The headlines tell a sad story! “Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?” one reads. Another blares “2067, The End of British Christianity.” And still another, “The Decline of Christianity in the West.”
It is easy to get the impression that places once home to vibrant Christian communities are rapidly headed toward a Christ-less future. From the cradle of the Church in the Middle East, to the heart of Christendom in Europe, and the “shining city on a hill” that was America, it appears that Christianity is on the decline; the victories won by the sacrifice and blood of the martyrs now seemingly coming to a sad end.
The Word of God assures us, however, that God has never been left without a witness. And Paul assures us that “He who began a good work in us is able to bring it to completion.” Mark Twain reportedly said, relative to erroneous reports of his death, “The news of my demise has been greatly exaggerated.” The same is actually true of the Church of Jesus Christ in many once-vital regions of the world that are currently being re-evangelized.
Here are five areas we can be praying for:
In the 1830s a small corps of North American missionaries sought to bring the gospel to the tribal people of Indonesia. Though the first to arrive were all martyred, others soon followed and many Indonesians became Christ followers as a result of the missionaries’ efforts. The church became established in multiple areas throughout the archipelago. World wars and revolutions, however, took their toll. Indonesia ultimately became the most populous Muslim country in the world. Nevertheless, the witness of Jesus is alive and well in Indonesia. New approaches to mission there in the last 15 years have seen some of the swiftest and most significant movements of people to Jesus in history. Some estimate that as many as two million Indonesians a year are responding to the gospel message, and becoming Christ followers.
2. Great Britain
Once one of the great missionary-sending countries of the world, and the birthplace of some major revival movements, today Great Britain’s fastest-growing faith group is “no religion,” followed by Muslim. It is sad and painful to see once proud church buildings now housing bars, mosques, or museums. But some new movements of faith and renewal are springing up in England and beginning to turn things around. One such movement, Fresh Expressions, “seeks to transform communities and individuals through championing, resourcing, and multiplying new ways of being church.” Working across denominational lines, this youthful movement has seen thousands of new congregations being formed. More than 40 percent of those attending the new churches are previously unchurched. Additionally, four out of 10 of the attendees of Fresh Expression churches are under 16 years old!
In the days of the Apostle Paul, the church was born all across what is modern-day Turkey. But the spread of Islam and the rise of the Ottoman Empire resulted in the near extinction of the church there. By the year 2008, less than .3 percent of the population was Christian. Yet a Christianity Today article that same year reported that, “For the first time in 550 years, Christianity inside Turkey is growing in numbers and influence.” Through more culturally contextualized expressions of church, Bible institutes (some online), personal witness, and the ministry of believers during times of crisis, multitudes of Turkish citizens are becoming open to the gospel. In the major cities, several large churches are growing. With this rise in attention to Jesus has come increased, open persecution of the Church and believers. The persecution constitutes an important prayer need, but is also having the effect of drawing even more Turks to the faith.
Although Russia has a long and dynamic Christian history, it also underwent 70 years of official state-enforced atheism under the Soviet system. Every effort was made in the USSR to extinguish faith and destroy the Church. Cathedrals were turned into public toilets, priests and pastors were martyred, and public worship was banned. Today, however, Russians are coming to faith by the millions. And they are lamenting the decline of Christianity in the West.
I was recently in St. Petersburg having a conversation with a middle-aged Russian woman. Though reared atheist, this lady has committed her life to Jesus and is living a vibrant faith. She passionately reminded me of some truth. “The US used to export the faith. Today you continue to export democracy. But you seem to have forgotten that democracy devoid of faith in Jesus Christ is just another form of godless tyranny, the tyranny of the godless masses. We in Russia know what atheist tyranny is all about. I fear we Russians are going to have to try to remind you of the gospel in the same way you tried to remind us in the last century!”
5. New York City
For decades, while the Church remained strong in the suburbs and rural areas of the United States, the major cities were increasingly becoming spiritual ghost towns. The last 15 years, however, have seen resurgence in urban church planting and development. New York City provides a snapshot of the results. From multi-campus Redeemer Presbyterian, to the Theater District’s Times Square Church; from Brooklyn Tabernacle to Christian Culture Center, megachurches are once again flourishing in the city. And church planting movements such as Redeemer City to City, International Project, and Global Gates have been the catalyst for well over 1500 new church plants in the city since the year 2000. The growth rate of Evangelical Christians in the city is now running five-to-eight percent per year! There are some who now believe that New York City may be poised to help usher in the next great awakening in the US.
The signs of new life are rising up all over the world. Let’s not forget that the same Lord who gave us the Great Commission also reminded us that “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” God is not done with His Church!