If you have been a part of an evangelical Christian church for any time I am certain you have heard a lesson about the miserable state of world evangelism efforts. Such lessons usually cite statistics to highlight how massive the evangelical task remains, outside the confines of western societies especially. Generally, the speaker then admonishes the hearers to give more money and to double down on their personal evangelical efforts with their neighbors. It is never a pleasant story. Who can really embrace such an awesome and frightening responsibility, given the apparent hopelessness of meaningful success?
I recently read the following statistics from an evangelical website which purports to track the worldwide evangelical challenge (http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/data.htm):
A big part of the church's world evangelism effort involves trying to get Bibles and other literature translated into the thousands of world languages. Again, the above site states these statistics:
Of course, unanswered in these numbers is the definition of the word "available." I suspect "available" means copies exist somewhere. That may not mean that copies have been delivered to 80% of all the people. It is furthermore very unlikely that 80% of the population can even read if they have a copy.
The presentation of these statistics, here and elsewhere within the church, is prompted by a legitimate desire on the part of the statisticians to promote a zeal for world evangelism and to elicit more financial support. It is a fact that missionaries cost money. They can't teach if they starve to death first. They cannot travel for free. That is not the way the real world works.
I have heard on several occasions an estimate that maybe 10% of the people alive today are Christians. It is an unknown and unknowable number, but no one in the evangelical community that I have heard estimates a majority as being Christians. The percentage of those in the past is likely even less, since the means to propagate the Word were more limited then. This paints a very dismal picture in the base case. Then, we add the contention by many that the church itself is full of lost people. If a good number of the churched are not Christians, how much more dismal do the statistics become?
Usually, the focus of these statistical discussions is an indictment of the church for its lack of effort to convert the world. After much handwringing, the hearers are called upon to give more and do more. For the most part the audience winces in frustration but then ignores the message. It is just too, too overwhelming, especially when you consider the distasteful nature of the eternal torment gospel. The numbers speak loudly and clearly that the effort is hopeless anyway.
Lost in this lamentable story is the implied indictment of God. God supposedly ordained this evangelical process as His way to make the work of Jesus effective for some people. Needless to say, anyone could conceive of a better way to do that. The first step would be to remove the human intermediaries from the process. They aren't getting the job done and never have.
If God' chosen method is the use of human teachers, as the church has always taught, then obviously ineffectiveness from the human viewpoint is intended. God doesn't want evangelism to work for everyone. A relative few Christians is all that God requires. Jesus was supposed to die in vain as far as most people are concerned, if such a monumental task has been left to human effort. Christians, therefore, should just stop worrying about world evangelism and simply enjoy the prospect of heaven for themselves . Many gladly do just that, and their Christian life quite naturally is divorced from any real evangelical urgency.