Maps Show the Need for Church Planters in Japan


Japan is one of the least reached nations in the world. Just 0.43% of the Japanese are church members and about half of these regularly attend church. This means over 126 million people in Japan most likely have not understood the Good News about Jesus Christ.

In October of 2015, the Global Research Team of One Challenge assisted church leaders in Japan by producing maps that show the state of Church in Japan and highlight the work that remains to disciple the whole nation.

Japan No Church PrefectsOne of the more intriguing maps produced by the Global Research Team shows the percentage of cities and towns by prefect that do not have a church. In 29 of Japan’s 47 prefectures at least 50% of the towns do not have a church. Two prefectures have no churches at all. Just one prefecture has a church in every town. Thus we conclude that not only have a large majority of those in Japan never heard the Good News about Jesus Christ, but they have little opportunity to hear the Good News, since there are so many towns that do not have a single Church. This particular map, then, highlights the areas that need workers to preach the Good News. As Paul wrote:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” Romans 10:14,15 NASB

Other maps for Japan can be viewed at the Global Church Planting Network’s website.


16 thoughts on “Maps Show the Need for Church Planters in Japan

  1. Glad to see more attention being drawn to the many prefectures that still have the majority of their towns unchurched. Yet, the need is even greater than depicted on this map. Because of the massive mergers of geographically distant and pyschologically unrelated/unconnected cities/towns/villages that were merged governmentally but with nothing substantitve to bring the people together relationally, it is very important to look at the presence and absence of the church using pre-merger boundaries to fully represent the need for planting of ‘first churches’ in Japan’s cities, towns, and villages. For example, due to the mergers, about 1800 unchurched cities/towns/villages appear in many statistics and maps such as this one as less than 600–without a single church having been planted. The other 1200 that disappeared are still without churches and still need them but have become statistically hidden due to the effect of the mergers. For example, if a churched city, 3 unchurched towns, and 2 unchurched villages were merged, five unchurched areas disappeared from the statistics and maps but still functionally and missiologically need their own church. For example Kagawa, the prefecture on this map that shows up as being totally churched, actually has several unchurched towns remaining in it. Or Akita is in the top four least churched prefectures, but because many of its unchurched towns and villages were officially merged with essentially otherwise unrelated cities or towns that have a church, it shows up as less unchurched than it actually is. All cities, towns, and villages under 50,000 people prior to the mergers have churches. 2/3 of those under 50,000 do not. However, in most (not all) prefectures of Japan, the vast majority of these unchurched areas have disappeared from most statistics and maps due to the masking effect on the data of these mergers. To address this issue, maps for each prefecture were made 4 years ago to show the presence or absence of churches based on pre-merger municipal boundaries as this more completely reflects the need for initial church plants. These maps are in the process of being updated and also translated into Japanese, but that process isn’t quite done. Until then, the English versions from four years ago can be found at Find the clickable map of Japan and then just click on the prefecture of interest and its map will open up (these maps exist for 45 out of 47 prefectures; 2 are currently being finished up). An excel file database can also be requested by emailing By Fall, updated maps will be on the website as well–using pre-merger boundaries (very very intentionally) but recent church presence/absence information. In a separate comment, I will also a map showing the percent unchurched based on the pre-merger boundaries. This map also shows the number of missionaries serving in each prefecture. As you can see, the need for church planting is tremendous, there are almost no missionaries even working in the majority of the less churched prefectures, and all remain in unchurched areas are in rural Japan, where most mission agencies also are not working. Feel free to broadly distribute/use the map I’ll post in a separate comment, although it is a draft and the Japanese translation has some errors still. But the English portion and the data are final at this point.

  2. The map uploaded as the profile picture (as I see no way to upload a picture or file anywhere else as a comment) illustrates this point even more clearly, as well as the imbalance in the distribution of missionaries. The map shows the percentage of unchurched areas in each prefecture but differs from your map in that it intentionally uses pre-merger boundaries so as to also include the 1200 unchurched towns that were merged into unrelated distant cities but still very much need their first church, as well as the almost 600 unchurched towns that were not so merged. email if you would like more info on the huge masking effect of where the unchurched areas are that the mergers have on stats and maps that use post-merger boundaries. This is also briefly explained in a separate comment above. By the way, the map in the profile picture is draft and the Japanese translation has non-native level of Japanese that will be but has not yet been corrected. However, the English portion and the data are correct. Feel free to use this map. And feel free to email to be in contact to explore future collaboration. 2/3 of the unchurched areas in Japan ‘disappeared’ or are masked by post-merger municipal boundaries. Would love your help in spreading word of the importance of using pre-merger boundaries in order to fully represent the tremendous need in the neglected unchurched towns of Japan.

