Some 57,000 children are born every day. If things don't change, they will never hear the good news of the gospel. Their births add to the nearly 3 billion people worldwide who have not been told about Jesus.
Though the global church has grown in recent years, the percentage of Christians taking the gospel to the unreached has declined.
The reality was brought home to me recently when I surveyed a vast cityscape of sandy brown buildings stretching out until it blended and disappeared into the surrounding desert. The smoggy air was filled with the sound of car horns, revving engines and the voices of muezzins calling the faithful to prayer from the colorful minarets that punctuated the otherwise monochrome view.
As I stood on top of the tallest building in this city of 6 million in the heart of the Muslim world, our leader in the region turned to me and said, "Andrew, we do not know of any Jesus followers here."
This troubling picture is the driving force behind the annual International Day for the Unreached, to be celebrated this year on May 20.
An alliance of like-minded organizations has chosen that date for our live Facebook webcast (6 p.m. MST) spotlighting the challenge before us, because it is Pentecost Sunday—the day the Holy Spirit fell upon the first believers, empowering them to go into all the world. It will also be broadcast on media outlets in other countries, including parts of Kenya and Uganda.
Part of the church's response must involve recognizing models that served us well for the past decades are not keeping pace. If we are to change the reality of that desert city I visited and the rest of the unreached, "business as usual" will not suffice. We need a paradigm shift.
It must begin not with models and methods, but with our basic beliefs.
To reach those with no access to the gospel, we must embrace five fundamentals from Scripture.
1. Engage the whole body of Christ.
God's plan for humanity was that we would live as His children in relationship with Him, and that our lives would be for the praise of His glory (Eph. 1). Our Creator defined our purpose and mandated us to go make more of those who would be in relationship with Him and live their life for His glory until the whole earth is filled (Gen 1:28).
Millennia later, Jesus repeated that directive in His Great Commission (Matt. 28:19). We exist to love God and reflect that love back to the world.
But do our missions models truly enable every follower of Jesus to live out this purpose? We have given people the multiple-choice option of being a prayer, a giver, or a goer—those who must leave their jobs, raise support and go do "full-time ministry."
We have made it about "calling," some nudging of God that lets us know we are chosen to go. But Scripture shows us we are not called to the purpose of God, we are made for it.
2. Embrace the whole masterpiece.
God put us together in a unique, wonderful way. We are His masterpiece, so that we can do the good works God wants us to (Eph. 2:10). Surely, we should fully embrace and carefully steward our individual abilities, personalities and passions.
However, in the mission and church world, we often ignore them, asking people to fit particular ministry molds. When Saul encountered the young, highly skilled hunter, David, he tried to make him look like the other soldiers in order to fight Goliath. But David simply needed to go out with what he already had to defeat the giant.
Why would we make an engineer give up engineering? Why would we ask a doctor to leave the hospital? We must build models that enable everyone to go be who God made them to be somewhere in the world where He is not worshipped.
3. Include the whole world.
"Calling" gets us in trouble again here. We say, "If people don't feel called, they will not stick to the hard places." However, "fill the earth" and "all nations" are part of every believer's job description—a command to obey, not a call to wait for.
We need a model where many can and will go, understanding that the nations are our inheritance. Then, our ongoing deep desire for God to be known will keep us there, not personal "calling."
4. Live out the whole gospel.
The good news is not just something we speak out but something we live out. It is not only about the alternate eternal destination of someone's soul but about the transformation of their life now.
The evangelical movement of the last 60 years has emphasized proclamation, but we need to have a strong demonstration of the gospel lived out in the communities of the unreached. Today, nine out of 10 Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists do not know a single believer.
5. Incorporate all of life.
For everyone to have the opportunity to hear and experience the gospel, we need to go live in every sector of society and every corner of communities. Unfortunately, our models have often put us outside of society, trying to find ways in to share our message.
Instead, we must find ways to engage every follower of Jesus; embrace their unique skills, gifts and passions; and release them to the least-reached world in credible roles, where they can live as salt and light, well-equipped to give a reason for their hope, and invite others into that hope.
You can be part of this. Join me for the International Day for the Unreached on May 20 and find out how you can help bring the gospel to those who have yet to hear of Jesus.