Global Church is Expanding, Changing – Not Shrinking – Experts Say
NORCROSS, Ga. — Reports of traditional churches declining in North America and Europe often fail to present the reality of the global church’s rapid growth in Africa, South America, Asia and among immigrants in the West, according to the current issue of “Unfinished,” The Mission Society’s quarterly magazine.
“Unfinished” presents a positive and balanced worldwide perspective as Christianity’s center of influence shifts from more developed countries in the Northern Hemisphere (the Global North) to emerging countries in the Southern Hemisphere (the Global South). An included book excerpt from “Our Global Families: Christians Embracing Common Identity in a Changing World,” by Todd M. Johnson and Cindy M. Wu of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, documents the changing demographics.
“From the shores of Galilee in the first century to the remotest villages in the Himalayas today, followers of Jesus Christ have gradually spread to virtually everywhere in the world,” Johnson and Wu write.
To read the article, and to sign up for a free subscription to “Unfinished,” visitors can go to www.themissionsociety.org/go/
Also in the issue, The Missions Society’s President and CEO the Rev. Max Wilkins writes about “How to grow the Church.” His admonitions to today’s church include:
- Don’t eat the seed. “The seed is for sowing, not consuming. Too many in the Church today are entrenched in a self-serving mentality. We are figuratively ‘eating our seed.’”
- Sow the seed liberally. “Our role in kingdom fruitfulness is to keep sowing, always everywhere.”
- Expect fruitfulness faithfully. Even when there is no or little response to seed planting, Wilkins reminds church leaders “the fruit does come.”
While mainline denominations in North America are declining, Wilkins cites a meteoric rise of believers in the Global South. Johnson and Wu document the historical rise and fall of Christianity by regions of the world. Johnson estimates there have been approximately eight billion Christians since Christ’s earthly ministry, which equates to about 21 percent of the world’s population over time. But that is changing.
Christianity is on the rise and represents 35 percent of global population today, thanks in large part to expansion in the Global South. In the Global North, population growth is outpacing the rate of Christian conversion. Johnson and Wu state that in 1900, 82 percent of all Christians lived in the Global North, while today 65 percent live in the Global South.
Given current trends, Africa will soon be home to the most Christians in the world, while Asia and Latin America will each have more Christians than Europe.
“Unfinished” also tracts some current worldwide trends based on “buzz” from missions communities, collected by Becky Stephen, The Mission Society’s senior director of field ministries. These trends “paint a picture of the Global Church in transition” and include the following:
- North America is experiencing a redefinition of church.
- Many younger American believers desire a simpler faith expression and prefer an “untamed Jesus.”
- Europe’s low birthrate has opened the door to immigration. The 18 million Muslims there represent a new mission field, and the many Christian immigrants are starting vibrant congregations.
- Asia’s cities are exploding. In China alone, 54 percent have moved to cities since 2000. Most Chinese urbanites are young and seeking purpose for their lives.
- Muslims are coming to Christ often and report that Jesus appears to them in visions or dreams. An estimated six million African Muslims convert to Christianity each year, due largely to the work of African missionaries from Sub-Saharan Africa.
- South Asia is fertile ground for “Business as Mission.” Hundreds of entrepreneurs are launching their companies to “demonstrate to ordinary people what it means to follow Jesus in ordinary life.”
Founded in 1984 in the Wesleyan tradition, The Mission Society (www.themissionsociety.org) exists to mobilize and deploy the body of Christ globally to join Jesus in His mission, especially among the least-reached peoples. The Mission Society recruits, trains and sends Christian missionaries to minister around the world. Its church ministry department provides seminars, workshops and mentoring for congregations in the United States and abroad, helping equip churches for outreach in their communities and worldwide. At present, The Mission Society has 200 missionaries serving in 30 countries.
The current issue of “Unfinished” offers an encouraging overview of Christian expansion worldwide.
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