The Billion Soul Harvest Story
On a snowy February 18, 2001, at 2:30 in the afternoon, the Holy Spirit whispered to me to call a renowned Christian leader. I immediately called while driving my car home in Springfield, Missouri. “This is James Davis,” I told Charlton, his assistant, “And this call is 8.7 out of a 10 on the Richter scale.” Within an hour this distinguished leader called and asked, “James, what is in your heart?” I told him my burden for pastors worldwide. Through my evangelistic travels and ministry, I had learned that more than ninety percent of all ministers worldwide have no formal education. Tens of thousands drop out of ministry each year, and nearly every week I was with another great pastor, listening to the challenges he faced.
One month with many days of fasting passed. In March of 2001 in San Bernardino, California, we met, and a vision was born. In August, he and I announced publicly for the first time before the Assemblies of God Presbytery that we were in partnership to help plant five million new churches for a Billion Soul harvest. That year we worked hard, building a network and inspiring others to have eyes to the ends of the earth. We hosted a Beyond All Limits Pastors’ Conference in January 2002, with more than five thousand pastors attending from around the world. This conference convened just four months after the infamous World Trade Center disaster took place on September 11, 2001. We were told that no one would come. We were told that we should quit and turn around and go back. We were told that if we were to have this conference, in the context of what was going on in the world, we were sure to fail. I have met more people than I can remember, who have told me that they attended the Beyond All Limits Pastors Conference, and have said that it is one of the best pastors conferences of their life. Don’t let the doubters rob you of the dream that God has put in your heart!
On July 11, 2003, my wife Sheri, daughter Olivia, and I saw this mighty man of God for the last time in his Orlando condo. His body was weak but his eyes were bright, and through gasps, he admonished me to be faithful to the Lord and the vision. After we’d prayed together, I looked into his eyes for the last time and told this visionary leader that when I saw him next in heaven I would testify that I was faithful to the vision and more than one billion people were saved during our generation.
After more than twenty years, I have concluded, there is not a price too high, a pain too deep, or problems too big to stop the Billion Soul Movement and the Global Church Network. The popular saying is, “Higher levels, bigger devils,” but we press forward NOW to win the second billion to Christ. As you can imagine, in the last twenty years, I have seen people come and go; seen people come with other agendas to pick relational fruit they did not grow. On one occasion, I witnessed a renowned person even raising money for his cause at the biennial Synergize Conference. I have read articles in recent months, where people have claimed to have “heard from God,” but when in fact history does not validate what they say today.
Since its inception, the Billion Soul Harvest Movement and the Global Church Network has centered around pastors and local churches. When we started, we often said the most important person in every community on earth is not the governor, not the congressman, the senator, or even the president. The most important person in every community is the local Spirit-filled pastor. As goes the pastor, so goes the community.
Should we answer our global challenge in the next ten to fifteen years, we will have the opportunity to finalize the Great Commission. Our overarching goal is to shorten the time needed to finish the Great Commission by centuries. By 2035, there will be more than nine billion people on this planet. We MUST double the size of the global church and get ahead of this explosive population curve.
If we do not collectively act now, it will take several more centuries to fulfill the Great Commission. Together, we can make it more difficult each day for a person to go to hell. We can help save billions from being eternally lost. The Billion Soul Harvest and the Global Church Network needs everybody.
I remember on one occasion in the summer of 2002, we had a breakfast meeting for potential donors to come and hear the vision of online training and synergistic partnerships for the future. One particular short-sighted leader, who went to be with the Lord last fall, spoke up and said, “James, what about the Island nations in the South Pacific? These nations have no Internet. This global vision you are articulating will not work there.”
I never forgot that moment, listening to this person intentionally casting doubt in the minds of the leaders who were in the meeting. My visionary response to this ludicrous comment was, “When NASA was launching the first rocket to the moon, they did not ask where the moon was, but where the moon would be when the rocket arrived there. It does not matter how great your rocket is if you are not able to project into the future.”
This is the same answer I give to the critics today who say that the Great Commission will not be completed in our lifetime. When I look across the landscape of time and see who our Lord is raising up, I have no doubt the Great Commission will be finished in our lifetime.
