The Eloquence of Missionary Statistics -- By: Harold Lindsell

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 113:451 (Jul 1956)
Article: The Eloquence of Missionary Statistics
Author: Harold Lindsell

The Eloquence of Missionary Statistics

Harold Lindsell

[Harold Lindsell is Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Missions at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.]

Ten years have passed since the end of World War II. During this decade (1945–55) great changes have taken place in the overseas missionary efforts of the Christian church.

While statistics never tell either the whole or the true story, yet, in a rough way, they serve as a guide to our understanding of the missionary enterprise. Statistics are not always reliable, partly because complete ones cannot be secured, and partly because they require interpretation and interpretations tend to become earth-bound and biased, either consciously or unconsciously, depending upon the individual. Despite differences of interpretation and minor divergencies, however, certain trends are apparent and certain conclusions may be validly drawn from the available data.

In 1925 the number of foreign missionaries from North America totalled between 13,000 and 14,000 (Beach and Fahs, World Missionary Atlas). This number was approximately half of the entire foreign missionary personnel of all the Protestant sending agencies in the world. As one of the results of the great depression which began in 1929, the number of missionaries from North America was gradually reduced until by 1936 it had shrunk almost twenty percent to slightly more than 11,000 (11,151).

World War II caused further missionary attrition, so that by 1945 the number of missionaries from North America had dropped below 8,000. Fortunately this marked decline did not represent a trend, but was occasioned by a global war which was not of our choosing. Immediately upon the close

of World War II, large contingents of missionaries sailed for foreign fields. Within five years the low figure of the war period had almost doubled. By 1952 there were between 18,000 and 19,000 missionaries from North America. By 1955 this figure exceeded 21,000.

From these preliminary figures some tentative conclusions may be drawn. In the first place, the high water mark of 1925, with 13,000 to 14,000 missionaries, has in 1955 been reached and surpassed by better than fifty percent. Thus in 1955 the figures represent the largest number of missionaries from North America that we have ever seen. Secondly, the major base for foreign missionary endeavor is now clearly located in North America and particularly in the United States. Whatever may have been the strategic position of Europe in days past in missions, the future of missionary endeavor lies largely in the hands of the Americans and the Canadians. Nothing on the visibl...

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