This is a tale of two countries.
Country One has no gospel witness whatsoever. Our frontier missionary mandate calls us to respond with Bible translation, missionaries on the field, prayers and financial support in order to carry the gospel to a people group among whom the name of Christ has never once been uttered.
Country Two has a slight gospel witness. While fewer than five percent of this people group are Christians, they have shown some receptivity to the gospel message, and the fields are ripe for many souls to be saved. Our harvest missionary mandate calls us to respond with resources, education, missionaries, prayers and financial support in order to spread the gospel among a people group just starting to flourish in the Lord.
While both missionary mandates are biblical responses to the lostness of our world, the present missionary strategy of our IMB is quite heavily weighted in favor of the frontier mandate over against the harvest mandate. At least one Southern Baptist scholar, missiologist and former missionary is calling us back to a more balanced approach.
In the Fall 2014 issue of the Southwestern Journal of Theology, Dr. Robin Dale Hadaway, Professor of Missions and Vice-President of Institutional Initiatives at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, argues persuasively that the appropriate threshold for measuring the “relative reachness” of a population shifted rapidly when Patrick Johnstone and Luis Bush of the Joshua Project of the AD 2000 Movement, among others, determined that the previously accepted twenty percent figure was simply too high. He writes, “If the twenty percent designation was somewhat arbitrary, then two percent is astoundingly so.” (SWJT, Fall 2014, pg. 22-23)
Hadaway goes on to cite a 2011 study at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute indicating that if the number of committed opinion holders in a population is below ten percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. (SWJT, Fall 2014, pg. 24)
Generally, Southern Baptists today are deploying our missionaries on the basis of a two percent “reachness” threshold, which is to say that when a missionary from a people group retires, if that people group is considered to be at least “two percent reached,” then no missionary will be sent to replace them in the field and carry on the work. Rather, the new missionary will be sent to a people group with 0% gospel witness, or no access to the gospel at all, in order to fulfill the frontier mandate referenced above in the example of Country One.
Fortunately, Dr. Hadaway does not merely analyze our questionable strategy and trace its historical source. He also advocates a solution that is entirely reasonable, balanced and biblical. It is a solution that takes seriously both the frontier mandate and the harvest mandate. It is a course correction Southern Baptists need right now in order to carry out the Great Commission with a prudent missiological strategy rather than hanging our hat upon the shaky nail of a very questionable Two Percent Threshold theory. Dr. Hadaway’s solution is simply to allocate our IMB resources in the following fashion: 40% Unreached, 40% Harvest, 15% Education and 5% Administration.
This is a tale of two countries. Southern Baptists want to reach them both. Why throw all our eggs in one basket while ignoring the other? Why honor the frontier mandate while neglecting the harvest mandate?
It beats the dickens out of me.