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How to See More Than 1 in 1,000 Become Missionaries

It's not something we usually think about. Actually, it's one of those things that we might only hear about if we were to attend a missions seminar. What is it? The reality is that in the US just 1 in 1,000 Christians become missionaries. I never knew this until I studied missions and evangelism abroad at Saints Bible Institute in 2006. This simple statistic was one of many things the Lord used in my life to have me consider more seriously my role in the global mission of Jesus Christ.

In today's blog post we'll unpack some of the reasoning from Thomas Hale's book - On Being a Missionary, when he says the following:

"On the personal side, taking into account evangelical Christians alone, only one in a thousand goes into cross-cultural ministry — that is, becomes a missionary. And of those who do, over 90% end up working in areas that have already been evangelized."

Only 1 in 1,000 Christians from the US get involved as a missionary. (When we say missionary, we intend cross-cultural gospel work to another land with the support of a sending church). Amazingly, Thomas Hale says that the 1 in 1,000 who do go abroad, go to a place that's already been evangelized. They go to a place that has already been saturated with the Gospel in recent times. In all actuality, there is not really a need for them to be there. This is a penetrating reality regarding modern-day missions and a lot can be said on this. What I want to do now is just touch briefly on two ideas.

The question I proposed as I pondered this quote is, "Is this still the reality today?"

This book was written a few years back, but I do believe that yes, it is still the reality today. Just 1 in 1,000 actually become missionaries. Now, on one hand, it's expected and it's normal that most of us would be called by the Lord to bear fruit exactly where God has us; where He planted us, where He had us grow up, or where He had us get saved. Most of the time, where we are is the place where we have our sphere of influence, and that's where Jesus would have us bear fruit for Him, evangelize the lost, and be a member of a Biblical and healthy church. Most of the time, that's how things work. For the sake of the global mission of Christ, it's also necessary because people need to be making good money, building quality products (honoring God at the workplace), and also using their well-earned money to send those who are going out into the mission field. In this way, when we live to glorify God, we are being salt and light in our context. We're living, ultimately, for the Kingdom of God, not our own personal kingdoms.

We could also argue, however, that the number of missionaries going out and the number of people staying in their immediate context are probably a little bit disproportionate. There probably should be more people going out than there are actually. More people are most likely, for a number of reasons, "playing it safe" and staying in their local context, even though the Lord could be and likely is desiring that they get equipped, be sent out, go abroad, and bear fruit elsewhere in a land with few Christians.

In some parts of the world, we have Christian brothers and sisters who are under persecution and they have to hide.

  • Side note - China, for example, because of tyrannical leadership has an underground church. For Christians to be faithful to Jesus there, they must not comply with state authorities placed in leadership by God but who actively disobey God by imposing illegitimate mandates and practices on people made in the image of God. House churches are often invaded and pastors are taken away to torturous treatment and confinement while women are also abused physically and sexually. (They will give an account to God for their actions one day).

  • Upcoming - on Missions Incorporated and the PMc blog, we will be doing a teaching on the importance of understanding how Christians are to respond to mandates and authorities. In the meantime, let me recommend this sermon from Pastor Jeff Durbin to lovingly challenge your thinking: A Christian Response to Mandatory "Cookies"

In other places, like in the US, there are Christians who have it so well until now, historically, that they've become lazy and non-zealous. In a real sense, they 'suffer' from spiritual obesity or lack of activity. They have not applied themselves to the things they should because too many things have been going too smoothly. We should note that it is typically the pattern for the people of God that when things are going well, they drift from closeness to God and miss the mark or even their God-given purpose.

  • Side note - we also see an unfortunate trend of churches to be 'seeker-friendly' in the US. The consequence is that many churches, though they wouldn't likely admit it, have become more concerned about being well-seen by the eyes of the world (unregenerate people) than the eyes of the Lord. This is often why evangelism has been sidelined in so many places. It's also why so many churches are quick to comply with state authorities and overlook an in-depth study of Romans 13... It's costly, but pastors are called to go the extra mile in times like this to lead the Lord's people well. Pray for your pastors!

Do 90% of missionaries go to areas already evangelized? Is this actually true?

I can't verify this statistic myself, but I do know, there are very few missionaries in places here in Europe where there is great need. Italy is less than 1% evangelical. Very few people here are being engaged with the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are not numerous local expressions of the body of Christ, Biblical churches planted to engage the people. Some people travel quite far to be part of a healthy and Biblical church in Italy. There's a great need for evangelism in Italy, and often this is overlooked. This I know for sure.

Another thing that I know for sure is that 9 out of 10 Africans that I meet in Italy (they come to Italy seeking a better life), confess to already being Christians when I evangelize them. Probably 8 out of those 9 out of 10 that confess to being Christians have also been taught salvation by works; that they have to obey and do certain things in order to be saved. This is their common understanding. The truth is that they haven't actually understood grace, and they are depending on their own works for salvation. They've been taught, sadly, a prosperity gospel that if they obey God and believe in God, then their life will go better, they'll be healthy and happy all the time. [real gospel presentation]. They haven't dealt with the core reality of their need for salvation, their need to come to Christ in repentance and faith for salvation from sin and the wrath of God the Father. They haven't understood what it means to be born again and to be made new. All they've been given is the Biblical principles that potentially could lead to a more flourishing life.

