Christianity remains the world’s fastest growing religion, as it has been essentially since Christ’s death, but this century is seeing a shift in where the church is growing.
According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Christians is estimated to grow from just over 2 billion at the turn of the century to nearly 3 billion by the halfway point of the century – that’s close to a third of the world’s population!
In that same time span, the demographics and regional concentration of believers is changing just as rapidly. Europe’s Christian population continues to fall, while sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia continue to boast higher and higher rates of conversions.
The US and Brazil are on par to remain the nations with the highest percentage of Christian population, but even so, the growth in countries like China, India, and several sub-Saharan African nations are only increasing and may outpace the countries where Christianity has traditionally been concentrated.
So what does this mean about world missions? For much of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the Evangelical church in the West was focused on missions reaching Africa, Asia, and South America. Now, as the demographics shift, many missionaries from Africa and Asia are travelling to Europe and North America to reach those populations!
While there are many factors at play here, ranging from education to politics to world trade, it could certainly be argued that evangelistic efforts in previously non-Christian regions were highly successful in the previous few centuries. The churches planted in developing nations around the globe and nations hostile to Christendom have thrived, if not bloomed exponentially. Partially, that was due to persecution, word of mouth evangelism, and, according to many, miracles and spiritual gifts reaching the masses as God’s hand ushered revival into nations that needed to hear His Word.
While it took missionaries to bring the Lord’s message to new nations, the decades and centuries since have been the result of hard, diligent work by the local believers in those nations. Now, as the centers of Christian belief shift to new cultures and as the western world falls away from the church, the remnant in once believing nations will have to stay diligent in reaching their neighbors – some of whom have fallen away, been disgruntled by the church, or maybe even never heard the Gospel story, despite being raised near prominent cathedrals or historically significant centers of the church’s history.
As always, we at ISOW believe that it is the church’s obligation to support missionaries, no matter where they hail from and where their mission takes them.
Interested in the history of the church’s spread and influence over the centuries, and the ways in which missions affected various parts of the world? Preorder ISOW’s upcoming History of Christianity by Dr. Michael Reynolds!