The church worldwide is surging, and people are responding to the Good News in extraordinary numbers. That’s the overwhelming conclusion of five missions experts—all of whom once served as missionaries themselves.
But while the Kingdom is advancing and the Great Commission is being carried out on an international scale, there’s still much to be done to reach even more people who are spiritually lost and in need of salvation through Jesus Christ. Individual Christians and churches must step up in greater numbers and intensity and obey the Lord’s final command to go and make disciples of all nations. It’s not a mandate just for an elite few who go as missionaries, but for the whole church.
An unexpected surprise awaited a denominational media team scouting out a country in Asia thought to be unreached and closed to the Gospel.
The government granted permission for the three-member team to tour the country, and assigned an approved guide. A few days into the journey, the guide detected something different about this group. She was used to seeing other foreign journalists carousing and bar hopping after work, but this trio didn’t.
“You aren’t like the others,” she said. “Why not?”
Though in that country, where citizens have to declare devotion to the Buddhist faith in order to get married, buy property, or enroll their children in school, the three journalists sensed an opening from God to declare their Christian faith.
“We’re followers of Jesus Christ,” they told the guide. They talked about who Christ is and what He accomplished on the cross and through His resurrection. The tour guide then dropped a bombshell. “My father-in-law believes what you’ve just shared.”
Stunned, the young men eagerly inquired, “Could we possibly meet him?”
The guide said she would contact him to arrange a possible meeting. What they discovered next was nothing short of miraculous.
They not only met the tour guide’s father-in-law, but other committed believers as well, who were meeting secretly in that country. They had heard the Gospel from evangelists who had crossed the border from a neighboring country.
In that Buddhist nation—considered unevangelized, with no access to the Gospel—a network of house churches was thriving.
Clearly, God is drawing men, women, boys and girls all over this world to Himself and working through His people who are following the Master’s orders to make disciples of all nations. He is creating His own global phenomenon.
“God is moving in unprecedented ways to fulfill the Great Commission,” said Jerry Rankin, retired president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
“Missiologists and researchers agree that there was more advancement in global evangelization in the last decade of the 20th century than the previous 200 years of modern missions since William Carey went to India in 1793.”
Rankin, a former missionary to Indonesia, went on to say that even though there was a surge of accomplishments for the cause of missions in the last half of the 20th century, even more has been done in the 14 years of this century.
“God, who is sovereign over the nations, is using such global events as warfare, ethnic violence, political disruption, economic uncertainty and natural disasters to turn the hearts of people all over the world,” added Rankin, who now heads the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies at Columbia International University. “They’re searching for something beyond their culture, traditions and religion that will give them a hope and security that can be found only in Jesus Christ.”
Unparalleled evangelistic growth has taken place throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, whereas missions expansion has been waning in the West, including Europe, Canada and the United States.
“It’s not possible to give a generalized blanket statement that fully characterizes the state of missions today, but certainly a huge secularization has been taking place in the West while in many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America missions has taken center stage,” explained Patrick Johnstone, best known for his groundbreaking Operation World books.
“Basically, we’ve seen a watering down of the missions thrust in the West, while Latin, Asian and African missionaries are more focused on the important things of the Gospel,” Johnstone said.
Back in the 1960s when he launched out as a missionary evangelist in Africa, Johnstone said evangelical Christians in Africa, Asia and Latin America (AfAsLa) numbered only half as many as those in the West and Australia. Today, however, AfAsLa believers are 2.5 to three times that of those in the West.
“This massive increase of the global church is unprecedented in history,” Johnstone said. “All of this has happened in such a short time.”
Three astonishing moves of God have manifested in China, the Amazon Region of South America and the Muslim world. When Mao Tse Tung gained control of mainland China in 1949, instituted communism and expelled all missionaries, there were believed to be some 1 million Protestants.
Today, there are an estimated 24 million publicly baptized Protestants. But only God knows the true number of believers. Throughout Latin America, God has brought millions to new life through the growth of indigenous networks of churches and, more recently, Gospel breakthroughs among the tribal groups of the Amazon basin, leading to many thousands coming to Christ. And the Muslim world has experienced an explosion of the Gospel—from the Middle East and North Africa to Indonesia, and everywhere in between.
A grassroots revival is spreading as tens of thousands of people are turning to Jesus Christ, and once they surrender their lives to Him, they’re following through with baptism, a monumental step demonstrating their commitment.
“These are great breakthroughs,” said David Garrison, author of A Wind in the House of Islam: How God is Drawing Muslims Around the World to Faith in Jesus Christ.
“We’re seeing people who for generations have been embroiled in warfare in the name of Islam simply saying, ‘This just can’t be God’s perfect will for mankind,’” explained Garrison, a former missionary to Libya. “When they’re presented with the Person of Jesus Christ and the loving claims of His Gospel—in many cases beginning with dreams and visions, but then followed up with a radio broadcast or a satellite telecast or a Scripture translation in their own language or a personal witness—hundreds of thousands are walking away from Islam and turning to Jesus Christ.”
Numerous developments over the years have helped contribute to the escalation of missions fruitfulness around the world. The JESUS film has enabled missionaries to augment or even expand their witness. When doors to traditional missionaries closed, creative tent-making ministries sprung up as businessmen and women gained legal access to a country and then used their professional contacts to share the Gospel. The emergence of national missionaries has helped reduce costs and expand work to local people groups.
Radio and television have proclaimed Christ to burgeoning audiences in countries where missionaries are not welcome. Computer technology and the Internet have revolutionized outreach to the lost. And various convocations, conferences and congresses on world evangelization—many spearheaded by Billy Graham—have encouraged and equipped missionaries and evangelists to further the reach of the Gospel.
But concerns have also surfaced, hampering the work of the church. Certainly alarming is the crippling effect of the Great Recession and how it has fueled an already high cost of sending missionaries, not only from the West but also from majority-world (developing) countries. Many missionaries struggle with raising support, taking sometimes 18 to 24 months to get to the field, while the work is impaired until they arrive.
Another concern is that an exclusive focus on short-term missions by some churches has downplayed the need for long-term commitment to reach the least evangelized. Short-term involvement has been seen as the wave of the future, implying that the time and finance needed for culture immersion, language-learning and disciple-making are no longer required. Short-term missions should never be seen as a substitute, but rather a support and stimulus for long-term missions.
While he understands the apprehension surrounding this issue, John Kyle, retired coordinator for Mission to the World, has seen firsthand the impact of short-term missions on increasing missionary personnel.
“My granddaughter and her husband first went out from their church on a two-week missions trip,” said Kyle, a former missionary to the Philippines. “Then they worked for three years as interns with Mission to the World. Now they’re finishing up their support-raising and will serve as career missionaries in Honduras.
“I’m committed to and am a firm believer in long-term missions, but let’s be careful about minimizing the benefits of short-term missions,” Kyle added.
What’s needed is a resurgence of a passion for souls, says Eddie Gibbs, professor emeritus of church growth in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary.
“A heart for the lost is disturbingly absent from many evangelical Christians today,” said Gibbs, a former missionary to Chile. “I think it’s because too many of us have succumbed to our pluralistic and relativistic society here in the West. There needs to be a fresh infusion of spiritual life.”
Garrison wholeheartedly agrees. The single most important step that Christians can take, he says, is to draw near to God by diving deep into His Word and communing with Him in prayer.
“As we grow closer to God, we take on His heart, and His heart beats for the lost,” he said. “God gave us His most precious relationship, His own Son. So as we spend time with Him, He will give us His eyes to see the world as He sees it. And then we’ll take on God’s agenda for the world.”