Jesus commissioned His earliest disciples to “go and make disciples of all the nations…” The goal of this disciple making was to spread the glory of God throughout the world through the mission and witness of the Church. We know from Revelation 7:9 that this mission will ultimately be completed. At the throne, John saw representatives of every people group on earth worshiping God and praising the Lamb. And though the church has one Lord, Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, His church is forever changing as it continues to grow into a global reality. Here are 10 things you should know about the global church today.
1. The church is growing.
The reports of the imminent death of the church are greatly exaggerated. While it is true that a few places in the world are experiencing an increasingly secular society, globally the Church is not only the largest faith expression (representing 2.2 billion people or 31.5 percent of the world’s population), it also continues to grow. Most experts believe the church will approach three billion adherents by the year 2050.
2. The center is moving south and east.
For most of its history, the center of Christianity has moved west and north. The church saw great expansion in Europe and later in the Americas. Increasingly Christianity became associated with the western world. But over the last century a massive shift has taken place. The center of Christianity has moved to the global south and back towards the east, and lies today somewhere around the equator in West Africa.
3. Sub-Saharan Africa now has 60 times as many Christians as 100 years ago.
In 1910 there were less than nine million believers in sub-Saharan Africa. Today there are well over a half BILLION! This figure represents the most explosive growth of the church in its 2,000-year history. Today, three of the nations with the highest number of Christians (Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia) are in Africa.
4. China and India are the next massive growth areas.
China, with somewhere close to 100 million believers today, already has the fifth or sixth largest Christian population on earth, and that number continues to grow. Official estimates of India’s church population are at around 24 million people, but many on the ground suggest that the numbers are likely as much as four times that many, and the church in India may be approaching 10 percent of the population.
5. The birthplace of Christianity (the Middle East and North Africa) is steadily losing Christians.
One of the saddest realities of the global church is the increasing decline in Christian populations in the birthplace of the faith. Persecution, warfare, and the spread of global Islam are leading to the causes of this decline. There is great need for Christian witness and mission in these parts of the world.
6. The world is joining the missionary movement.
Largely comprised of workers from European and North American countries, today the global missionary force is made up increasingly of people from emerging Christian nations. South Korea, Nigeria, Ghana, the Philippines, and even China are just a few of the nations in the global south and east who are actively sending out missionaries. Many of these missionaries are serving in Europe and North America. Indeed, a church of 30,000 in Kiev, four of the largest churches in London, and one of the largest in New York City are all pastored by Nigerian missionary pastors!
7. The church is in need of discipleship training.
Although the number of believers is rising in many parts of the world, the ability to raise up trained and equipped pastors to shepherd these believers is lagging. Theological education is often unavailable. In many parts of the world there is an outcry for people trained in disciple making who can both model discipleship and teach best practices to others. There is a great need for disciple making western missionaries throughout the church.
8. Persecution of Christians is growing in many parts of the world.
While almost 90 percent of believers worldwide live in majority Christian nations, the 10 percent who are minority Christians are often living with intense persecution. Repressive governments (such as North Korea) and the rise of Islamic Extremism (as represented by Islamic State for instance) have caused a significant rise in persecution of Christians in the global south.
9. Pentecostalism is becoming the majority expression of the Christian faith.
In 1900 there were virtually no Pentecostal Christians in the world. By 1980, six percent of the world’s Christians were a part of the movement. Today it is estimated that more than one in four believers worldwide identify as Pentecostals, and they are adding 35,000 believers a day!
10. Movements to Jesus are growing among Muslims and other faiths.
Large numbers of Muslims are reporting visions and dreams in which Jesus speaks to them. Many are seeking (and finding) a relationship with Jesus as Savior among their own people and within their own culture. Jesus movements are also growing among Hindu and Buddhist communities. The church is growing as these Christ followers are discovering faith expressions that are Jesus centered, yet culturally relevant to their own context. Beautiful new expressions of the church are growing up in these “insider” movements.
In Philippians 1:6 Paul says, “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” The Church of Jesus Christ is alive and well and the Lord is carrying it on to completion! It is a great day to be a part of the Church, and the best is yet to come!
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