Here is an interesting report by Todd Johnson, who is the Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which confirms what many have been saying for some time now about the major shift that is underway with regard to the distribution of evangelicals throughout the world.
Johnson says that "over the past one hundred years global Christianity has experienced a profound southern shift in its geographical center of gravity." At the beginning of the last century over 80% of all Christians were from Europe and North America, whereas by last year that number had fallen to under 45%. Although those who identify themselves as evangelicals continue to grow worldwide, the majority are increasingly found residing outside the Western world.
It is interesting to reflect upon these statistics from two different perspectives.
It reminds us that in spite of the church growth movement in the West and the profileration of huge mega-churches with all the amenities that evangelical Christianity is in a state of serious decline. We have Christian radio and television, schools and sports teams, business associations and think-tanks, political lobby-groups and experts in almost every field of endeavor... and yet the overall number of Christians continues to shrink. In fact, Johnson's numbers reveal that in the United States (not to mention Canada where the situation is far worse) since 1900 Christians have been declining as a percentage of the population going from 42% in 1900 to 15% today. Something is wrong. While we like to showcase the fact that we have arrived on the cultural scene and can compete with the best that the world has to offer, we are losing the war where it really counts.
When I was a boy I knew an evangelist who used to say: "The church began with holy men of God in the upper-room agonizing; it will end with educated men in the supper-room organizing!" An overstatement for sure with lots of things that we might be able to criticize, but still it makes a point that I think we need to hear.
Furthermore, while we should rejoice in the spread of the gospel in places like Africa, Asia and Latin America I am personally concerned that Christianity is not spreading in places that have felt the philosophical force of modernity and now postmodernity. Christianity is not just a "religion" for people living in the pre-scientific world or communities of people who might be seen as easy converts because they don't know all that we supposedly know about myths and legends, form and redaction criticism, hermeneutics, language analysis, psychology, sociology, philosophy and a myriad of other things that make the evangelical Christian faith redundant or no longer a viable intellectual and spiritual option for the educated person.
If the gospel is "the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16) then we need to preach the gospel and pray that God would bless it here and around the world. Personally, I long to see God move in a powerful way among those in the Western world who have been exposed to the propaganda of this present age which will revealed to be the deception that it is when Jesus, the Word of God, comes in glory and power. In the meantime we "evangelicals" have a lot of work to do. This is not a time to be congratulating ourselves, but a time to confess our true poverty and ask the Lord of the harvest to make us spiritually useful in his hands.