Look at what has happened before our eyes. Three percent of Christianity is in North America, and 97 percent is scattered all over the world. For those living in the West, this statistic tells us that we know very little about the global church today. If you live in the United States and pay attention to what God is doing only in your region, you’ll be aware of a mere 3 percent of what is happening in Christianity throughout the globe. If you’re a member of a global denomination or fellowship of churches, you can gain an understanding of that group’s maximum missional reach throughout the rest of the world, and then at best you may be familiar with approximately eight percent of what Christianity is doing throughout the world.
Now let’s say that you study Christianity fully in North America, including your own tribe, and then you expand your research to include still another denomination or fellowship. This might lead you to a pretty comprehensive understanding of the ministry and mission of Christians that make up ten to twelve percent of the entire global church. However, there is still a whopping ninety percent of followers and churches of Jesus Christ in the world today that remain unfamiliar to you and your church or denomination.
When we step back into church history to the year 1900, we find that 45.69 percent of the world at that time was evangelized for Christ. Even after great missionary initiatives where the goal was to complete the Great Commission by the turn of that century, a full 55 percent of the world still had never heard the Gospel for the first time. By the year 2000, 73.09 percent of the world had been evangelized. On the surface that looks like the Church had made great progress toward fulfilling the Great Commission because such a much higher percentage of people heard the Gospel at least one time. At a current rate of evangelism, by the year 2200, 83.25 percent of the world will have been evangelized. It sounds like real progress, but there is a huge catch.
The problem is that world population is growing exponentially. In 2011 the world population passed seven billion people, of which 2.4 billion were unreached. In the fall of 2022, world population passed sight billion people. By 2040 it is estimated that there will be 9.5 billion people on the planet, of which two billion people will be unreached. So, even though the church is growing faster than ever before and in many places in the world surpassing the birthrate, we come to an understanding as to where the church is worldwide, where the church is going, and find out synergistic ways to serve one another. Without synergizing and mobilizing, this century will come and go without growing any closer to fulfilling the mandate of the Great Commission.
By 2100 there could be at least eleven billion people alive, and 1.8 billion will be unreached. This means that in roughly a hundred years at the present rate, the number of people needing to hear the Gospel for the very first time will have decreased by 600 million people. However, the problem that should concern all of us is that, after a hundred years of the most rapid rise of global communications in world history, one hundred years of investment and sacrifice, one hundred years of funding and sending, we will still be nowhere closer to fulfilling the Great Commission Jesus gave us more than two thousand years ago. Let this sink into your thinking!
One day in 2005, God spoke to my heart as I was playing with my oldest daughter. It was a lighthearted moment, so I was surprised that I felt Him press me with these words, “Go and see the mountains that I have raised up around the world.” That’s when I began to research what the Lord was doing from the many different streams of Christianity. I had a strong interest for more than ten years to know more and more about the body of Christ, but it was in that defining moment I decided I would try to find out what the Lord had raised up all over the world.
When I followed through on what the Lord had challenged me to do, I was able to see the mountaintops all over the world that God had raised up. We met with giants of the faith, people who had planted hundreds of churches, pastors of gigantic churches, leaders of denominations we had never heard of, leaders whose Western counterparts were far smaller than those overseas. We just didn’t know before we went what we would find.
I have never been more excited about the potential of the Church of Jesus Christ to fulfill the Great Commission than I am today. The possibility of God’s mission being accomplished in this generation is real. In the world today there are more than 30,000 denominations and fellowships, more than 1.4 billion Protestants, more than 1.1 billion Catholics, more than 130,000 new Christian converts per day, and more than 1,200 churches planted each day throughout the world, especially in the East and South. We are living in an age where past paradigms are giving way to global visions and life stories. As a result, it is no longer the West that is going to the rest, but in increasing numbers, there are people from many other regions going to the lost throughout the world.
