Some are calling this “the craziest statistic you’ll read about North American missions.” Missiologist Todd M. Johnson and his team found that 20 percent of non-Christians in North America do not “personally know” any Christians. That means 1 in 5 non-Christians in North America don’t have any kind of functioning relationship with a Christian. So what is a Christian according to this study?
“The World Christian Database defines ‘Christians’ as ‘followers of Jesus Christ of all kinds; all traditions and confessions; and all degrees of commitment.’”
So to understand this survey properly, you will need to interpret the label Christian in a very broad sense. In fact, the study recognizes six different Christian traditions.
“The World Christian Database divides global Christianity into six major traditions: Anglicans, Independents, Marginals, Orthodox, Protestants, and Roman Catholics. Marginals include individuals who hold most mainstream Christian doctrines but with significant theological differences from most other people who identify themselves as Christians (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Independent movements are those that are separate from historical denominationalist Christianity (the other five traditions), and exist predominantly in Africa and Asia.”
This study includes many religious denominations under the umbrella of “Christian,” including Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodox, and even cults. Thus, it is safe to conclude that the percentage of non-Christians in North America who are acquainted with evangelical, Bible-believing Christians would be far less than 20 percent!
The study concludes that immigration is the biggest factor in explaining why so many North American non-Christians don’t know Christians. People immigrating from outside of North America bring with them their own religious traditions and isolate themselves to communities of family members and other people from their own culture. They rarely venture into relationships with strangers outside of their cultural network.
A gospel-believing Christian with a desire to make disciples and reach the world should consider this information and prayerfully ask this important question: “Who is the 20+% in my life?”
Are there neighbors, co-workers, and people with whom you do regular business that have no knowledge of your faith in Christ? Are these people ignorant because you maintain a private sort of Christianity that fails to speak about Christ and the gospel to strangers? Are they distant because of cultural, social, religious, or economic barriers?
Let me encourage you to ask God for spiritual freedom to speak to others about Christ. Step out by faith and begin to tell others about Jesus. The Holy Spirit will enable this sort of humble obedience. You will discover new relationships and opportunities to point people to Christ.
Let me also encourage you to ask God for ways to show yourself friendly to people in your life that live in a foreign paradigm. The gospel is more than powerful enough to overcome social and cultural barriers, but not without Christians actively seeking to be salt and light in dependence upon the Holy Spirit! Who in the 20+% can you reach out to in the next few weeks? What steps will you take? Will you prayerfully consider this open door right here in North America?
Thomas Overmiller serves as a Bible professor at Baptist College of Ministry in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.