by Jim Armstrong

The standing order from our Lord and Saviour to the Church, made to the disciples on the mountain in Galilee, is still in place. He said ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ In addition, we know from the writings of Luke in Acts the extent to which the Church should go. The Lord Jesus Christ said ‘…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

We can look back to the early Church and see the gospel spreading to the then known world, as apostles and saints were obedient to the Saviour. In the book of Acts and the various epistles, we can see the methods used for the spreading of the gospel: some as a result of missionary journeys, others through persecution and yet more through the migration of people. God was using the difficult circumstances the Church faced as a means of furthering the message.

Fast forward to the beginning of the ‘new missionary movement’ in the late 1700s. Its birth came from a Spirit-led desire to see the lost saved. The Saviour’s mandate to go was strong and, throughout the 1800s and into the early 1900s, thousands across the Western world set off in obedience. They went in faith and their methods recognised the needs of the world at that time. Many of the great pioneers accessed countries and reached peoples with relative freedom in comparison to today’s cultural, religious and political barriers. Was it easy? Absolutely not! Many of those journeys were strewn with personal sacrifice, the loss of family members and the forfeit of their own lives.

These early generations responded to their standing orders and their methods reflected the culture and context of their times. Millions were reached for Christ and countries were transformed. Large parts of South America, Africa, Asia and even many Asian Pacific countries were won for Christ. What is our response today in the UK church? What are the mission trends and needs which drive us, as we hear the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to go?

Trends in Population

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the number of lost has increased from around 1 billion to just under an estimated 6 billion. The total population of the world is around 7.8 billion and, according to www.joshuaproject.net, around 42% are still unreached for Christ. Many unreached people groups reside in Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern and Southeastern Asia, often in ‘hard to reach’ areas where the population size is greatest and it is difficult to use a ‘traditional’ model of mission. Yet things are changing. Statistics tell us that, for every believer coming to Christ in Europe and North America, there are now nearly 16 new believers finding salvation in the majority world.

Trends in Urbanisation

In 2000, globally, there were 404 cities with a population above 1 million people. In 2025 it is expected to be around 600 cities and in 2050 just under 1,000. At present, 54% of the world’s population (about 4.2bn) live in cities. By 2050 it is estimated it will be around 80%.

Numbers (millions) City Type 2000 2025 2050
20+ Metacities 1 9 25
10-20 Super Giants 20 24 46
5-10 Super Cities 26 50 91
1-5 Megacities 357 521 805

Data from The Future of the Global Church, published 2011.

In the past, cross-cultural mission would mostly start in rural areas and communities would build up around the mission station, school or hospital. At that time, God used these communities mightily. Today and looking forward, cities are collections of all sorts of people groups and languages. In essence, they are launching points for the gospel to spread, as people find Christ, just as it did from Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

Trends in Migration

The world is on the move, either voluntarily, for example, to pursue economic opportunities, or involuntarily, as refugees fleeing conflict. The Centre for Global Christianity estimates that one in eight people live as part of a diaspora, a scattered people. Following trends today, more than 168 million people could move to North America, Western and Central Europe and Australasia in the next 30 years. In Europe, the population is expected to rise by 50 million. With this new movement of people, most are coming from places where Christian influence and witness is difficult. God, in His wisdom, is bringing the unreached to our shores and many are taking this opportunity to share the gospel.

Continuing the Journey for Echoes International

As we look forward, Echoes International will continue to tell the story that we began in 2018. It is interesting that, over the last two years, half of the new mission partners associated with Echoes International are involved in reaching those who are among the ‘least reached’. The priorities we will seek to emphasise over the next three years will be sharpened and refined, but our aim is still to communicate the spiritual needs of the world, something we have been doing in God’s grace since 1872. We are not for a minute restricting where God calls willing servants to go – that is not our role and never will be. The legacy of what God has done over the years, in South America, parts of Africa and into Asia, is something for which we give Him thanks.

New Priorities for 2021 & Beyond

At the same time, as we analyse global trends, trends that indicate where the spiritual needs are, it would be negligent for Echoes International to fail to communicate this to the UK church. Hence our shift of emphasis and our sharper focus on current opportunities to serve. Our new priorities are as follows.

  • Highlighting that cross-cultural mission is everywhere, including the UK
    Countries all over the world are now involved in sending missionaries. Cross-cultural mission is no longer dominated by the West, yet, at the same time, opportunities are on our doorstep.
  • Using creative models of mission
    All sorts of methods can be used to take the gospel to hard-to-reach areas. Working in partnership with an NGO, as a professional in a secular role or starting a business in one of the world’s needy cities to employ others, are just three examples.
  • Responding to the spiritual needs of the world’s cities
    This priority recognises that urban areas are where the greatest opportunity lies in terms of the impact of the gospel.
  • Reaching unreached people groups
    I make no apology for reminding everyone that 42% of the world we live in is still unreached with the gospel.
  • Offering God’s Love to migrant communities
    Tragically, refugees and migrants are seen by many governments, politicians, communities, and sometimes even Christians, as a problem. The Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’
  • Harnessing the power of digital media for mission
    Technology breaks down borders. Governments and political parties may wish to restrict Christians visiting their country and evangelising, but they can’t stop broadcasting or social media getting to the previously unreached. Just consider the power of ‘Zoom’ meetings over the last nine months.
  • Facilitating gifted Bible teachers for the Majority World
    We still need gifted Bible teachers to volunteer with us, even for a short time, to help our brothers and sisters in developing countries grow spiritually.

The Challenge

The early church and pioneers from the 1800s and 1900s gave their all for the gospel, as do those retired, senior and active mission partners presently in the Daily Prayer Guide. As a result of their response and obedience, God blessed their work and the gospel spread like wildfire. Our world today is heavily influenced by these amazing interventions. At the same time, we recognise our world is fractured, consumed by idolatry and lost, seeking for what is real. How do we react? Are we driven to see the lost saved? The willing servant, Isaiah said, ‘Here am I, send me.’ Will our response be the same?

Bible verses from the NIV.