Orality Missiology: The Next Big Thing in Completing the Great Commission

By Jerry Wiles

Global alliance for Church multiplication

HOUSTON, TX (ANS – October 20, 2017) – In many cases we need to define both Orality and Missiology. Orality is an ancient phenomenon that continues to the present. It is a reliance on spoken, or non-written communication and learning methods. Before writing was developed, cultures passed along their cultural traditions, including their history, identity, and religion, through their stories, proverbs, poems, songs, riddles, etc.

These are all oral art forms; that is, they are spoken, sung or chanted. The primary definition of Missiology is simply the study of missions, but it is also an area of practical theology that investigates and studies the mandate, message, and mission of the Body of Christ, and the nature of missionary work.

What will it take to get the Good News of Jesus to everyone on earth, and make disciples of all people groups?  This is an important question, and there are many different perspectives, depending on various church traditions and denominational influences. The important question is, “What did Jesus mean when He gave His followers that important mandate?”

How much and what do people need to know in order to enter a relationship with the Lord? How much and what do followers of Jesus need to know in order to lead others to Jesus and become reproducing disciple makers? What are the most effective ways of communication and training that would be cross-cultural, transferable and reproducible to all places and every people group on earth?

Over the past 40 years there has been an increasing awareness among global mission leaders of the importance of Orality as it relates to completing the Great Commission. Not only are the most unreached people groups primarily among Oral Cultures, but there are many Oral preference learners throughout the entire world today, including North America and Modern Western nations. (Approximately 80% of the world population are Oral Learners, by necessity or by preference. See https://orality.net/about/who-are-oral-learners/)

Great Commission strategic prayer

As the Orality Movement is growing and maturing, there is a greater recognition and discovery of how the multiple applications of the concepts, principles and practices of Orality can enhance evangelism, disciple making and church planting. However, there are many other applications, including areas such as integral mission, community health, relief and development and leadership training.

In our learning journey of the movement, Orality methods are now being effectively used in short-term mission trips, business as mission, racial reconciliation and trauma therapy. While there are numerous applications and aspects of the Orality domain, the heart and core, or foundation, of the movement is primarily about two things: communicating the Gospel and making disciples, but doing so in ways that are biblical, universal, cross-cultural and reproducible.

Orality methods and strategies are critical in terms of mission efforts in the most difficult places, limited or creative access countries, ministering among refugee and immigrant communities, and working alongside insider movements. They enable us to cross every barrier and border on the planet. Other applications can include prison ministries, reaching street gangs, the homeless, ex-pats and re-pats, international students and the diplomatic communities.

Those with proper orality training and skills are able to minister anywhere, with what’s in their heads and hearts, that can be reproduced in the heads and hearts of others, requiring no literature or technological resources. However, the use of literate methods and technological resources are a great asset and blessing when they are available, and culturally appropriate.

Advocates and practitioners of Orality would say that anyone involved in communicating, training or relationship building can benefit from Orality Training. In other words, pretty much everyone can benefit. For example, Orality can improve relationships within local congregation, as well as among pastors and church leaders on a regional basis. Many are finding the methods effective in family devotions and oral inductive Bible study groups.

Orality Methods: Crossing all Cultures

Many in the Western World are now discovering that there is much we can learn from the more relational, communal, Oral Cultures (primarily in the Global South). Of course, there is much we can learn from focusing on the life, the teachings and the Spirit of Jesus, as well as the Apostles and the Early Church. These Orality-based concepts, principles and practices are what allowed the Gospel to spread throughout the entire populated world in the First Century.

In many ways, the Orality Movement is simply getting back to the roots of the Church and the most effective ways that people have learned, communicated and processed information from the beginning of time. Ultimately it is the work of the Holy Spirit, in answer to believing prayer, that produces lasting fruit.

Sometimes when pastors, church leaders and missionaries are first introduced to Orality, they think of the people of the world who have no Bible and/or those who cannot read. However, just having the Scriptures in a particular language and having people in that language group who can read doesn’t mean they can read, comprehend and reproduce the message of the Good News of Jesus.

It is a great blessing to have the Word of God in written from and have the ability to read it with understanding.


However, most people throughout history, and even today, have come to a relationship with the Lord by means other than print-based or written form. The growing awareness of the Orality Domain is helping us understand what it will take to complete our Lord’s Great Commission, to communicate the Good News of Jesus to everyone in all places, and make disciples of all people groups.

Jerry Wiles is President Emeritus of Living Water International and serves on the advisory council and leadership team of the International Orality Network. He can be reached at: [email protected].


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