We launched the Billion Soul Harvest in January, 2002, at First Baptist Church, in Orlando, Florida. In November, 2019, the Global Church Network crossed the goal of helping to plant five million new churches for a Billion Soul Harvest. Over a nineteen year period of time, the Billion Soul Network & the Global Church Network, grew to more than 2,500 denominations and 650,000 plus local churches. Today, we are grateful to announce that there are more than 2,800 denominations 725,000 plus local churches. We are now moving from the first Billion Soul Harvest to the second Billion Soul Harvest. On the homepage of the Global Church Network (GCNW.tv), we provide updated totals.
The Billion Soul Harvest Story articulates, for more than two hundred years the Western church has done a phenomenal job funding and training the church world. The United States in particular has played a major part in the furtherance of the Gospel. In our generation we’ve helped spread Christianity to the four corners of the earth. The smallest child collecting pennies from missionaries has helped. Our large churches with massive mission budgets have helped. Young couples sacrificially heading off into the mission field, taking children who will never really know their grandparents, have helped.
The result is that the global church has grown up. The global church is not an immature church; the global church is a maturing church. We are witnessing the rise of global Christianity, and though there is still an enormous amount of work to be done, particularly among unreached people groups, the global church is advancing faster today than ever before.
We in the West must now move from parenting to partnering. Think about how we live our Christian lives. We walk in the footsteps of those who’ve come before us, and we stand on the shoulders of past generations in order to build on their foundation. This paradigm has allowed us to grow but has limited our vision to the walls of our own silos. The Holy Spirit of Christ is focused on illuminating the world—not spotlighting our silos.
If we just want to grow a church or to multiply a group of churches, or even strengthen our spiritual tribe or denomination, then silo living is fine and we can achieve that goal right where we are. But to live the Great Commission we’re going to have to get out of our own silos, find out what God is doing in the rest of the harvest field, and set our hands to the plow in new and extraordinary ways. Old maps will not work in new lands.
Christian churches focused on making the shift from silo to silo are going to ride a ministry tide that is unlike anything we’ve seen in history. Those who choose to continue to go it alone rather than working together with others in the global community may enjoy a somewhat gradual incline. But if they do not take part in the excitement of God’s global mission, they will not experience God’s awesome and saving power within the Church that can lift and change the world.
What got us here will not take us there. What brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to where we are today will not be the same methodology that takes the Gospel to all the world tomorrow. The working done in the past must give way to the networking in order to reach people groups for Christ.
Remarkable Christian leaders are now making this shift in their churches to move from production to reproduction. The missional tide of global Christianity began to change and rise in the 1980s and 1990s. This tide has caused a global seismic shift, the greatest in the history of Christianity. The more that Christians everywhere can take ownership of our own Lord’s assignment, the more the Holy Spirit can move among us, urging us away from Western vision toward a shared global mission, and moving us away from personal goals into missional roles.
In the future there will be more and more missionaries in the world who rise up from within the countries outside of the West. We Westerners must realign our mission with God’s global mission, or we will be left behind.
One afternoon while I was speaking to Rich DeVos, who founded the Amway Corporation during a poor economic period, I asked him why he started the company during such a bad decade of business. He answered, “It was the only decade I had.” In regard to the Great Commission, this is our decade, this is our century, this is our present age—this is the only moment we have. I’m often asked, “Do you really believe that the Great Commission can be fulfilled or completed in this century?” My response is always, “This is the only century we have.” We have to finish it now. This is the only lifetime any of us have. We can’t predict what only God can do, but we can step in with what He is doing. When we do we’ll go further than we’ve ever dreamed possible.
We are living in a time when old paradigms are passing away and where old worldviews are crashing on the seashore of time. We’re living in what I call the circumference of Christianity. The world is not flat, and Christianity is not flat. I realize that technological advancements have flattened out the world and that we’re more interconnected today than we’ve ever been before. In fact, I do believe it has been the rise of the Internet that has helped the networking mindset to develop throughout the body of Christ.
Before the emergence of the Internet, we didn’t hear phrases like, “Can I connect with you tomorrow?” “Let’s get connected,” “Can I network with you?” or Let’s network together.” You heard it a little, but you did not hear it very often. So I do believe the rise of the Internet has helped men and women to be willing to connect and interconnect more in partnerships than ever before. But there is a circumference of Christianity. The Gospel that has gone out has come back.
