Those in the missions movement often talk about “finishing the task.” Others are generally opposed to this concept. But probably, when we get down to definitions, we would both agree that the task of missions can be finished. It’s all in what we mean by that.
Back in October 1996, Joe Haley wrote an excellent article on this subject in Evangelical Missions Quarterly. You may not be familiar with it, which is why I’m going to recap the article here and you can go dig it up if you’re interested. With a premium subscription to the NSM Knowledgebase (www.strategicnetwork.org…, $20/year, disclaimer: I’m the manager), you can read it online (along with a great many other articles as well).
In the article, Haley distinguishes between three different kinds of theories of completion: need, approach and timing. A “need” theory says we need to engage those who need the Gospel because people need Christ. An “approach” theory emphasizes how we go about the task, typically focusing on people groups or cities. A “timing” theory says we should go where people are most responsive because it is a “window of opportunity.”
Instead, Haley offers a different approach based on what we mean by “reached.” Granted, there’s a lot of opinion on the subject, but it boils down to four things:
1) an indigenous Christian presence in every people—the initial beachhead.
2) a viable church movement in every people—the establishment of a church that can exist on its own
3) a viable church movement that saturates the group—the ability of the church to sufficiently engage the population
4) saturation that yields an adequate opportunity for every individual to hear the Gospel.
Haley suggests that “critical mass,” stage two, has been achieved when at least 20% of the group are practicing Christians. I think that level is too high. In highly social cultures, particularly, I think a level of 5 to 10% would be sufficient—nearly everyone has contact with at least 10 people, through family, social, and work connections. Sociological studies and my own research suggest that levels around 2% to 5% could be sufficient for ‘critical mass.’
So, using statistics from the World Christian Database, let’s put some numbers to each of these levels. There are 223 peoples of 1 million or more that are less than 50% evangelized, the “World A” megapeoples. None of these are at level 4.
Of these, 219 are less than 5% Christian and 204 are less than 2% Christian. We could say that perhaps 10 of the groups are at level 3. Based on the data we would say that possible candidates for a Level 3 established church would include: the Bai of China, Huizhou Han Chinese, Jinyu Han Chinese, Arusi Galla of Ethiopia, Awadhi of India, Bangri of India, Braj Bhaka of India, Jat of India, Southern Senufo of Ivory Coast, Western Punjabi of Pakistan, Bashkir of Russia, Tatar of Russia, and Temne of Sierra Leone. (I make this estimate as illustration based on data, knowing field realities could edit this.)
How many are Level 2s, with an established church? 23 of the 223 have over 100,000 Christians; 31 have over 50,000; and 105 (or nearly half) have over 2,000. I would suggest that all of these are clearly in Level 2.
That leaves us with 118 groups that have fewer than 2,000 Christians. Most of these have Christian populations that represent less than 0.1% of the people group. These are all in Level 1—having an indigenous Christian presence but not necessarily a viable church.
Of those 118, just 11 have no engagement whatsoever. We might consider these to be “Level 0.” They include: the Hamyan Bedouin of Algeria, Tajakant Bedouin of Algeria, Bihari of Bangladesh, Eastern Khamba of China, Pingdi of China, Bedouin of Egypt, Halebi Gypsy of Egypt, Bakhtiari of Iran, Laki of Iran, Northern Luri of Iran, and Turkish Gypsys of Iran. (At least, they appear according to the WCD to have no involvement; and if in reality there is some involvement on the ground then it is likely very small.)
So, when we talk about ‘reachedness’ or ‘finishing the task,’ we do not mean that every single individual has heard the Gospel. Rather, we mean that there are sufficient indigenous Christian resources to provide for the evangelization of the next generation without outside cross-cultural assistance.
But is this really what we want? Next month, our Analysis will look at just how biblical this model really is.
Obtained from: [http://www.strategicnetwork.org/2008/03/stages-of-reachedness/]