From Everywhere to Everywhere: The Global Church and its Missional Responsibility

If you follow this blog you may have recognized a trend in rethinking church and theology from a global perspective. This post continues on the same sequence. However, I now shift to thinking of missions from a global perspective and how it affects the church everywhere. So I will begin by analyzing current trends in Christian missiology, briefly underline the challenge of globalization and conclude with a possible path for the future.

Over the past century, Christianity has experienced a seismic shift in its centrality. A recent study by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary has found that in 1910 over 80% of the world’s Christians lived in the global North. By 1970, Christians could be found in all of the world’s countries, but their distribution among countries and regions was still far from even. At the same time, in 1970 the Global South was home to 76% of the world’s total population but only 43% of all Christians. By 2010 however, 84% of all people and 59% of all Christians now lived in the Global South. 2010 marked a watershed moment for global Christianity seismically shifting its identity. By 2020, it is expected that 66% of all Christians will belong to developing nations, causing new challenges to the exercise of missions and theology.

These findings determined that Christianity has become a global religion. Congruently, the globalization of Christianity has also triggered a new trend in global missions. The twenty-first century has witnessed the sending of international missionaries to all of the world’s countries from almost every country. The same study by Gordon Conwell has found that of the ten countries sending the most missionaries in 2010, three were in the global South: Brazil, South Korea, and India. The “second top ten” included six Southern countries: South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico, China, Colombia, and Nigeria (making nine of the “top 20” from the South). These numbers look promising for the global church, who is now doing ministry in a global setting.

Missions is no longer a North to South endeavor, it has become from everywhere to everywhere. As the missionary task becomes globalized, it helps maintain the polycentric nature of the Christian movement. Nonetheless, it also highlights the need for global unity through partnerships in mission. As Christianity has experienced growth in the global South, so has Islam, Buddhism and other world religions. The “death of God” predicted by modernity and its prophets has failed to be fulfilled, and the world has become more religious than ever before.

In view of other globalizing religions, a global responsibility for Christian mission and evangelism suggests that the whole church must engage in presenting the whole gospel to the whole world. Missiologists like Scott Moreau and Gary Corwin predict that the non-Christian religions of the world will provide the greatest challenge to the church for the foreseeable future. Consequently, the solution will then require a deep knowledge of other religions with respect, humility and eventually, advocacy.

The challenge of marrying traditional methods from the West with emerging models of missions from the Global South will become crucial, especially in the organizing power structures and funding of new missionary efforts. This is and will become a great dilemma global denominations like the Catholic Church or even protestant/pentecostal/evangelical segments. Take the Assemblies of God for example, their numbers in the United States are an estimated 3 million members, while in Brazil alone, they sum up to 16 million. The numerical majority has shifted, while governance, influence and funding has remained centralized in the minority. The same pattern can be seen from the Roman Catholic Church all the way to your mainline Evangelical denominations. A structural rethinking needs to take place in order for the mission of the Church to move forward.

Mission is the ultimate expression of the Church’s identity. Nevertheless, we are offered hope when reminded that mission is also God’s priority, and it will remain so until Christ returns. Faithfulness to the task coupled with the empowerment of the Spirit and each other can ensure that mission will remain at the helm of the Church. Although the challenges that missionaries and denominations face will tend to become increasingly daunting, God transcends them all.

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