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Tumbling Toward 2000: Evangelization movements enter the ’90s

If recent history tells us anything, the turn of the century of the millennium, will galvanize attention around the world. 

by Jay Gary

“If recent history tells us anything, the turn of the century of the millennium, will galvanize attention around the world. The celebrations surrounding the American bicentennial, in 1976, the commemoration of the signing of the Constitution of the United States, in 1987, the forthcoming five-hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World in 1992: these will pale before the blaze attending the year 2000. It will roar in aboard a worldwide New Year’s bash of parades, fireworks, television extravaganzas, and yet-to-be invented forms of hype, hoopla, and ballyhoo. And, since the 21st century doesn’t officially begin until January 1, 2001, it will have a full year to play itself out.”

So states Rushworth M. Kidder, senior columnist for The Christian Science Monitor, in his recent book, Reinventing the Future: Global Goals for the 21st Century(MIT Press, 1989).

The attraction of AD 2000 has not gone unnoticed by those who are out to make a buck. The year 2000 has already become the preferred marketplace name for new businesses, shops and enterprises, just about anything imaginable. Furniture companies are springing up as “Furnishings 2000.” TV programs are locking onto titles such as “The Year 2000.” While most marketing schemes have a shelf life of one to two years, this “advertiser’s dream” has a built-in image that will last a decade.

Everybody seems to be getting into the acteven the United Nations. The World Health Organization has adopted the slogan “safe drinking water for all by AD 2000” and the Food and Agriculture Organization is working for “adequate food for all by 2000.” Recently, leaders of private environmental organizations from 22 countries gathered in the Netherlands to adopt an ambitious goal to cut 20% “the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases no later than the year 2000.” Disappointingly so, the Bush administration, not wanting to be boxed in, balked at the year 2000 deadline, and torpedoed the conference.

Evangelization Countdown

Since 1987, most of Christianity’s largest denominations have capitalized on the magic of the year 2000 by dedicating the years 1990-2000 to world outreach. The Assemblies of God call their program the “Decade of Harvest.” The Anglicans call it the “Decade of Evangelism.” Other groups who have found the end-of-the-century a suitable target include programs such as “New Life 2000,” “Vision 2000 Canada”, or “The World by 2000” to name a few.

David Barrett, renown missions researcher and author of the World Christian Encyclopedia, recently wrote about the AD 2000 focus as one of 19 global trends which have emerged since 1980, and one which was completely unanticipated until 1986. Far from being just a “funny date”, it would seem that humanity has never collectively faced such a widely agreed upon milestone as the year 2000.

One of the remarkable things about this push towards AD 2000 among Christians is the breadth of the participation. Since 1984, global Charismatic leaders such as Michael Harper, Larry Christenson, and Vinson Synan, have begun to focus their networks beyond renewal to world evangelization in an effort to “present a majority of the human race as Christian by the year 2000.” They have already sponsored huge congresses in Europe and North America, which have drawn crowds of 10,000 and 45,000 respectively, and more are on the drawing boards.

In addition to these efforts, segments within the Roman Catholic Church are planning “Evangelization 2000”a billion-dollar project that will culminate with a worldwide satellite telecast on Christmas Day in the year 2000. During that telecast, Pope John Paul II or his successor will address a potential audience of at least 5 billion persons. To prepare for this ten-year evangelization effort, Father Tom Forrest has opened an office in Rome. In the past three years, “Evangelization 2000” has launched a five-language magazine and kicked off a massive multi-continental effort to train lay evangelists.

Where will all these inspiring speeches on the year 2000 take us? Will this collection of evangelistic plans quickly peak and fizzle out as others have done in previous decades? Or could the church possibly attain by AD 2000what many of these programs dream ofthe completion of world evangelization?

The Quest for Closure

Tantalizing prospects of “completing the task” of world evangelization by the turn of the century are talked about in meetings of mission executives today. Decade old estimates of unreached peoples have been spruced up. “Countdown charts” listing the numbers of unreached peoples needing to be reached throughout the next decade have proliferated. Mission advocates boldly emphasize that it is possible to plan towards the completion of the Great Commission without simultaneously equating that with Christ’s second coming. The quest for worldwide “closure” of the evangelistic task has become a noble endeavor, capturing the imaginations of thousands as the quest for the Holy Grail did a millennia ago.

