For some years now, the idea that there are more Four-Fifths-World missionaries than Western missionaries has been showing up in various missions presentations and publications. Unfortunately, it is just not true. (1)
This idea stems from Larry Pate's 1989 book From Every People, which makes a very important contribution to our understanding of the Four-Fifths-World missions movement. He projected, "If both the Western missionary force and the Two-Thirds World missionary force continue to grow at their current rates ... [by 2000] the majority of Protestant missionaries will be from the non-Western world." More specifically, "The number of Two-Thirds World missionaries holds the very real promise of surpassing the number of Western missionaries by the year 2000." Though Pate warned that "a projection is not a prediction," still the idea has been launched that this projection has become reality. (2) It is one of the great items of missiometrical misinformation of our time. (3)
Note two important things about this assertion. First, for Four-Fifths-World missionaries, Pate counted both domestic and foreign missionaries, but for the Western world he counted only foreign missionaries. (Foreign missionaries leave their country of citizenship to serve God in another country; domestic missionaries serve cross-culturally within their own land, such as those from South India who serve among tribal peoples in central India, or Anglo-Americans who serve among Asians, Hispanics, or international students in America.) To arrive at a fair conclusion, Pate should have compared the same kind of missionaries--either foreign only or both foreign and domestic--for both regions of the world. He did not, however, and thus the size of the Four-Fifths-World missionary force is disproportionately large (or that of the Western world too small); the comparison is not valid.
Second, Pate projected that the Four-Fifths-World missionary force would maintain a constant growth rate, with no slowing of the pace. Over time, however, new social or religious movements rarely show a consistent pattern of growth. There is almost always a significant slowing of the growth rate of such movements, and the growth rate of the Four-Fifths-World missions movement since 1989 has been no exception.
Pate's projection was thus built on the foundation of these two errors. Since 1989 both David Barrett in the World Christian Encyclopedia and the team of Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk in Operation World have done the actual counting, and both show that Pate's projection failed to come true.
The second edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia (2001) shows the number of all Christian missionaries, from all ecclesiastical traditions. By the authors' count, as shown in table 1, in the year 2000 there were more than four times as many Western missionaries as missionaries from the Four-Fifths World.
The 2001 edition of Operation World shows a similar pattern. Johnstone and Mandryk were more limited in their scope, counting only Protestant, Independent, and Anglican (PIA) missionaries. In table 2 the column "Total national missionaries" includes both foreign and domestic missionaries, for both the Four-Fifths World and the Western world. There the Four-Fifths World total is close to the Western world total, but still smaller. For foreign missionaries, though, there were more than three times as many Western missionaries (PIA) as missionaries from the Four-Fifths World.
But what about growth trends? For this point, see table 3, which compares statistics from the fifth edition of Operation World with statistics from the sixth edition. Preparing this table required some adjusting. First, the two editions divided the world's global regions differently, so that in some cases I had to go to the country level of statistics to get the 1990 figures to correlate with those for 2000. Second, the 1993 edition presents figures for "Protestant" missionaries, versus for "PIA" missionaries in the 2001 edition. …