Overwhelming Numbers and the Goal of Missions

The number of the unreached is daunting, but it pales in comparison to the number of God’s people.

There’s a number that is absolutely overwhelming to me.

From school days, we learned the digits zero through nine. We understood the small quantities they represented. We also discovered that one or any combination of those ten digits can identify every possible quantity, size, or amount. To infinity and beyond.

Conceptually, most of us can relate to tens, hundreds, thousands, and even ten-thousands. We begin to lose touch with hundreds of thousands and millions. But when we get to one billion or more, we start to blow circuit chips in our brains.

Just scan the numbers below and recognize—there’s a point at which your brain tunes out and can’t process what you’re seeing.

  • 1
  • 10
  • 100
  • 1,000
  • 10,000
  • 100,000
  • 1,000,000
  • 10,000,000
  • 100,000,000
  • 1,000,000,000…

Now, consider the figure 3,240,000,000. This number is overwhelming.

We also write it like this: 3.24 billion. We can understand this number in a sense. But we cannot comprehend this number.

This number is daunting. For those involved with missions, this number drives us and frustrates us. This number motivates us and discourages us all at the same time. We understand it mathematically. But we cannot comprehend it experientially. It is simply too big.

This is the number of people living on our planet who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. These people have no Bible, no church, and less than two percent who call themselves Christians. This number is overwhelming.

A number that might be easier to understand is 8.4 million, the population of New York City. It is still a big number. But, if you have been to New York City or have seen an aerial photo of the city, you can get a sense of 8.4 million. However, it would take 385 New York Cities lined up next to each other to get to 3.24 billion.

Here is another number: 330 million. This is the population of the United States. Maybe we can get our heads around that number too. But it would take 10 USAs to get to the number 3.24 billion. This number is overwhelming.

Think about this.

The Bible also provides a number that is overwhelming and difficult to comprehend. That number is spelled out in Revelation 7:9: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number….”

God gave the Apostle John a vision of future events. In this passage, he saw a large group of redeemed people standing before the throne and before the Lamb. English translations all use similar phrases: great multitude, vast multitude, great crowd, and large crowd. The multitude was so big that no one could number or count them.

That number is different than 3.24 billion. That number is bigger than 3.24 billion.

That number also drives us. But instead of discouraging and frustrating us, that number encourages and motivates us. Why? Because that number represents the culmination of the missionary endeavor.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)

That number is God’s picture of the future. That number reminds us that God loves and redeems people from every place on the planet regardless of race, ethnicity, or background. That number reminds us that our missionary efforts are not in vain.

Numbers never tell the full story. But it’s critical for believers and churches to always be thinking about these kinds of Great Commission numbers. That is why ABWE is helping sending churches to launch missionary teams to open seven fields to seven unreached people groups in the next seven years.

We have targeted 225 million in South Asia, 38 million Fulani in West Africa, 13.5 million Syrian refugees in Europe, 37 million Japanese in Tokyo, 10 million in Southeast Asia, and 672,000 in the Caribbean Basin. We are reaching the unreached through our new Open Initiative.

Don’t let this number of 3.24 billion unreached peoples overwhelm your missionary efforts. Let that number of a multitude that cannot be counted reinvigorate them. What a joy for us. We play a role in fulfilling Revelation 7. Let’s go!

…Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 7:12)

You can ignite a missionary spirit in your church.

By partnering with the Open Initiative, you can join us in reaching seven countries in seven years.

Bobby Hile

Bobby Hile was ABWE’s Director of Long-Term Mobilization. Prior to that, he served for 9 years as a senior pastor in Ohio and for almost 20 years with ABWE as a missionary in South Africa.