“We are currently living through one of the most 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 … 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 … to Africa and Latin America, and … Asia. Today the largest Christian communities on the planet are to be found in those regions.”
Dr. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom (2011)
When I lived in London a few years ago, I was invited
to a prayer meeting by a particular network of African churches. I was told that this prayer meeting occurs twice a year but that it was an all-night prayer meeting.
The pre-prayer meeting started at around 8pm where
I had the opportunity to meet many pastors from this network. One pastor told me about the five churches in India that they planted. Families brought sleeping bags for their children to sleep in, as they prayed through the night for the prayer meeting would not end until around 7am.
People prayed, there was vibrant singing and worship, and the preacher was the Archbishop of Canterbury. I was told around 40,000 people turned up for this prayer meeting. These African Christians demonstrated a global connectedness, a heart for overseas mission, a deep commitment to prayer and a desire to build relationships with Western Christians.
There’s no doubt about it, the world is changing; not only politically. and economically but also religiously. The above words by Philip Jenkins point out that, for some time now, there have certainly been major changes in Christianity around the world.
We are now living in ‘one of the most transforming moments’ in history: today, more Christians are to be found in what is called the Majority World (Africa, Asia, and Latin America) even as the church in the West declines.
At the same time, while people have always been on the move, movement in this generation is so unprecedented that scholars call it the ‘age of migration’. This includes Christians who plant churches in the West like African churches in London. We are seeing this in Australia too. Did you know, for example, that in the Baptist Union of Victoria alone, there are now 100 LOTE (Language other than English) churches? The world is changing.
I don’t know whether you have ever considered the fact that you are living in one of the most significant periods in the history of Christianity, but the changes noted do raise some important questions for us.
For example, how engaged are our churches, our mission agencies and Bible colleges with the growing number of non-Western Christians in our neighbourhoods in Australia as well as overseas?
What can we (and are we willing to) learn from each other’s perspectives (e.g. theological)? What approaches to, and models of, mission do we need to change?
Do we need to change how we invest our resources for mission? Do we need to be more intentional in partnering with non-Western Christians here and around the world?
These are just a few basic questions that we would do well to consider as we reflect on how we take part in this exciting new chapter of God’s story. Praise God that he is on the move and building his church around the world, raising up workers for his harvest field to serve him and proclaim him in a needy world.
If you would like to explore these issues further, David is teaching the class Global Migration, Diaspora and the Mission of God in Semester 2, 2023.