The purpose of Operation World is to inform and inspire God’s people to prayer and action in order to change the world. Statistics are an essential element of this, giving a solid factual basis for all that follows. These carefully researched figures are the spine of Operation World, giving strength and support to the prayer points that flesh out the book. We believe that careful observation and fact-finding, done with discernment and trust in God, is entirely scriptural. Some wrongly associate statistical research with God’s anger against Israel and judgement of King David’s census in 2 Samuel 24. Yet God also permitted, favoured and even instructed the gathering and use of meticulous statistics and careful enumeration by Moses, Joshua, the Chronicler, Ezra, Ezekiel, Luke, John and others in Scripture.
The availability, consistency and accuracy of secular, religious and Christian statistics vary enormously from country to country, denomination to denomination, mission agency to mission agency. Some groups do not even keep statistics. The inadequacy of many sources, varied dates of publication, the refusal to divulge information (usually for security reasons) as well as the sheer time frame over which Operation World is compiled make for an inevitable margin of error. Add to this our own human limitations, and we plead for grace from the readers. Should any errors or discrepancies be discovered – an inevitability despite rigorous checking and proofing – please Contact Us to submit suggestions or corrections. We welcome input and dialogue; the entire premise of the ministry is collaborative, relying heavily upon literally thousands of contacts and correspondents scattered around the globe.
We pray that these statistics and prayer points present a reasonably balanced account of what God is doing in our world and of the challenges facing us as we press on to complete the Great Commission. Apart from Operation World, only the World Christian Database/World Religions Database shares our ambition (folly?) in attempting so massive a task as compiling a comprehensive body of data relating to the world’s religions, denominations, and churches, as well as to the progress of the Great Commission.
A number of fundamental assumptions have been made in compiling Operation World. We realize that we will never satisfy all readers, but we trust that we have been sensitive to other theological and political points of view beyond our own. The people directly involved in the composition of Operation World have represented at least 12 nationalities, 3 generations and 25 denominations. Even this is only a tiny proportion of the vast diversity in the body of Christ. Our own perspectives inevitably influence the selection of material and opinions expressed, and for these we must accept responsibility. All views here expressed are our own and not necessarily those of our publishers, partners, or of any organization mentioned in this book. We cherish constructive advice for future revisions and always endeavour to engage in fruitful dialogue with our critics. A number of these have eventually become some of our more helpful correspondents! We made the following decisions:
We are writing for Bible-believing Christians who want to obey the last great command of the Lord Jesus by evangelizing the world and fulfilling the Great Commission. This means primarily – but not exclusively – evangelical Christians (which broadly means Protestant, Independent and Anglican Christians), though we realize there are many outside these categories who use Operation World. We trust that we have been sensitive enough to enable this book to be used more widely, yet without compromising our own theological position.
As evangelical believers, we attempt to take a central position in more controversial issues that perplex evangelicals, such as church government, baptism, the sovereignty of God, the work of the Holy Spirit and social involvement. The perceptive reader will possibly discern an unintended bias that reflects the author’s own views. In a broader sense, Operation World closely associates its outlook with that of the Lausanne Covenant (as well as the Manila Manifesto and Cape Town Confession), not just in theology but also in framing our understanding of the nature and scope of the Great Commission.
We, the Operation World team, are predominantly white Westerners (although decreasingly so!) and, as such, cannot divorce ourselves completely from the societies and cultures from which we have emerged. We have, however, sought as far as possible to write about each country by balancing the local perspective with the broader, global perspective. This means we have, at times, spoken to the endemic wrongs of a specific nation or Church. Our desire is that this book be of global value. What might have seemed to us prophetic forthtelling regarding a nation’s ills might come across as insensitive judgementalism. Our aim here was for balance, but we have no doubt fallen short in a number of instances.
With the accelerating rate of change in the world, the idea of “up-to-the minute” statistics is a specious myth! Any statistic seen in print or on the web is almost certainly “out of date” before you even read it. Nevertheless, the purpose of Operation World is to trace the work of God through the years and decades. The prayer points are framed in such a way as to not be invalidated, for example, by an election, a natural disaster or any other temporal change in a nation; they are long-term issues that usually take decades of sustained intercession to see significant changes. That said, there is nothing we would like more than to see the entire book invalidated by God miraculously answering every prayer in this volume.
An Emphasis on the Church
Early editions were rightly criticized for overemphasizing mission agencies and the contribution of missionaries. We sought to rectify this, but it is important to realize that these agencies are often the best communicators of prayer information, hence the system of highlighting the initials of mission agencies whose addresses are given in Appendix 3. In these later editions, we centre our information on the body of Christ in each country. Thankfully, our list of thousands of correspondents and contacts is composed of an increasingly equal and effective balance between national Christian leaders and expatriate Christian workers.
The Selection of Agencies Mentioned
Inclusion of a mission agency in Operation World is not intended to be a mark of validation or rejection. We have drawn attention to some having international and interdenominational interest to a wide spectrum of English-speaking readers. A number of influential agencies – especially in certain countries – asked not to be mentioned by name; we have respected this on every such occasion. For others, our efforts to establish mutually-helpful exchanges met with bounced e-mails or even silence.
Ministry Finance and Resource
Trusting God to provide for this massive project is an act of faith. Many people envision some multimillion-dollar sprawling campus with underground bunkers of supercomputers, hyper-qualified, high-flying technical experts and an army of data-entry drones! In truth, as with most research projects and many strategic Great Commission endeavours, we operate with old, often outdated gear in whatever donated or subsidized office space we are allocated. Every person working on the Operation World team is a volunteer or a missionary – sent and supported to this strategic work as his or her field of service. Each of us must trust and call out to God to provide for our financial needs. Very few of us trained specifically for mission research.
All royalties from Operation World books and other resources sold go into a trust fund used to cover the ministry and production costs of future editions. This is one of several reasons the entirety of Operation World is not made available for free on the Internet.
Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.