Category Archives: Missions / Evangelism

What is the Threshold for Considering a Group Reached?

For decades, missionaries did not consider a people group “reached” until 20 percent of the population was considered “evangelical.” Today, the statistical benchmark is 2 percent.

What brought about this change of definition? And how has it impacted missions strategies?

A Course-Correction

Dr. Robin Hadaway, professor of missions at Midwestern Seminary recently wrote an essay for the Southwestern Journal of Theology, in which he recommends a “course-correction” away from the two-percent threshold and back to something like 10 or 20 percent. Hadaway relies on extensive missionary experience as he considers this question; he has been involved in a variety of mission efforts on three continents, and he is a fluent speaker of Arabic, Swahili, and Portuguese.

Hadaway shows how, for decades, missionaries went to geographic countries in order to assess the needs and then plan a course of action. They built clinics and orphanages, staffed hospitals and started schools alongside their church planting efforts.

In the 1950’s, Donald MacGavran’s work led to the rise of “individualized strategies for particular ethnic groups.” C. Peter Wagner and Edward Dayton applied MacGavran’s ethnic focus differently, with a shift away from the most receptive groups (the “Harvest” mentality) toward church planting among the “hidden” and resistant groups.

Over time, the threshold of considering a people group “reached” dropped from 20% evangelical to 2% (this is the statistic of the Joshua Project and Operation World). But Hadaway considers the 2% threshold to be too low, and he cites sociologist Boeslaw Szymanski to make this point:

“When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible …


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