I often meet with leaders of denominations, mission agencies or other Christian organizations and one of the most common questions is;
“How big is YWAM?”
For several reasons, that’s a hard one for me to answer. For example, just yesterday a couple visited us and, during conversation said, “We will always be YWAMers.” They haven’t been full-time YWAMers for nearly 40 years! I hear comments like that everywhere I go. How many people feel that they are part of the big YWAM family? Well, it must be hundreds of thousands, or more likely, millions. Do we count them all?
A deep sense of belonging
That sense of belonging to the YWAM family is a result of a few unusual factors. Probably the most significant one is the “doorway” into YWAM—the DTS (Discipleship Training School). Every person who has an interest in becoming a part of YWAM is immersed for five or six months in a learning community focussed on knowing God and loving one another, then making Him known to others. Back to that later….
Though the question could be answered different ways, most people who ask are wondering how many full-time YWAMers there are. The most honest answer is;
“We don’t know; we quit counting several years ago.”
But, I f I had to guess, I would go along with Loren Cunningham’s estimate, which is about 35,000; but that estimate was made in 2010 and it must be considerably larger now. Upon hearing that estimate, it’s not uncommon for people to say, “That must make it the biggest mission agency ever, right?” Again, I don’t know, but that might be right.
The whole Church to the whole world.
What I do know is that I never imagined YWAM would look like this. When about 4,000 of us gathered in Thailand last year, I could hardly contain the feelings of amazement and gratitude. It wasn’t only about the size; it was seeing so many people of all ages from scores of nations. There were worship teams from so many languages, people who have made such huge sacrifices and those who are reaching the needy and reaching those who have never heard and also those who hunger after truth and need to “see Jesus” in someone. How we have grown!
50th Anniversary of multiplication!
The massive, sustained growth of YWAM began the year I attended the first School of Evangelism in Lausanne Switzerland. There were 23 students in our school. (We will celebrate the 50th anniversary of that beginning next month in Lausanne.) When we had finished, the Lord directed us to pioneer YWAM in the UK. Marti and I asked Loren how we should go about it and he answered, “Why don’t you pray about starting another SOE.” That was a demonstration of such high trust!
A great strategy
It was also the beginning of a strategy: start a multiplier for missions that will not only train young people to reach the world, but each multiplier will start other multipliers. A few years later, we began to develop Discipleship Training Schools—multipliers planting other multipliers. Now there are more than 600 locations where DTSs and other courses are being run and from which new locations can be pioneered.
But we are still so small!
The current world population is about 7.7 billion. Of that number, 2.4 billion would call themselves Christians. Compared to those numbers, the number of missionaries is very small—only about 440,000. That is one missionary for every 17,500 people. That’s the math. To think about how many there should be, we need a little more math.
How many missionaries should there be?
We can only think about this sort of question in a general way, but here is my perspective. God commands his people to give and the threshold for that is a tithe—10%. If every Christian did that, we could support a tenth of the total number of Christians. That would be 240 million full time workers! But that is not realistic because we also spend money on buildings and other material needs. So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s say that half of our giving goes to material needs. That would mean we could only support 120 million workers. Then again, many of those would work in the context of people who have already become Christians; they might be pastors or church administrators or youth leaders.
All those roles are vital to the continuing growth of the followers of Jesus—and the Christ-like growth of existing Christians is a vital part of our witness to the world! If we follow that reasoning and keep it simple, then the number of missionaries would be reduced to 60 million. Based on that thinking, Christians should be able to support more than 100 times as many missionaries as we do now.
I am well aware that some Christians question the idea that there should be missionaries who are supported by giving from others. They point to some of Paul’s passages in the epistles where he stresses that he worked hard to support himself and others who were with him. There is certainly a time and place for self-support through hard work, but Paul also asked for, and received, support from churches and individuals. Jesus and his disciples, along with the many who were sent out by the early church, continued in the Old Testament tradition of 11 tribes supporting one tribe, the Levites. They lived primarily on the giving of the others.
Every Christian is called to be an ambassador for the gospel and that is how the Church is meant to grow, but God still calls some to be the “new Levites”, undistracted by other obligations.
There is enough money
My point is, there is enough money in the hands of Christians to support an exponential growth in the number of missionaries, and there is an obvious need for more “labourers in the harvest”, which is what Jesus told us to pray for.
There is another reason why I claim that YWAM is far too small. About ten years ago, a few mature and reliable friends of YWAM contacted us over a period of a few months with the same message. They did not know one another, so there was no human collaboration; God was speaking to us. The message was that we were going to experience ten-fold growth, so we should get ready. Another messenger put it slightly different, they said, “Get ready for 200,000 new missionaries!”
I am sure God has spoken to other mission agencies with a similar message and He will also be directing and empowering new ministries to emerge all around the world. But this article is about growing YWAM. How do we go about that? Or, I might be wiser to ask, “How does God want to increase the number of workers in YWAM?”
We multiply multipliers
That first community-based training school in 1969 was the key to growth. Then, when Loren encouraged some of the students from that school to go to other nations and start similar schools, it was the key to exponential growth! That growth will be healthy when each of the training centres operates with the same vision and values. The most important of the values is that each student should come to know God and be equipped to make Him known.
The YWAM DTS Centre is given the responsibility to assure the quality of the training at every location. In addition, groups of elders—globally, continentally and in smaller geographical areas—guard the values and vision. It’s a great equation for growth without sacrificing quality!
Thousands of YWAMers are engaged in training others and my plea through this article is to them: Keep multiplying workers for the harvest! IN ADDITION, make sure you have a vision to plant more training centres. If every team leading a training centre has plans to start more training centres, it won’t be long before we have multiplied ten-fold. Then, the day will come when we are training a million workers at any given time.
The Lord will multiply other missions and organizations at the same time so that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the seas.” (Habakkuk 2:14)
And God said, “GO FORTH AND MULITPLY!”