Beyond the Shotgun Approach to Missions

by Nathan Rasmussen.

Of all the needs across the world, which are the most crucial? How should we prioritize our efforts? What does the “big picture” look like in world evangelization?

One view of our world sees only the violence, the terrorism, the conflict. A different view, however, sees a world ablaze with revival. In Latin America, the church is growing at three times the biological growth rate. In China, we’ve seen the church grow in the past 50 years from 1 million to over 100 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, where my family and I have the privilege of working, God is doing tremendous things. In Tanzania, the evangelical church grew by 40 percent in the 1990s. Next door in Burundi, we have gone from 30 churches to over 400 churches in just 12 years. And many of these churches are large- 800 or more, even in villages.

If you look at the world as a whole, its population grows at about 1.6 percent per year. Meanwhile, the evangelical church is growing three and a half times as fast (or 5.6 percent). The Pentecostal/charismatic churches are growing at four and a half times the population growth rate (or 7.2 percent).

How Far Have We Come?
Of the 6.3 billion people in the world, one third call themselves Christian. One third of that group, or 11 percent of the whole, are actually active, Bible-believing followers of Christ. Another way to say this is that one out of every nine people on the planet are living out their Christian faith.

Do you realize it took 1,400 years to get to the point of active Christians comprising just one out of a hundred? It took 1,900 years to reach one out of forty. And now just in the last century we’ve advanced to one out of nine. That is tremendous growth, real progress.

Another third of our world (actually, 36 percent) live within the reach of the gospel but have not yet responded to it. The gospel is available to them in their language, in their culture. They can readily hear about Christ at work, at school, in a nearby church, on the radio, on television, etc.

The last third of our world’s population are currently beyond the reach of the gospel, at least in terms they can comprehend.

Counting “People Groups”
Another way to look at our planet is to count the “people groups”-a term for a population that is distinct in terms of language and/or culture. A people group is the largest group within which the gospel can spread without encountering barriers of acceptance or understanding. Once the gospel gets into a people group, it can spread quite easily. The challenge is to get it started, to establish a church that can reach its own people.

We can rejoice that 14,000 people groups so far are “reached.” I am not saying that everyone in these groups has had an adequate presentation of the gospel. But at least the message is available in their setting. There is a church in their language, their culture.

That leaves another 10,000 people groups who are “in the dark,” so to speak. These are the groups that represent the 2-plus billion truly unreached. The groups break down, in round numbers, as follows:

4,000 Muslim
3,000 Hindu
2,000 tribal
1,000 Buddhist
Across North Africa, there is but one pastor or missionary for every 2 million people. Apply that ratio to North America, and you would have just 155 Christian workers for the entire U.S. and Canada combined! There would be seven small, struggling congregations in all of North America.

Going for the Most Needy
Obviously, we need to prioritize our efforts on reaching these groups. This is not to say that other ministries are unimportant. But here are three reasons to give the unreached groups our first attention:

1. They are part of the world God gave his Son to die for. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world ….” In spite of all our successes in missions, these hidden groups have somehow been left out. It is disturbing that 66,000 individuals die every day never having heard the name of Jesus, not even once.

2. God has a heart for all nations. He said to Abram long ago, “I will bless you” and “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:1-3). This Scripture is what some call “the Old Testament Great Commission.” We have heard a lot of emphasis in the church on “being blessed” ourselves. Not so much has been said about being blessed to be a blessing, especially to all peoples of the earth. But that is what God has in mind. The New Testament Great Commission as well tells us to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The Greek word is ethne-“peoples.” That certainly includes the 10,000 groups still unreached today.

Nothing could be clearer than 2 Peter 3:9, which says, “The Lord is not slow…. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” This is the heart of God.

3. Finally, God’s plan for the nations includes full representation. The apostle John “looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb'” (Rev. 7:9-10). This is what heaven will be like! God said so.

One Way or Another
God’s work through history can be noted in 10 periods-five in the Old Testament, five since the coming of Jesus. They are:

1. The Patriarchs
2. Captivity in Egypt
3. The Judges
4. The Kings
5. Exile and After

6. The Romans
7. The Barbarians
8. The Vikings
9. The Crusades
10. To the ends of the earth

Let me focus on just numbers 6, 7, and 8. Christ came into a Roman world. By the time of the emperor Constantine in the 300s, the infant church of the book of Acts had become the state religion of the empire. But it did not reach out to the Barbarians north of them. Christians were no longer missions-minded. So God allowed the Barbarians to invade Rome and burn it down. But in the process, they encountered the gospel.

The Germanic and Celtic peoples became Christians. But they as well failed to reach out to the peoples north of them, the Vikings. History repeated itself. God allowed the Vikings to invade, burn down the churches, kill the saints-but also to get the gospel in the process. This, in fact, is how my ancestors, the Scandinavians, learned of the one true God.

The lesson is this: If we do not reach new people groups voluntarily, we will reach them involuntarily.

The same process can play out once again in our time between the Western and the Muslim worlds. They have attacked us (World Trade Center, Pentagon), and we have attacked them in our modern crusades of Afganistan and Iraq. God wants all peoples to hear the gospel. We as a church can ignore the unreached, but they will be reached. Why? Because God says so. God loves them. God sent his Son to die for them. God is going to reach them.

