Reaching people in Stage 0 and 1 provinces who have not yet heard the Gospel nearly always requires some sort of worker to come from a distance–either from a neighboring district within the province, or from a neighboring province, or from around the world. These provinces are often “the ends of the earth” moreso than “Jerusalem, Judea or Samaria.”
Doing this requires effort, intentionality and resources–and most of all focus on the part of people who already have ready Gospel access.
It seems to me the biggest barrier in achieving this focus is this: those of us in Stage 4 and 5 provinces often take for granted the blessing of Gospel access around us. We think people in Stage 0 and 1 provinces aren’t Christians because they choose not to be. This is not the case. Massive movements are happening in many of these places: people are open to the Gospel. The problem is, they haven’t heard. And how can they, when so few go? And so few go, because so few send. This is a problem that needs to be tackled.
This post written by Justin Long and originally posted at https://justinlong.org/roundup/218.html and used by permission of Justin Long. Title modified by Global Missions Group.
Photo by Nicolas Cool on Unsplash.