I started writing this on November 15, the day the United Nations projections estimated the world’s population would tick over 8 billion. I’m not really a numbers guy (it’s why I write)—although others in my family are more into the finance side, I’m definitely sticking to the humanities. However, statistics have often caught my interest, especially when they tell us a story about trends, human behaviour or give some insight beyond the expected or obvious.
So when I heard, on my morning commute, that the significant milestone of 8 billion would be reached, it caught my attention. I don’t know about you, but a billion is a unit of measurement that my brain can’t really comprehend. The stats tell an interesting story. Earth’s estimated population (all of these figures are projections and estimates) exploded in the past 200 years adding 7 billion to its number. It is now increasing by a billion every 10 to 15 years. But that growth will slow and start to reverse after a predicted peak of 10.4 billion in 2080.1 Why? Because people are having less kids and populations are living longer, all indications of a shrinking society.
For now, we’ll leave aside questions of how many people the world can actually sustain and speculation over what might happen in the future that might impact population numbers (war, famine, diseases). This editorial could go in that direction. But for now I’m interested in the faith and evangelism implications of these numbers.
Christians often claim the gospel will reach all the earth before the end of the world based on something Jesus said in Matthew 24:14. What it actually means to have it “preached in the whole world” could be debated. As a child, I understood it to mean to be that the Adventist message would have to be preached to the whole world. Not only that, but that before the very end, everyone would have a choice to become an Adventist or not, and by extension, if we could make that happen, give everyone in the world a choice, then Jesus would come back. In other words, although no-one knew the time or the hour, we could force Jesus to return, if we did the work. If that was the case, the situation looks pretty hopeless.
According to data, the world population of Christians is around 2.3 billion (or was in 2020)—a little over a quarter—meaning it is the largest religion in the world. But it has not been growing at the same rate as the population, and due to birth rates in other groups, is not the fastest growing. That means there is a long way to go before the gospel is proclaimed to every nation, tribe, tongue and people (Revelation 14:6) and we are losing ground.
There are 70 people for every Adventist in the South Pacific Division although some areas have a much higher ratio and some far less.
Thankfully the work is not ours alone because statistically it seems impossible. It is a supernatural mission with a supernatural agent assisting us.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
We are called to be witnesses. The power comes from God.
God knows every one of the 8 billion people on this planet. He is the only one who knows the exact number of people at any given time and He loves and cares for all of them. That’s huge to think about. We often personalise the gospel but God loves and knows every being, Christian or not. He’s committed to reaching them.
Does that mean we should give up? No. We are called to be willing and available. More than that we can be faithful in our spheres of influence and with the blessings we’ve received. We’re called to be faithful servants, good stewards, with our time, talent and money. To control what we can control and do the best and most with what we are given.
In the face of a seemingly insurmountable task, we are all called to break it down to one person at a time. Who can we share our joy, peace, presence and the gospel with?