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We’re Not There Yet, But We’re Heading in the Right Direction.

January 10, 2013
Patrick Johnstone

Johnstone paved the way for tracking religious movements around the globe.

For most of history, writers guessed at the number of religious adherents in the world. Today, we see more clearly the state of the gospel in every country because one man started collecting the numbers and checking and rechecking them and correcting them. He did this so that we may pray for the further advance of the preaching of the gospel everywhere.  I honor the man who got the whole world of statistics in his hands: Patrick Johnstone. All of us owe Patrick a debt we cannot repay. Patrick collected his scraps of paper and typed them into eight pages in 1964, so that he could lead a week-long prayer meeting in Kenya.

Later he added some hand drawn graphs and printed a thin paperback called Operation World. Seven editions later, Operation World runs to nearly 1,000 pages and includes growth trends for all the major religions, and all the versions of Christianity. It is also online at: www.operationworld.org. I was privileged to edit the entry on Iraq in the latest edition.

From Seed to Fruit

Johnstone’s work details how far we have to go to fulfill our mission.

We salute you, Patrick Johnstone, for gathering in one place all the statistics and getting them into print to help us know where to put the pushpins into the maps of where the preaching of the gospel has begun. Only then could we know what we needed to know: all the places and peoples in the Muslim world where the Gospel work has not begun, “where there are no push pins in any missionary maps.”

At the March 2007 meeting in Pattaya Thailand, Patrick Johnstone presented a fairly discouraging picture of the state of the Gospel in Muslim countries. You can read his remarks in the opening chapter of From Seed to Fruit, the collection of 30 valuable presentations made by field practitioners at the Thailand meetings (Note: the presenters were addressing 800 field workers, all church planters among Muslims—this conference was no mere academic exercise).

In his sobering report on the state of the gospel work in Muslim countries, Johnstone noted:

  • Militant Islam was battering the ancient churches of the East in Egypt, Iraq, and Iran and Palestine. There are actually fewer Christians in these countries than a few decades ago.
  • Muslim population growth. “Over the period 1900 to 2050, the world population will have grown nearly six-fold, but the number of Muslims will have grown more than twelve-fold and increased in population from 0.2 billion to 2.5 billion.”[1]
  • Massive decline in the number of Christians in Europe during the last century.

However (however!) Patrick had one hopeful fact to report as well:

  • Evangelical Christianity is growing far faster Islam. Moreover, while Islamic growth is almost exclusively biological (the number of converts to Islam is exaggerated), large numbers of new Evangelicals are declaring their faith in Jesus Christ for the first time.

Patrick then turned our thoughts to the question of whether some Muslims, or perhaps many Muslims, have come to faith in Jesus Christ—true faith that obeys—that go unreported and are in fact unknown. (What is known, all too well, is that numbers of Muslims who once declared faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord found the pressures too great, and returned to Islam. Don’t think it couldn’t happen to you.) “It is difficult to know,” Patrick concludes, “how many Jesus-centered believers there are who have come out or remain within Islam to one degree or another. We may never know until Christ returns just how many there are, but one day we may be surprised at the number of disciples of Jesus who rise from Muslim graves.”[2]


[1] Patrick Johnstone, “Look at the Fields: Survey of the Task,” in From Seed to Fruit, ed. J. Dudley Woodberry(Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2011). 3

[2] Ibid. 8

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