This fall, about 850 Chinese leaders gathered for their own missions conference even closer to home. They announced from Hong Kong a long-discussed goal: to send 20,000 missionaries from China by the year 2030.
The number is enormous, especially for a country that has sent only a few hundred foreign missionaries so far. Of the world’s top six sending countries, four hover around the 20,000 mark, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC): France, Spain, Italy, and South Korea. Only the United States (127,000) and Brazil (34,000) send more.
By those numbers, reaching 20,000 shouldn’t be hard. The global average for Christians sending foreign missionaries is 175 per million, said CSGC’s Todd Johnson. If China has 100 million Christians, sending 17,500 would meet the average.
However, the Chinese church isn’t aiming for averages but repayment: Chinese leaders estimate about 20,000 missionaries have served in China since the days of Robert Morrison and Hudson Taylor.
“The idea of the 20,000 was based on a gospel debt or missional debt,” said 10/40 Window speaker and author Luis Bush, who addressed the Hong Kong conference. “They see themselves as an extremity of Acts 1:8.”
China’s big goal is reminiscent of South Korea’s pledge in the 1990s to raise 10,000 missionaries in 10 years. South Korean Christians met their goal in 2000 and raised it: they’re now aiming for 100,000 missionaries by 2030.
Adding 20,000 Chinese missionaries “will definitely be a shift in the gravity of Christianity and its impact for the world from the West to the East,” said David Ro, Lausanne’s international deputy director for East Asia.