One crusader who has tirelessly promoted a vision of closure has been Dr. Ralph Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission. For more than a decade he has spun off an entire “theology of closure” around the slogan, “A Church for Every People By the Year 2000.” Rather than talk about evangelizing every person, Winter advocates the establishment of an evangelizing church movement within every unreached group, which he now numbers at 12,000.

These days, however, Winter is quick to emphasize that he is not predicting the task will be done, only that it can be done, if we act now. He admits that in 1980, back when he helped bring prominence to his watchword, “It was much easier to think that almost anything could be done by the year 2000!” While the think tank at the U.S. Center for World Mission has proved to be a successful incubator of dreams to complete the task of world evangelization, so far the successful delivery of any viable programs in this area have alluded them.

The way you define closure largely determines whether it can be finished in a decade. Bible translators are primarily focused on those groups which yet to have Scriptures in their language, estimated today to be 6% of the world’s population. Even so, closure by AD 2000 in the global translation task seems an uphill battle. Dr. John Bendor-Samuel, Executive Vice President of Wycliffe Bible Translators, forecasts that at current rates of starting new work among 40 groups a year, it will take until the year 2037 before all groups have a portion of Scripture in their own language.

Bendor-Samuel does not mean to imply that Bible translation work is languishingjust the opposite. He feels that the 20th century has seen such an acceleration of the task of Bible translation through new recruits, professional methods and new research, that it can now predict the end is in sight, even though their goal is more than four decades away. Virtually every specialized Christian ministry today, whether they are working in Christian broadcasting, missionary radio, evangelistic films, cassette tapes, or Bible translation, recognize that they are one part of a larger effort to fulfill the Great Commission.

No stand-alone denomination, mission agency, or specialized work will reach the world for Christ on its own. Working from this assumption about “closure” in 1988, David Barrett conducted a global survey of major denominations and mission plans who had AD 2000 goals. A number of the goals he received back from his survey originated in languages other than English, such as Bengali, French, Chinese, Korean, German, and Spanish. This massive survey resulted in a composite list of 168 global goals which targeted the year 2000.

In the final report, the goals were classified according to the seven mandates of Christ’s Great Commission: Receive, Go, Witness, Proclaim, Disciple, Baptize, and Train. Some goals put forth by agencies were as straight forward as “place a Bible in the hands of every family on earth by 2000.” Others were broader in focus, such as “Curtail by AD 2000 the worst manifestations of the world’s `structures of sin’ through determined Christian publication and activism” or “Enroll 170 million Christians in a world prayer force promising to pray daily for successful closure of world evangelization by 2000.”

Barrett claims each of the 168 goals are “a final closure goal to complete an aspect of world evangelization by AD 2000, and keep it completed beyond” that date. He admits that it is not necessary for all 168 goals to be achieved: “If only 10 or at most 20 of these goals were to be achieved, then world evangelization would certainly be completed by anybody’s and everybody’s definition.”

Using multiple measures to describe what a world would look like if evangelized by the year 2000, can only affirm the diverse ministries in the body of Christ, whether expressed in terms of evangelism, acts of mercy or discipleship. And calling for reasonable goals to be set for a decade, seems to be an idea that can only aid the church as it strives to make the great commission understandable and achievable.

The Window of Opportunity

As the 1990s begin, any lingering questions about “closure” are fast being replaced by practical questions such as: “How far and how fast can we go in world evangelization in the course of ten years? . . . . What would be reasonable evangelization goals by the year 2000neither so vast as to be unrealistic, nor so easily reached as to be insignificant?”

One recent effort to measure where we are at in world evangelization was a mind-stretching report prepared for the Lausanne II Congress in Manila. Missiologists from five continents were asked to resolve discrepancies in lists of global statistics and produce a unified set of authoritative figures for the ’90s. Their final report, entitled “The World in Figures” surprised many by putting the number of unevangelized persons in the world at 1.3 billion, or 26% of the world’s population, lower than commonly thought.

