Sometime during the summer of 1987 the five billionth person was born on planet earth. The demographers don't really know the exact date, though they have assigned July 11th just for the purpose of giving a date to this milestone event. Neither do they know in what nation it occurred, but good speculation has it that the baby was born in a third world country and will live out its life in poverty.
When Jesus took His fleshly walk among us there were only about 200 million people on earth. By 1850 the population had grown to 1 billion. Just one century later, in 1950, the population had more than doubled to 2.5 billion. Now, within only 37 years, it has doubled again to 5 billion. Most of us have seen this latest change in our lifetime. And, before many of us pass on we may well see the population double again!
Though we tire of being reminded about it, the church must face the fact that Jesus gave us a commission to take His saving gospel to the whole of mankind. Each generation of Christians inherit this responsibility. Because this task appears unrealistic to so many of today's brethren, churches everywhere are giving up on mission works. They don't even want us missionaries dropping in...they don't even want to try! But TRY is what our Lord asked us to do. We sow and water, but He alone gives the increase (I Corinthians 3:6). We are the ones who have taken the GO out of His commission, and now we only preach the good news to ourselves in our own buildings. I know of several missionaries who, through tearful eyes, have read these words in a letter from their sponsoring church: "We are sorry to inform you that we have had to drop your support from our budget...we are going into a building program." Great, another new building so we can preach the good news to ourselves!
Is it unrealistic for a church to still do mission work? Of course it isn't! Things are changing in China and one out of every four people on earth lives there. Opportunities for sending missionaries to China are greater now than they have been in over forty years. One out of every six people on earth lives in India and a few of us have been going there for the last decade. Many good mission works there are just now to the point that they can be built on, but the letters from home say "no more support, we're getting out of missions and into building programs."
Well, according to the demographers there is no relief in sight. In 1988 the world's population will grow about 1.6 percent which means roughly 80 million souls will be added to our group of unevangelized peoples. By far, the majority of these births will take place in third world countries of Africa, Asia and South America. The United States will not notice much change, except our population will have less youth and more elderly people...perhaps our comfortable buildings will come in handy! The Islamic world will increase from its present 854 million. They represent the fastest growing religious group in the world. The Hindus will certainly add to their 658 million population...Hindus religiously resist all forms of birth control. Even the atheists predict additions to their 224 million adherents. And what are we planning to do? Well, it appears that the brethren will be sitting on padded pews in their brand new buildings when Jesus comes.
Let me not close with such a facetious tone. We can turn things around. One zealous member is capable of changing the thinking of a whole congregation back in the right direction. Talk to your brethren. Reason with them about the true work of the church. Study the purpose of the church in the classrooms. Inspire balance in the thinking of those who never knew or have forgotten the seriousness of the Great Commission. Help the brethren keep buildings and souls in proper perspective. There are five billion people out there...and counting.