We as the church have a choice. We either reach out voluntarily to them, or we can stand by and watch them be reached another way. But they will be reached, because that is God’s plan.

An Action Plan
So what can we do? How do we obey the commission to “make disciples of all nations” (all peoples)? Where do we start?

We can focus more, as churches, on reaching the unreached. Churches currently spend 94.5 percent of all income on themselves. Five percent goes for evangelizing those in groups already reached. Only half a percent goes towards unreached people groups.

It would help a great deal if each of our churches were to adopt an unreached people group. This would bring great focus to our efforts.

1. For one thing, we’d bear down in prayer for them. We would cry out to God for people to come to Christ and for a church to be planted among that people group.

2. In the area of short-term mission trips, we would no longer just randomly go here one year and somewhere else the next. We would zero in on repeated trips to our selected people group.

3. We would start thinking about sending vocational missionaries. Our congregations are full of individuals with marketable skills needed by these people groups. Those who can teach English as a second language, those who know how to farm, those who know computers-these can gain entrance into places that professional missionaries can never penetrate. As they share their skills, they also share the Lord Jesus Christ.

4. Focusing on one people group brings to a church a sense of ownership. The vision becomes “ours,” not somebody else’s. Giving tends to rise as one result of this.

5. Adopting a people group also develops unique partnerships with other churches. For example, Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle on Long Island, New York, is currently partnering with a Lutheran church in Australia, a Chinese church in Singapore, a United Methodist church in a Houston suburb, a community church outside Seattle, a sister FCA church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and others to work together to reach the Bee people in Indonesia. This kind of partnership would never happen otherwise. Together these congregations are working to see a church established amongst this unreached people group.

Yes, 10,000 unreached people groups across the world sounds like a lot. But think about how many Christian congregations there are to reach them! The mathematics work out to 670 churches for every unreached group. That’s not so impossible, is it? Your church and 669 others could certainly see a “people movement” toward Christ in that one group.

I also believe that we missionaries need to prioritize our work in the direction of the unreached. I am sorry to report that 90 percent of our current efforts are focused in “reached” areas. Some of us need to redeploy to unreached groups-and to train Christian workers in the developing world to do the same. That is why my family and I have just returned to Africa with a new mandate after 20 years: To train the already reached to reach the unreached. Our efforts in the coming term are bent in this direction. We live in a time of great need-and great potential.

How to Adopt an Unreached People Group
You as a church can adopt an unreached people group. Learn more at any of these websites:;;; or If you are really serious about learning more, sign up for a Perspectives course online or in your area (

It’s a big world out there, of course, with 10,000 people groups to choose from. Don’t start by just randomly choosing a people group you know nothing about. Start with concentrated prayer. Allow the Lord to guide you in the way you should go. One possibility is to look to missionaries you already know. Are any of them focusing on a specific unreached people group? If so, come alongside them. You can work together to see a people movement to Christ started in that group.

If none of your missionaries are focused on the unreached, find one who is. We are commanded by Christ to “make disciples of all peoples.” In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations [peoples], and then the end will come.” Does that mean he’s not coming back until we get the job done? Maybe that messes with your end-times theology. We as a church are often preoccupied with singing and preaching about our heavenly reward. Maybe we should concentrate more of our efforts on completing the task.

Find a missionary who has prioritized reaching the unreached and partner with him/her. Better yet, let’s start teaching our congregations about our responsibility to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). That scripture says we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. That means we are called to be his witnesses everywhere. We have a responsibility to take the gospel to the unreached, to the ends of the earth. When we believe it, teach it, preach it, and practice it, missionaries from our own congregations will end up going to our adopted people group. This is the way the Great Commission will finally be completed.

Nathan Rasmussen and his family currently serve in Kigoma, Tanzania. Email Nathan:

Christa McCartney Leaves for West Africa

Christa McCartney leaves on Monday, February 13th, 2012 to begin her missionary career in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. The daughter of Kathy and Mike McCartney (Senior Pastor of Christian Hills Church outside Chicago), she will be focusing on ministry to orphans.

Christa is a graduate of Christ for the Nations Institute (Dallas), where she majored in missions. She has already interned for five weeks in Asia and three months in Guatemala. Christa will be living with a Fulani family for one month and is excited to see what God will do this next year.

From the age of 10, Christa wanted to be a missionary. Her long-term goal is to start an orphan home in South Sudan. She is going to the field under the auspices of the Go To Nations agency in Jacksonville, Florida. To learn more, visit or contact Christa directly at

Equipping Pastors and Churches in Dominican Republic

Rich and Sharon Doebler from Cloquet Gospel Tabernacle (Cloquet, Minnesota) recently led several pastoral and leadership training conferences in the Dominican Republic. Ministers and leaders from across a wide spectrum of denominations in the DR benefited from the Doeblers’ 37 years in ministry–Rich teaching from a pastor’s perspective on developing vision and other leadership topics such as dealing with church conflict; Sharon, as director of children’s ministries, on building and strengthening care to children.

