The Changing World of Missions

Jeff Bleijerveld, Director of Global Ministries

There is good news regarding the “good news.”

The latest edition of Operation World reported that evangelicals numbered 84.5 million (2.8% of the world’s population) in 1960, but in 2000 they were 420 million (6.9%). Evangelical Christianity is the world’s fastest growing major religion even in areas traditionally closed to missionaries.

In the Islamic world, North Africans have been turning to Christ in the last decade–perhaps explaining at least in part the desire for reform throughout the region. Middle East Media reports surging interest in Christian literature, while in Indonesia the church is estimated to have grown by 20 million since organized attacks against Christians began in 1998.

Latin America’s evangelicals now number 60 million people, two-thirds of whom are Pentecostals. Responding not only to the needs of the poor and disenfranchised within their own borders, they have been carrying the gospel overseas to Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

In the countries of the former Soviet Union, the Alliance for Saturation Church Planting and the CoMission, a cooperative effort of 35 denominations and agencies, reports 2500 new church plants in four years, including 767 in the Ukraine alone. Ukrainians are now sending workers to 11 unreached areas, including Kazakhstan.

In Asia, the church in China has gone from 30 million in 1949 when the communists took power to more than 100 million today. In India there is a vibrant and brave missionary movement of 200 Indian agencies and several thousand missionaries reaching out to their own tribal peoples, and also to Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, and the disputed Cashmere Region.

Africa is the most Christian continent in all the world today. In Kenya, nearly 50% of the people claim to be evangelicals. Nigeria is sending missionaries throughout the world, but particularly to Arab North Africa.

The world as we know it has been turned upside down. Once the Global North was predominantly Christian. Today, it is the Global South. Nearly 80% of all evangelicals live in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and they are more engaged in mission than ever before. North America is being rivaled by South Korea, Brazil, China, India, and Nigeria as the leading sender of missionaries.

This doesn’t mean we are being relieved of our duties, nor are we unnecessary in the task of global evangelism. What it does indicate is that our role is changing from leaders to participants, and that the way missions is being done will continue to change significantly.

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