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While every statistic available today shows the church in the West is in multi-generational decline, the opposite is true almost everywhere else. Non-Western cultures are now the Majority World.
The churches of these cultures have seen extraordinary (and sustained) growth for decades. Places like Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Oceania, and the Caribbean. The Middle East and Eastern Europe. First Nations and Indigenous communities. Finally, diaspora and immigrant Christian communities are also going through a time of growth and revitalization.
Insights from churches in these cultures can help renew the worldwide church. They can invigorate other Majority World churches, as they learn from each other. They have the power to invest Western mission, worship, and discipleship strategies with new vibrancy.
Learning from Majority World, Indigenous, & Diaspora Christians
Majority World and indigenous and diaspora churches are redefining twenty-first century Christianity. Those of us who are Western Christians must decide how we’ll respond.
Philip Jenkins has predicted,
By 2025 fully two-thirds of Christians will live in Africa, Latin America, and Asia… Scholars are fairly unanimous in acknowledging the accuracy of the facts. The ‘average Christian’ today is female, black, and lives in a Brazilian favela or an African village.
China is an example of the phenomenal growth of the church outside the West. If current rates of growth continue, within one generation China will have more Christians than any other nation on earth.
Philip Jenkins concludes,
We are currently living through one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide. Over the last five centuries, the story of Christianity has been inextricably bound up with that of Europe and European-derived civilizations overseas, above all in North America. Until recently, the overwhelming majority of Christians have lived in white nations… Over the last century, however, the center of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably away from Europe, southward, to Africa and Latin America, and eastward, toward Asia. Today, the largest Christian communities on the planet are to be found in those regions.
So, what do we mean by the term “Majority World?” Majority World Christians are those in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Oceania. I use the term Majority World because the majority of the world’s population is in those cultures today. The majority of the church is in those cultures too.
I don’t use the terms non-Western or Third World or Developing World. These terms use Western cultures as their point of reference. They imply Western superiority or centricity. The term Global South is too limiting, given the breadth of the group I am engaging. Majority World seems to work best.
Learning from World Christianity
What does all this mean for the mission and theology and worship and communities of the church worldwide? And what does it mean especially for the Western church?
I recently interviewed Lamin Senneh at Yale Divinity School. In that interview, Lamin offered a striking challenge to the Western church. Here’s my paraphrase of what he said:
We in the West are confident and articulate people. Theology has served us well as a vehicle of our aspirations, desires, and goals. There is no shortage of theological books on all sorts of imaginable subjects. There are how-to-do manuals instructing us about effective ministry. These manuals tell us how to fix our emotions. They affirm our individual identity and promote our choices and preferences. They tell us how to change society by political action. They show us how to raise funds and build bigger churches. They teach us to invest in strategic coalitions. All this language leaves us little time or space to listen to God. What if God has something else to say to us? What if that something else challenges what we want to hear? Yet, without reciprocity in the moral and spiritual life, of hearing and responding to the intimations of the Spirit, it is hard to see how God can be salient in the lives of modern men and women.
The Gospel suffers from a form of cultural captivity in the West. But, the renewal of World Christianity has lessons to teach us all. The de-Westernization of Christianity may, if we allow it, help us address the Western cultural captivity of the Gospel. Thanks to the grace and power and sovereignty of the Spirit of Christ, this de-Westernization of the global church may help us find freedom from our cultural captivity. The astonishing growth and vitality of movements in World Christianity will make this truth even more evident to us, over the following decades.
Cultivating a New Narrative
A missional church commits to diversity and multi-ethnicity. It’s enriched by indigenous and Western and diaspora and Majority World peoples.
We need a new narrative. The vast majority of the global church today isn’t white, Western, and middle-class.
And the astonishing growth of World Christianity isn’t happening in those places. It’s happening in cultures outside of the West. It’s happening among women and children and people of color. Where there is growth and vitality in Western settings, it’s usually among the diaspora and immigrant churches. As Stephen Bevans says: “Today, the average Christian is female, a person of color, and living in Africa or Asia.”
We must turn to the churches of Majority World and indigenous and diaspora cultures. Christians in these cultures help us rediscover what it means to be salt, light, and a city. They invite us into local-global missional conversations. To do this, we, as Western Christians, must enter into conversations with Majority World and diaspora and indigenous Christians. They have much to teach us. Listening to others helps us grow in our understanding and practice of mission and church and theology. For far too long, we’ve been Eurocentric and Americentric. And we’ve marginalized or ignored Majority World and diaspora and indigenous voices.
New, Majority World voices are rising and redefining our understandings of theology and church and mission. Many Majority World and diaspora and indigenous churches have extraordinary missional and theological vitality. Openness to these voices needs to happen now. It’s time for Western churches, theologies, and missions to mature. Only through global conversations and exchanges can it reflect God’s global mission.
I hope that over the coming decades we’ll listen to the thoughts and practices of African, Asian, Caribbean, Eastern European, Oceanian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, First Nation, and indigenous thinkers. These dare us to examine our theologies and missions and churches. They inspire us to renew the worship and community and mission of Jesus’ church. They stir us to think in fresh ways about what it means to be salt, light, and a city. They help us become a global missional church—a truly global church.