Over the past few years, I’ve been intrigued by the remarkable growth of Christianity around the globe in the last century. It is shocking, yet informative, that the center of gravity of the Christian Church no longer resides in the West. It is in the South (Africa and Latin America), and to some extent in the East. Just to get a feel for the size and fervency of the global Church, here are a few quick facts:
- None of the 50 largest churches in the world are in North America.
- For every 2 missionaries that come into Nigeria, 5 Nigerian missionaries are sent out. There are currently over 3,700 Nigerian missionaries serving in 50 countries.
- 20,000 people convert to Christianity in Africa, 28,000 in China, 35,000 in Latin America—every day.
- 40% of South Korea is Christian.
- Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the world, with a 6.9% growth rate (compared to 2.7% for Muslims). Most of this growth is happening in the Majority World (or “Third World”).
- By the year 2050, only 1/5 of the world’s Christians will be non-Hispanic whites.
- By 2050, there will be an estimated 1 billion Pentecostals in the world, making it the most successful social organization in the past century. Most of these will live in the southern hemisphere (Latin America and Africa).
I can’t help but think that in 50 years, the idea of a white, male, Christian living in America won’t necessarily be unheard of, but it will be a bit of a novelty. Kind of like a white Buddhist living in Sweden.
As I reflect on such statistics, I often wonder how our view of missions—indeed, our very definition of missions—will change over the years, if it hasn’t already. Up until now, missions is usually conceived of educated white Europeans/Americans going to “reach” others who live across the ocean somewhere. But I’m beginning to feel a bit ethnocentric, or just plain naive, if I think that I have all the answers and “they” have all the problems. Missions, I think, should be conceived more in terms of partnering and serving the mission that is already going on among Christians living in their native lands. Our role as teachers may be transforming into servants and learners.
I also think about how theology and theological reflection will be reshaped by the shift in global Christianity. For instance, will Dispensationalism be around in 50 years? Hal Lindsay and Co. have made it popular in the West, but I don’t know too many Anglican priests in Uganda who are committed to (or have even heard of) Dispensationalism. What about the Protestant emphasis on Romans and Galatians as the “canon within the canon?” It’s no secret that Luther’s love for these books made them the basis for Protestant theology, but most Christians who live in the new “center of gravity” are more attracted to narratives rather than epistles. What will theology look like, when Matthew is used to interpret Romans and not the other way around? Theological thinking in terms of poverty, AIDS, and polygamy, may take center stage in the place of debates about election and freewill. Whatever the case, theology is contextually driven, so when the context of Christianity shifts, so will its theology.
Could be a challenging yet exciting century for the global church!