So Thomas Hale says that 90% of missionaries go to areas already evangelized, and I do think there is a lot of truth to that. Based on my experience, simply with people from Africa, a lot of missionaries do go and do missions in Africa, but the truth is there's also a lot of services that's already been done there. Now, whether or not it was good and Biblical ministry and missions, that's a different question, and we'll leave that for another day.

Why is this the reality? Why do 1 in 1000 become missionaries and 90% of them go to already evangelized places where there really isn't a need for them to be?

I would argue that there are two main reasons for this:

1.) We are not taught well, that our life is no longer ours.

I think this is a problem in the church today. Till now, being a Christian in the US has been relatively comfortable. You could come to be part of a church, do all the things that Christians do without feeling the cost of following Christ. Sadly, there seems to also be numerous people in numerous churches that are actually not saved, not actually born of the Spirit of God. Many are just going through all the motions and they do what other Christians do while having not actually themselves converted to Christ. A non-Christian can do many of the things that a Christian can do, without actually being born again, without the deeds actually coming from the heart. Jonathan Edward's classic, Religious Affections, demonstrates this perhaps better than any other book.

It truly is possible that people are not taught well when they come to Christ. Without being properly discipled, they don't realize that their life is no longer theirs. When one comes truly to Jesus for salvation, he/she surrenders his/her life to Jesus. It's now His life. We should be evaluating every area of our life: our money, our resources, our time, our thoughts, everything we're doing; our pursuits, our education, everything. It should all be evaluated in light of the fact our life is not ours, because it now belongs to Jesus Christ who purchased us with His blood. I don't think this gets taught as well as it needs to be taught.

We learn quickly on the mission field that if someone starts their Christian walk badly, it will usually often end badly as well. When people don't consider the truth that their life is not theirs anymore, it often leads to very few people considering their role in the global mission of Jesus Christ. They don't even consider the possibility that God would want them to become a missionary and go. If they do consider it, they usually consider going to a place where there's not actually a need...

So why is it 1 in 1000 become missionaries? And why are 90% going to places already evangelized? Potentially, they're not taught well, that their life is no longer their own.

2.) Perhaps people are not encouraged to consider what role the Lord would have them play personally to participate in His global mission.

People, unfortunately, are not encouraged to really consider their life in the big picture of the mission of God on the earth. Once we've been saved, and our life is no longer ours, we are in effect restarting our life. We've been given a new birth, and now we have a new agenda and purpose. Sadly, life is busy, and too few are being encouraged to seriously consider what the Lord would have them do both locally and globally.

  • Side note - I've heard stories of Christians who have not gathered to worship with the body of Christ in person since the pandemic began in 2020. I would argue that something is seriously wrong with any confessing Christian who has ceased to worship corporately, in person, with the body of Christ in this time.

What role are you going to have in Jesus' mission? Will you be called to go as a missionary to people that need to hear the gospel and be discipled? If you are sure that you are not called to go, that's good, but don't forget to consider the role that you will play in supporting. I'm afraid that these kinds of questions from the moment of someone's conversion are not addressed soon enough nor often enough.

As we close out this blog post, I would encourage my readers to not overlook missions as a career, especially if you are still younger, but also at any age really. Don't assume that serving as a missionary is not for you, or for your children. Don't overlook the fact that God could be calling you to a career as a missionary overseas. The Lord may be calling you to trust Him for cross-cultural service. Don't overlook that possibility. Maybe you have children that the Lord is calling. Good parents want what's best for their children, what's comfortable, what's going to make them successful, and so on. But many times children have been called to the mission field and then stopped by their parents, loving parents, who likely meant well, but didn't consider that their children, ultimately, are not their own. They belong to the Lord. And if the Lord would call them to go overseas, it would be best for them to have our support in that call, as hard as it may be to accept. We shouldn't hinder them, but rather enable them as best as possible to flourish in that call.

In all things, I believe that once we're saved we should keep it a regular practice to remember that our life now belongs to Jesus. May the Lord give us hearts that come to the Lord regularly to say, "Lord, what would you have me do? Where would you have me go? I am yours. Guide me. Direct me. Use me. If you want me to stay where I am, make it clear to me Lord. Otherwise, I want to know if you're sending me to flourish for you and to bear fruit for you in another place. Direct me, Lord. Reign over me."

And when we live like this before our Lord, it is likely that we'll see more than 1 in 1,000 becoming missionaries. And then it's also likely that we'll see more missionaries going to places that desperately need missionaries to come to proclaim the word, to evangelize the lost, to make disciples, and to help see more Biblical churches planted. In this way, we can also see more men trained and equipped in the pastoral ministry to oversee new healthy church bodies to the glory of God.

Soli Deo Gloria | Post Tenebras Lux


Written by Jesse Schreck


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