Christian evangelicals are on a mission to get people into heaven. The stated goal is to get everyone there. It's an ambitious effort given the method involved, convincing everyone to follow the church's salvation prescription. All must hear. All must believe. All must obey. All must remain faithful unto death.
The project has been working for 2000 years now, supposedly. Judging the progress at any one time or the total effectiveness over time is difficult and frustrating. The associated statistics are estimated on occasion to either encourage the faithful by highlighting progress or to stimulate them to greater effort by illustrating the enormity of the task and noting the relative lack of success, individually and collectively. Missionaries come home on furlough and spend the entire time travelling the country to exhort the faithful with alternating stories of overseas church growth and numbers to indicate what remains to be done.
The church is supposedly involved in an international effort which dwarfs that attempted by any other group in human history. It is a project for the record book. If anything remotely similar were attempted by government or another entity, we would envision a tremendous organizational structure with elaborate planning efforts and thousands or even millions of people involved through a complex hierarchy of managers, planners, facilitators, financiers, and actual contact personnel. By contrast the church proposes to advance their mission with little or no organization, using volunteers making minimum wage.
If the mission of evangelism were a secular project, the first priority would be to fully understand the end goal. What are we trying to accomplish? World evangelism hits a snag right here. Evangelical churches don't necessarily agree on how to get people to heaven, which means they collectively don't know who is already going, who needs to be saved, and what those in need of salvation must do. That's a tough impediment to overcome in this worldwide mission.
Manager or leaders of an ambitious secular undertaking would insist on having a way to measure progress and to make adjustments in the effort to focus resources on areas where progress is lacking. This is where the issue of the numbers associated with evangelism come into focus. What percentage of all those who have lived since Christ are in heaven? What about the people before Christ, both Jew and Gentile? What percentage of people alive today are headed for heaven? How many of those will actually get there, i.e. remain faithful?
How should the church focus its efforts toward world evangelism without knowing with any certainty the answers to all these questions? History tells us that the Christian churches have focused almost exclusively on western societies. That means that local, personal evangelism is overwhelming limited to the area of the world which has already received the vast majority of attention. Even given the question of what identifies those heaven bound, all conclude that those outside western societies are very much less likely to be.
In our society we can measure the number of church affiliates as a percentage of the population. Since church affiliation is generally recognized as the mark of the saved, most don't count non-members as having any chance of heaven. A recent study indicates that less than half of all
At some point in addressing these statistics we must consider any recognized exceptions to the church's prescription for going to heaven. In that regard, many but not all, would allow that young children and the mentally impaired can go to heaven without being converted in the church sense. Given the very large rate of infant mortality in the past, including up into the 20th century here in the US, one can imagine that, until recently, a very large percentage of those who went to heaven came by way of this exception. 19th century statistics for infant deaths in the
In our own country over a million babies are aborted each year. Though I seldom, if ever, hear the church comment on the eternal fate of these unborn ones, I assume they believe this million is also added to the roles in heaven. It is more than a little strange to me that the church's objection to abortion does not address the question of these babies going to heaven or not. Is that really irrelevant to how we approach this subject religiously?
Anyway, in thinking even casually about these numbers and the associated church doctrines, it is quite easy to see why church members are so nonchalant about evangelism. If 8 plus million people go to heaven each year, not having to become Christians in the normal sense but in accordance with church teaching, then naturally church members wonder about other possible exceptions. Don't exceptions to the rule demand new exceptions? If there are yet undiscovered exceptions, maybe evangelism loses some of its impetus, psychologically at least.
If the demonstrated effectiveness of world evangelism throughout of church history is so dismal, then maybe God doesn't want men converted. No need to cast my pearls before swine. If God wants men saved, He could make it happen and I don't see any evidence of that being the case. Again, one can conveniently assume that those God wants saved will be so whether I get involved is irrelevant. Many in the church embrace a doctrine of predestination which formalizes this line of reasoning.
The church readily falls back on a number of reasons why world evangelism has been largely unsuccessful. Men are wanton and hard to convert due to Satanic influence. Jesus predicted a narrow road to heaven. Church doctrine has been tainted by men. False teachers abound within the church and without. Prophesy foretold of a steadily worsening world situation, so what we observe is to be expected and accepted as inevitable. While pressing for more evangelism, on the one hand, the church passes out ready made excuses for evangelism's failure, on the other. Church members are understandably confused and resigned to the current state of affairs. Evangelism is staggering enough in the base case, but these added church excuses make it totally unappealing.