Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Few Statistical Reflections

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.


Ian said...

What a good post Kirk, encouraging yet at the same time providing a realistic awareness of our present church age.
May we at TBS labour to see those statistics change in Canada with genuine Christianity seeing genuine growth!

Kirk M. Wellum said...

Thanks Ian... It's also my prayer and fervent desire that God would use us at TBS to make his glory known in Canada and around the world.

JLF said...

I don't disagree with anything you wrote in this post, which I think was fantastic, but I also wonder... how much of this is simply the Lord rejecting this part of the world for our pride (intellectual, economic, moral, etc.)?

God has said that he will dwell with the meek, the humble, and the contrite of heart... definitely not a description of the west. Perhaps the shift of evangelicalism to third-world-type nations is not because they are dumb and we are smart, but because the Lord is choosing to shame the wise things of the world by using the foolish.

Either way, it's all the more reason to mourn and pray for our nation and preach with all the more passion.

Kirk M. Wellum said...

Thanks for you comment Julian. Sadly, I think your suggestion has merit. Too many in the the so-called "first world" are arrogant, immoral and materialistic and ripe for judgment. And as you mention God does delight to save those whom everyone else writes off as hopeless. Let's hope and pray that he will have mercy on us. Perhaps his plan is to humble us that we might realize afresh that we can do absolutely nothing without him.

Dan S. said...

A hearty, "Amen," Kirk.

Love the quote from the evangelist. I might change a word in the last line from "educators" to "entrepeneurs in the supper-room organizing."

You're right - we have a lot of work to do.

Kirk M. Wellum said...

Good point Dan... "entrepreneurs" more accurately describes the present evangelical temperment. We certainly don't want to put a premium on ignorance! His saying reflects the 1960's and a somewhat paranoid fear of learning.

Milton Stanley said...

Amen. The decline of the church in the West---this is convicting stuff. Thanks for the reminder that the power is in the gospel, and from the Lord. Peace.

Kirk M. Wellum said...

Hi Milton... what a wonderful thing to know that God will have the final say and that his word will not return to him empty!