Contrary to popular impressions that the world is rapidly being evangelized, the report forecasted the population of the unevangelized world would drop from 26% to only 24% by AD 2000, if present trends continue. If church growth exceeding today’s levels were to definitively jump during the next decade, the percentage of unevangelized persons in the world would drop from 26% to 16%, far less than an AD 2000 closure goal of 1% or less left unevangelized.

Clearly, if we are to address the challenges of the year 2000, major changes are necessary in how we think and carry out world evangelization. Even AD 2000 activists have acknowledged they face a brief window of opportunity, perhaps from now until 1994, or 1995 at best, during which decisive action for AD 2000 is possible. After that time, they acknowledge it will no longer be possible for even major movements to do anything conclusive by the year 2000.

Hammering Out an AD 2000 Agenda

What would a global evangelization agenda for the year 2000 look like? What new things is God giving His church today that leaders must serve? How can we insure that the ’90s will really be a turnaround decade?

Questions like these and others undergird the discussions which prepared for the “Global Consultation on AD 2000 and Beyond” in Singapore last year, which drew 300 top Mission leaders. To keep this conversation going at the global level, a handful of activists, led by David Barrett, author of the World Christian Encyclopedia, have put forward a “Global Action Plan”, a checklist of innovations which need to be implemented in the early ’90s if the overall AD 2000 goal is to be reached.

A third of the 109 innovations put forward in this document deal with overcoming crucial problems which have eluded the best of evangelization plans in the past, such as point 56: “Redeploy Christian missionaries who work with heavily christianized populations to non-Christian populations.” Another third of the points invoke the aid of modern technology unavailable just 10 years ago to accelerate communications between mission leaders.

Since its unveiling in January of 1989, the Global Action Plan has stimulated further creativity, and caused its fair share of controversy. Initial media reports circulated after the “Global Consultation” in Singapore indicated that some leaders felt the Global Action Plan could be perceived as top-down planning, ignoring grass roots input. This initial criticism, however, has not stemmed some peoples’ enthusiasm to develop a global AD 2000 agenda. The action plan’s coordinator, Todd Johnson, reports from his office in Rockville, Virginia that more than 12 mission agencies have established formal “global desks” in the last six months to work together as a network to forward specific checklist points.

This global networking approach seems to be the Action Plan’s greatest strength. Despite its strong research base, its ecumenical backing, its publications and consultations, it is still too early to tell what impact this global checklist will have.

In a world which is captivated by short-term causes, the year 2000 seems to provide a built-in, ideal framework for Christian leaders to refocus the attention of their publics on long-term solutions to difficult problems. For too long, the Christian world has allowed their denominations and mission agencies to do stand-alone planning. One of the greatest benefits of the AD 2000 programs may be simply to stimulate more cooperation among Christian leaders.

The Advent of the Third Millennium

In just ten brief years, AD 2000 will mark the end of one century, and signal the dawn of a new one and of the third millennium. Seen in this light, the year 2000 is the celebration of Christ’s incarnation in order to be the center piece for all creation, for all history, and for all nations. The advent of the Third Millennium means nothing less than a greater presence of the Lord Jesus. This gift of Christ is not just for me, or for my denomination, or for my favorite para-church ministry, or for people who believe like I do, but for the whole church, and ultimately the whole world.

To me, this is what it means to face the obligations of being a Christian in the 1990s. If we stay true to our calling, then on January 1, 2001 after the great fireworks and fanfare die down, we will find ourselves closer to reaching the goals that really matter.

This is the vision of what it means to be a Christian in the ’90s. If we stay true to this heavenly calling, then on January 1, 2001, after the great fireworks and fanfare die down from the great global festivities for the year 2000, we will find ourselves further along towards reaching the goals which really matter.

This article first appeared in World Christian magazine, January 1990.

Dr. Jay Gary is president of, a foresight consulting group. Over the past twenty years he has helped non-profits, foundations, civic leaders, and strategic alliances to create more promise filled futures. He also teaches strategic foresight, innovation and leadership at the graduate level and through professional development courses.

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