Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Face of the Global Church is Changing

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be blogging about the global church - how it's changing, and what it means to every Christian who shares an interest in seeing the good news of Jesus Christ known throughout the world. This series of posts speak to a critical issue the global church faces today and how we can play a role in serving them.
First, let's discuss how the global church is changing...

The center of the Christian world is shifting away from Europe/North America to the developing regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America. According to the Lausanne World Pulse, the evangelical population of Africa, Latin America and Asia represent nearly 60% of all evangelicals worldwide. This ascension is fueled by remarkable church growth in these regions.

Nowhere has the growth been more apparent in recent years than in China. In a recent article, John Piper offers his perspective on how the church in China has grown since the first missionary, Robert Morrison set foot on Chinese soil two hundred years ago. Here's a quote from the article -

Persevering against the hostility of official opposition and the resistance of foreign merchants, Morrison baptized the first Chinese Protestant Christian, Cai Gao, on July 16, 1814. After the baptism of Cai Gao, Morrison wrote prophetically in his journal, “May he be the first-fruits of a great harvest, one of millions who shall come and be saved on the day of wrath to come."

God answered Morrison's prayer to a greater measure than even he would have anticipated.

The numbers are staggering. In 1949, prior to the Communist takeover, there were approximately 1 million Christians in China. Today, conservative estimates place the number of Christians at approximately 50 million. Some have even estimated this number as high as 100 million. The contrast is stark when you compare this growth to most of Western Europe where church attendance has been below 2% for decades.

This means that the evangelical church worldwide today and in the foreseeable future will no longer be, primarily, a Western institution. Philip Jenkins reinforces this point in his book, The Next Christendom

“Christianity will enjoy a worldwide boom in the new century but the vast majority of believers will be neither white nor European, nor Euro-American.”

What challenges do these new Christian communities face? Certainly, persecutions for some, poverty for others. But there is another challenge they face that might not seem as dramatic but is no less significant - they do not have gospel centered materials in their native language.

To extend Philip Jenkins' point, the other implication of this growth is that most of the worldwide church is non-English speaking and do not have access to gospel-centered books, articles and resources that you and I take for granted.

What can we do about this? How can we serve them? Over the next two posts, I'd like to share how, by God's grace and help, we might be able to meet this challenge.


Real Live Preacher said...

This is such an old trend, isn't it? Christianity began in the Middle East, headed west, and is making the full circle of the globe.

Humility is in order, I think. The living edge of Christianity is always very conservative, focuses on missions and witnessing, very much like what you see in the book of Acts.

The tail end of Christianity is always educated, thoughful, fraught with doubts, seeking reconciliation with other faiths.

It seems like something with a lot of inertia. Who knows what will happen. One thing is sure - Real Christianity changes lives. And comfort and acceptance from the culture ruins Christianity. If things go the way they have, in 75 years the Chinese Christians will be snoozing quietly in their pews.

Tony Rossell said...

Your post sounds like Ezekiel 17:22-23 "Thus says the Lord God: 'I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest.'"

Ted M. Gossard said...

ESI, Good post.

I recently heard on "Speaking of Faith" that by the year 2020 if current trends continue, there will be 1 billion Pentecostal Christians in the world. This includes all Pentecostal Christians more than half of which are in nonPentecostal denominations. But this phenomena is hot in poorer countries in areas such as in South America and Africa.

One important aspect of this is Pentecostal Christianity's adaptability to culture, which is a built in phenomena of Christianity in seeing the gospel creatively impact areas with varying expressions of the faith, unlike Islam which prides itself in being the same expression everywhere.

Mark Goodyear said...

ESI, I like where this is going.

Every Square Inch said...


Yes, I haven't given it much thought but Christianity began with roots as an Eastern movement... and, as you say, is making full circle round the globe.

In fact, the Chinese christians are envisioned complete the circle in something they've called the "Back to Jerusalem" initiative - to bring the gospel through Central Asia -> the Middle East -> Jerusalem.

Your observation of the "front edge" and "tail end" of Christianity is very interesting and offers much food for thought.

Your comment "comfort and acceptance from culture ruins Christianity" is also provoking...hopefully, your prediction about the Chinese Christians won't come to pass but the 2nd and 3rd generations often assume the gospel but end up losing its cutting edge.

Every Square Inch said...


It's exciting to see what God is doing throughout the world in growing his church and advancing the fame of his name.

Every Square Inch said...


I've spent the first part of summer learning more about the global church, its growth and its challenges - I am humbled by the wealth of resources and the comfort that we live under relative to what our fellow believers experience in most other parts of the world.

Yet, often the church thrives in adversity and loses its way in prosperity.


I'm going to be asking you to help me with amplifying the need of the global church as well as our part in helping them - perhaps a mini blog tour/campaign?

Tony Rossell said...

I just posted some information on my blog related to global trends in the area of membership development drawing data from the Global Values Survey. But this survey also includes information on church membership and values across the globe. You may want to take a look at it. The link is:


Every Square Inch said...


Thanks - I'll check it out.