For many years we have partnered in the CPI Leadership Team with Dan Iverson missionary with Mission to the World (a fellow JEMA member) of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). These are adapted comments from one of his letters…
“The statistics for those spiritually lost in Japan make me weep. 70,000 new churches are needed. Is this “Mission Impossible”? These numbers here show why Japan continues to be listed as the second largest unreached people group (UPG) in the world. The 8,000 protestant churches (more than 8 times the number of Roman Catholic parishes/churches) might seem like a large number. But in the US Metro Atlanta alone has many more than that. With a population of 127 million, Japan has only one Protestant church for every 16,000 people (1/ 16,000). In the USA, one of the most reached countries in the world the ratio is 1/ 1000, with some places in the “Bible belt” being 1/ 300 or 1/ 400. Some might say that many of the churches in the USA are not good churches; but possibly many churches in Japan are also not solid churches, and the average size of these 8,000 churches in Japan is only 35.
After World War II, General MacArthur called for 10,000 missionaries to come to Japan, but only a few thousand came. In 1983 there were 2,613 missionaries in Japan. In 2013 that number was down to 1,868, a 30% loss. Southern Baptist (IMB) missionary numbers dropped from 159 to 46 over this 30- year period, and TEAM, the largest mission in Japan in 1983, from 195 missionaries to 60.
This incredible decline in the number of missionaries would not be so sad if all these missionaries had been replaced by a growing number of indigenous Japanese pastors. This is the ultimate goal in good mission work. But tragically, the number of Japanese pastors is also rapidly decreasing. They are aging and becoming few in number.
Some leading missions experts say that to “reach” a country, to get the gospel within reach of every person, we need one church for every 1,500 people (1/ 1,500). The USA surpasses this goal by 50%! Praise the Lord! But for Japan to get to a 1/ 1,500 ratio we need about 70,000 new churches (factoring in that some of the 8000 existing churches will die). When we think that Protestant church planting began in Japan 150 years ago, yet there are still only 8,000 churches, this mission before us seems very impossible.
Jesus said He would build His church. Our mission is focused on church planting as the best way to reach Japan. Jesus commanded us to pray for workers as a means to this end (Matt 9, Luke 10). Please continue to pray for new career missionaries, and new Japanese harvest laborers in our Japan ministry. While many mission groups are decreasing in their missionary numbers, God has blessed and we have grown from under 15 in 1983 to over 50 today. Thank you for your prayers for laborers. Please continue to pray for many more. And for the even greater challenge of more godly, gifted Japanese ministry partners (and for the other evangelical mission agencies and churches of Japan). If God raised up 20,000 new Japanese and missionary laborers it will still be too few for the task before us. Please pray with us. Please prayerfully consider being one of those many laborers needed!”