They're growing. We're not. It's time to listen
If you’re a Christian in the West, you’re now in the minority
While many statistics show the church in the West is in multi-generational decline, the opposite is true almost everywhere else.
Non-Western cultures and churches aren’t the minority any more: they are the majority.
The churches of the Majority World (sometimes called the Developing World) have seen extraordinary and sustained growth for decades. Places such as Africa, Asia and Latin America, Oceania and the Caribbean, the Middle East and eastern Europe, First Nations and Indigenous communities. Finally, immigrant Christian communities are also going through a time of growth and revitalisation. Insights from churches in these cultures can help renew the worldwide church. They can invigorate our churches, as we learn from each other. And they have the power to invest Western mission, worship and discipleship strategies with new vibrancy.
In 2016, I founded The Global Church Project so that we can listen and learn from non-Western Christian churches and leaders. I travelled the globe to meet and do filmed interviews with many hundreds of non-Western church leaders. The hundreds of filmed interviews and podcasts at TheGlobalChurchProject.com is their voice.
How is God renewing the global church today?
Christians in non-Western and Indigenous settings are redefining 21st century Christianity. Christianity in Africa, Asia and Latin America grew from 94 million in 1900, to 1.389 billion in 2010. This number is likely to grow to 2.287 billion by 2050.
Let’s take China, for example. Professor Fenggang Yang of Purdue University in Indiana makes an important prediction: If current rates of growth continue, within one generation China will have more Christians than any other nation on earth.
US historian Philip Jenkins says, “We are currently living through one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide. Over the last five centuries, the story of Christianity has been inextricably bound up with that of Europe and European-derived civilisations overseas, above all in North America. Until recently, the overwhelming majority of Christians have lived in white nations … Over the last century, however, the centre of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably away from Europe, southward, to Africa and Latin America, and eastward, toward Asia. Today, the largest Christian communities on the planet are to be found in those regions.” (Jenkins, The Next Christendom, 1).
What can Australian Christians learn from the global church today?
Here are 12 key things:
1. Growing churches emphasise mission and evangelism – The majority of Christians are now found outside of Europe and North America. This exponential growth is the result of a focus on evangelism, and on the multiplication of disciples, leaders and churches. This includes a deep passion for grassroots mission and multiplying disciples and churches in every area of society. There is no church without mission, and no mission without the church. This involves abundant sowing of the gospel and confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit. Mission is proclamation, but it is also social engagement, social justice, peacemaking, signs and wonders.
2. Renewed churches emphasise the Holy Spirit and renewal – Mission and Spirit go hand-in-glove. The rapid growth of Christianity outside the West must make us rethink the place and power of the Spirit in church life (including the impact of the Spirit on the worship, liturgy, mission, multiplication, church planting and ministry of churches). I can’t remember where I first heard this saying, but: “What the West calls Pentecostal, the rest of the world calls Christianity.” This includes a reliance on the power, protection, presence and provision of the Holy Spirit to renew and grow the church. This comes with a passion for prayer.
3. Spiritual churches emphasise prayer and community – Prayer is the pillar for worship, mission, planting and more. Prayer is the greatest resource we bring to our ministry and mission. But prayer isn’t done alone. It’s done in a vibrant community, and it’s done in the neighbourhood. Prayer and spiritually alive Christian communities go hand-in-hand.
4. Multiplying churches emphasise intentional church planting – This includes strategies of deliberate church planting and local church mission. In many cultures, almost every pastor is expected to be a church planter. Every Christian is a missionary in their local neighbourhood. Churches don’t just happen – intentional, focused deliberate planting strategies are needed.
5. Confident churches emphasise biblical power and authority – The Bible is believed fully, and is the guiding source for doctrine, church, life and planting. We need a fresh hunger for the Bible and a fresh confidence in its power and authority.
6. Effective churches emphasise local leadership – Forget importing missionaries. Forget focusing on outside talent. The best church movements identify, develop, train and release local and grassroots leaders.
7. Inspiring churches emphasise the “priesthood of all believers” – This includes a fresh focus on the voice and ministry of the laity. People are inspired to use their gifts and get involved in mission and ministry. When the church is growing rapidly, you can’t depend on ordained pastors; you have to get everyone involved in ministry and mission. Every-member mission and ministry are vital.
8. Prophetic churches emphasise justice and human dignity – The churches are often surrounded by injustice and poverty and corruption. So, they seek to address these things with courage and passion. They often integrate and honour the poor – they are movements from the margins. This is a common theme.
9. Expanding churches emphasise simple, cell and house models – There is great diversity of church life in the non-West. But the most common model is cell and house churches. Small and reproducible cell churches of 10 to 30 members meet in homes or storefronts and are leading to an explosive growth in the church. Cell churches often link to a structured network, but not always (for example, the Full Gospel Church in Seoul is most famous example of this, with 50,000 cell groups). House churches are usually more autonomous.
10. Reproducing churches emphasise churches planting churches – We need denominational and other groups to resource planting. But wherever churches are multiplying rapidly, it is because churches are planting churches. Reproduction is seen as natural. There’s little reliance on external aids for church planting. This focus on churches planting churches is one of the great keys to the explosive growth of the church in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
11. Healthy churches emphasise rapid reproduction – Church planting movements have this common feature: rapid reproduction. This is the key to their health. Living things reproduce. If your focus is internal, you go stagnant and die. But if your focus is on rapid reproduction, you often discover the health and vitality that come from stepping out in faith and pursuing witness and conversion and the Great Commission. The rapid multiplication of disciples, small groups, leaders and churches in the non-West is almost breathtaking. This isn’t common in the West, but it is in Asia and Africa. And non-Western church planting movements say it’s the key to their success: this is about momentum, passion, urgency and importance. It’s about stepping out in faith and watching God respond.
12. Impacting churches emphasise whole-of-life faith and mission – Mission isn’t just about proclaiming the gospel and planting churches. It’s about every aspect of life. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in holistic (or integral) mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. Micah Global put it this way: If we ignore the world, we betray the word of God, which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task.
How can we learn more from the global church today?
All the videos, podcasts, and small group resources at TheGlobalChurchProject.com are free. Our resources help Christian leaders and churches thrive and grow as they learn from the global church. We help you and your church become more innovative, missional and multicultural. Very soon, TheGlobalChurchProject.com will be offered in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and other languages. These global resources are being used by a global church. It’s time we Australian Christians learned to follow Jesus locally and globally.
Graham Hill, Provost, Morling College, and Founding Director, TheGlobalChurchProject.com