The New Shape of World Christianity

A few weeks ago I got connected with the leadership team of the Luasanne Movement. The group dates back to 1974 when Billy Graham and John Stott brought church leaders from around the world to Luasanne, Switzerland, for a “congress” on world missions. Another Luasanne Congress occured in 1989 in Manila. A thrid gathering is now set for Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2010. It will include over 4000 leaders from over 200 countrie–the largest, most diverse gathering of Christian leaders in history. And for the first time more than half of the delagates will be from the Majority World. As I move toward greater involvement with the efforts to organize Cape Town 2010, I’ve finally picked up a book that’s been on my desk for some time–Mark Noll’s The New Shape of World Christianity. I’ve just gotten in to it, but I thought I’d share a few remarkable statements and statistics from the openening chapters.

  • Today there are more missionaries from Brazil engaged in crosscultural ministry than fromBritain or Canada.
  • There are over 10,000 foreign Christian workers serving in Britain, France, Germany and Italy–and more than 35,000 in the U.S. Most of the missionaries in Britain are from Africa and Asia.
  • “This past Sunday it is possible that more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called ‘Christian Europe.'”
  • “This past Sunday more Presbyterians were in church in Ghana than in Scotland.”
  • “Today, the largest Christian congregation in Europe is in Kiev, and it is pastored by a Nigerian of Pentecostal background.”
  • “More than half of all Christian adherents in the whole history of the church have been alive in the last one hundred years. Close to half of Chrisitan believers who have ever lived are alive right now.”
  • In 1900, over 80 percent of the Christian population was Caucasian and over 70 percent lived in Europe. Now, according to historian Dana Robert, “The typical late twentieth-century Christian was no longer a European man but a Latin American or African Woman.”

What does all of this mean? I’ll have to keep reading Noll to find out. But I do have a few thoughts of my own. First, it means those of us in the West should be taking a more humble posture. Despite having more resources and eduction than any other Christians in history, we have been overseeing a significant contraction in the church. At the same time, our African, South Asian, and Latin American brothers and sisters–often underresourced–are watching the church expand beyond belief. Maybe we don’t have church/mission figured out. Maybe we should be learning from them. Secondly, it means that gatherings like the one planned in Cape Town in 2010 are more important than ever. The old assumptions about world mission are being swept away. When Africans feel compelled to send missionaries to the U.S., you know something is happening. We need to gather, listen, and learn from those who for centuries have been silenced by the Western church. Click here to learn more about the Luasanne Congress in Cape Town. noll book


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