  3. Correcting a typo in the above comment so reposting. Comparing the post-merger map you made to the pre-merger one I’ve put in my profile picture for this comment, I notice that the effects of the merger are especially pronounced in much of chuugoku chihou and Kyushu, as well as Akita, which also are places where most of the prefectures are very unchurched (based on pre-merger boundaries), but to save government money, most unchurched towns/villages (and especially so in the least church prefectures) were merged with largely unrelated cities which of course have a church. But that church is functionally too far away relationally, physically, transport-wise, and psychologically. No one in the unchurched towns really feels part of the city they were merged with, and few go there very often except a subset may go once in a while if they need a specialized hospital or to shop for a specialty item. So basically, there is still no light in those towns/villages though–mergers with distant churched cities don’t change that reality. Further, sometimes there is little or no public transport in between them. Most of the unchurched town’s residents remain without access in areas with few and often no believers. The merger in 99% of the cases will do little to nothing to increase exposure to or access to the gospel in the unchurched towns that were so merged. The mergers affected some prefectures more than others, so in some prefectures the difference is less, but in some of the least churched ones, the masking effect of the merger is especially large.

  4. Not sure where this map is from or the exact definition of “town” used, but I know that there is a fairly good sized church in Shiga Ken called Otsu Baptist Church. Just wondering…

  5. The seminaries have done little to combat the “Onobori-san” cultural effect. Once they go off to the city, few return to the country. Also, small towns in the mountains are growing smaller, and the people who have it together leave for the city. Much like in the US, where the need for rural workers is diminished and the kids move away. Churches are easier to plant in the cities, and donors demand results.
    Bi-vocational outreach will be the only way these towns are ever reached in a mass number.

    • Planting churches or a multisite church in a cluster of nearby unchurched rural towns will also play a part in reaching them. Training believers in the cities to reach out to their rural relatives also is needed. But living in the rural areas is most needed–relational outreach.

      The needs are great and mainly neglected in the countryside, but there is growing interest lately And historically in the few places where such areas have been intentionally focused on, one can see a real difference was made I agree bivocational will play a part in reaching tem, but even without this, they could be reached if there was a real focus on them–but more church planters must be raised up and/or relocate. Of course, for long-term survival, bivocational or multi-location pastors may be needed. I would even say that a means of recognizing a pastor interdenominationally for rural areas is also needed–and I know of multiple concrete situations where needs could have been met if this had not been a barrier.

      • I agree. When we felt called to the Nagano/Niigata border near Iiyama, our denomination (Presbyterian) was not interested. So we ended up with a Brethren based model, which focuses on lay leadership. It worked well, and the church continues, although many have come and gone in the natural course of 30 years.
        And Chad’s reply is spot on. If you want to reach men, you have to understand and be willing to work and wait for men.
        If a mission would catch that vision, then set up a 1-2 year training/language acquisition period, assist in setting up a business (most likely language) you have your entry model and ministry model set for the Kingdom. So I am saying a hybrid would really make it work.

  6. I’m confused by this map as it lists Niigata as 100% churchless, while Niigata has many churches and even a seminary.

    • I ‘m confused to. Shiga is the same and I’m aware of a good number of churches in those places…I also wonder if church size should be taken into account. Here it shows that places like Akita are pretty well off, when in reality the average church size in a lot of towns is in the single digits (though the poplulation in places like that is dwindling too)…anyhow, that makes me wonder exactly how accurate this is….which is too bad because having this kind of info at hand would be nice.

  7. Pingback: Maps Show the Need for Church Planters in Japan | be gentle, be humble.

  8. Simple we need business Pastors. My father is a business pastor and we are impacting Japanese business men lives through good service and products. Japanese men’s mentality: pastors don’t work so they don’t understand the struggles I go through.
    It’s that simple. Business Pastors is what Japan needs.

  9. Pingback: Weekly Prayer: Prayer for Japan (July 25th, 2016) | melaniehopebrunell

  10. Pingback: Why do we need foreign missionaries? - Mark Alan Williams

  11. Thanks for this survey and the work put in to compiling it. There’s one question I have that perhaps you could explain to me. I was surprised to see that Shiga Ken does not have any churches but I realize that there are several at least. Otsu Baptist church is one. Perhaps I’m missing something in the definitions you are using. Could you explain why Shiga is listed as having no churches but there are clearly some there? Thanks.

    • Since I was not involved in gathering the data, I can not explain why churches in the Shiga area were overlooked. One of the unintended benefits of sharing a map is the feedback from people close to the situation, that identifies overlooked churches. Thanks for sharing about these ones.

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