Several years ago, Jim and Renee Larson, missionaries from the Cloquet church, began reaching out to churches and pastors throughout the Dominican Republic. They discovered the passion of local ministers to reach their towns and neighborhoods for Christ was often limited by a lack of training or resources. As a result, the Larsons founded Every Day Ministries ( along with their partners, Adrian and Sharon Thomas. Since then they have committed themselves to equipping church leaders, instructing local pastors, and resourcing churches with both teaching opportunities and physical improvements.

“A hurricane thwarted our earlier plans,” Doebler said, “but Jim and Renee are tenacious–and got us to try again.” The effort was well worth it, he explained. “Our church in Minnesota can tap into all sorts of resources: curriculum publishers, leadership training, ministry conferences, and helps provided by various parachurch organizations. But in the DR, those advantages are extremely rare. I thank God for the Larsons and their commitment to stand in the gap, ministering to the ministers.”

Each year a number of short-term mission teams partner with Every Day Ministries to assist in accomplishing some of these goals. Local churches in the Dominican (from a number of evangelical backgrounds) have been blessed with new or improved facilities and evangelistic events.

Divine Connections in Nigeria

In August, Pastor Dean Bjorlin of Valley Christian Church (Breckenridge, Minnesota) and an elder, Vern Aaseby, attended Nigeria’s two-part FCA Convention. Here is Dean’s inspiring report:

What are the odds that the Nigerian man next to me on the plane would have a son attending an American college in, of all places, Fargo, North Dakota-40 minutes from my home? He kept saying, “Wow, this is a Divine circumstance!”

This was not the first such connection. I had traveled to Nigeria once before, in 2005, when I “happened” to meet Bishop Success Samuel. That was the start of a friendship that brought him and his group into the FCA. The work there has now blossomed into 103 local churches, plus more twelve churches in nearby Ghana and three in Togo, and a Bible school. Not bad for a chance meeting five years ago!

This year’s convention was held in two cities (Lagos in the southwest part of the country, and Owerri in the southeast) to make it easier for more pastors to attend. Over the three days in Lagos, speakers included Eric Black (YWAM missionary from Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle, who is living in Port Harcourt), Rev. Mrs. Success Samuel, and the two of us from Minnesota.

The graduation ceremony was a moving time, with the congregation singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as only a crowd of 450 Africans can sing. I challenged the 33 graduates to do their best in what they attempt, to prepare well, and then to trust God to open doors for their ministry. Vern Aaseby shared about the importance of building up the leaders in your church and trusting them to serve with you.

In Owerri, the two-day convention drew about 275. Bishop Stafford Nwaogu shared as well as Eric Black, Vern, and myself.

We came away very impressed with the integrity of leadership among the FCA pastors there. They were very transparent with their members about financial matters. They realize their need to become self-supporting, and desire to do so.

The FCA is alive and well in Nigeria. Keep praying for them.

One Church, One Orphanage

Orphan girls have now moved into an impressive new facility in Itarsi, India, thanks to the giving of just one FCA church. Designed to accommodate 160 girls, the three-story building is part of a group of ministries led by Dr. Matthew Thomas, including a boys orphanage and also Central India Theological Seminary.

“I was in Itarsi to teach at the seminary in September 2008,” says Pastor Paul Vallee of Living Stones Church, Red Deer, Alberta. “One day they asked me to help dedicate an empty piece of land, where they hoped to build an orphanage for girls. As I stood there listening to the various remarks, three powerful thoughts started whirling through my mind.”

The first was, Why can’t some of the richest people in the world help the orphans of some of the poorest people in the world? Nobody had directly asked Vallee for financial help, but he felt drawn to consider the need.

The second thought was that our church family could do this! While his church back in western Canada had its own needs and was facing decisions about land and facilities, Vallee wondered if the coming year should be focused instead on funding something different, a project that held no personal benefit.

That led to a third thought: This could be our church’s “Jericho.” The Israelites were told that in the wake of their first conquest in the Promised Land, “the city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord” (Josh. 6:17). Nobody got to keep anything for themselves. Only when they captured later cities were they allowed to take cattle, furnishings, and other valuables.

“God had promised them the whole land,” says Vallee, “but something was unique about Jericho. God expected it all. I think that the principle of giving to God first is established in the Scriptures.”

So the pastor came home to explore the idea with his elders. They responded positively, and the concept moved along to the church board and eventually the membership. Enthusiasm began to surge. A goal was set: $160,000.

People began thinking of ways to raise money. A church cookbook was created for selling. One of the young adults put on a classical-music concert, raising $5,000. An elderly woman recruited sponsors to donate for each lap she swam in the pool. She ended up swimming more than 180 kilometers (112 miles) over the next few months.

In one particular week, $45,000 came in for the project. People caught the vision and carried it in their hearts. The goal was reached in eight months; total giving from the Red Deer congregation has reached $180,000.

“India is the largest mission field in the world with a very small percentage of Christians,” says Vallee. “Rather than waiting to reach lost adults–as important as that is–our church has gotten excited about transforming the lives of children and training them to make an impact for Christ. God’s Spirit initiated this whole thing, and we’ve been blessed to move along with his leading.”