The circumference of Christianity is simply that the mission field has become a mission force. It’s no longer the West going to the rest, but the best around the world going to the rest of the world. What we’ve all taught in the Billion Soul Network is the global church going to the global church. It almost sounds like we may not know what we’re talking about, but there is a 360-degree vision.
It is the fact that men and women throughout the body of Christ are going everywhere today. We have Latino leaders from South America by the thousands who are going to Asia to preach and teach the Gospel. We have Chinese and Asians who are leaving their area of the world. They’re going to Europe, America, and Africa. Why? To preach and teach and tell the world about Jesus. We’re living in the greatest time of human history where the Gospel is intersecting on all four corners of the earth.
In my generation, when I was approximately thirteen years old, we used to wear a bracelet made out of a thin metal, engraved with these letters: W-W-J-D. As I have traveled over time, all I have to mention is W-W, and the audience can finish J-D. And it simply means: “What would Jesus do?” So if you found yourself in a situation and you wondered what you should say or what you should do, the goal was for you to ponder what Jesus would do. The implication also is, Well, He’s not here, but if He was, what would He do? It was kind of like: He used to walk among us. He used to teach among us. And if He was here, what would He say? What would He do?
I suggest that we need a new bracelet, and it should be W-I-J-D: “What is Jesus doing?” That’s what’s so exciting about the Billion Soul Network. One of the missions of the Billion Soul Network is to find out what Jesus is doing and connect those people together. We need to find out what the Lord is already doing and then connect these various leaders together.
Many Christians have the idea that Jesus wasn’t really doing that much before we got there, and yet that could not be further from the truth. Just the other day I was working on a letter, and I said a sentence that I so often use. It was something like, “Let’s go out and do something for Jesus Christ,” or “Let’s go out and do something significant for Jesus Christ.” But now I’ve begun to rephrase my sentence. Instead of going out and doing something for Him, let’s go out and do something with Him. Let’s go out and work and serve with Jesus with what He’s already doing in the world through the person of the Holy Spirit. Rather than thinking we’re breaking new ground, let’s just simply go out with Him and believe for supernatural results.
We are truly living in the circumference of Christianity. As Christianity develops some sense of maturity in a culture, the natural tendency is for that same culture to take it for granted. And as soon as we take it for granted even by one percent, we’re already slipping in the wrong direction.
I want to ask you, what kind of frequency are you listening to? Are you listening to W-I-F-M? W-I-F-M is simply: What’s in it for me? Are you getting up every day asking yourself, What’s in it for me? Do you only go as far as what is in it will take you? Or have you decided that you will change the frequency and move to W-I-F-J: What’s in it for Jesus?
Years ago, William Edward Perry, a famous English explorer, mapped out most of the southern polar cap. Many of his maps are still being used today by those who travel to that desolate, subzero continent. On one particular expe- dition, he and his crew, having mapped an uncharted region, were preparing to hike to another unfamiliar location. On the eve of their departure, they studied the stars and deter- mined their exact coordinates. As the sun rose, they began a hard, lengthy journey north to this unmapped region. They marched through the ice and snow all day long with the freezing air burning their lungs. As the sun set, they made camp, totally exhausted from their trip.
After their evening meal, Mr. Perry studied the stars again to determine their exact coordinates. He was stunned to learn that even though he and his crew had journeyed north all day, they were now further south than when they began in the morning. After struggling to solve this problem, they discovered that even though they had traveled north, they were on a giant ice flow that was moving faster south than they were moving north. While they thought they were going in the right direction, they were slip sliding away and did not even know it.
A deeply sobering reality is that it is possible for a leader’s organization to grow numerically and flourish financially; but while thinking at the same time he is making great strides in the right direction, he is actually losing ground each year. There are countless numbers of Christians who have not slowed down long enough to assess whether they are truly helping to fulfill the Great Commission. The Billion Soul Harverst is filled with pastors and people who have chosen to check future coordinates that align themselves toward crossing the finish line, sharing the Gospel with those in “reached” and “unreached” regions.