Serious scholars now claim that the biggest change in the history of Christianity is underway as the center of the Christian faith decidedly shifts to Africa, Latin America and Asia.
"The story of Christianity as a worldwide faith is being written before our eyes," said Dr. Dana Robert, of Boston University School of Theology, to the Global Christian Forum (GCF) in Manado, Indonesia, October 4-7. The gathering, which I was invited to attend at the eleventh hour but sadly could not do, brought together leaders from major church traditions, theological perspectives, and world communions. These included the Anglican Communion, the World Council of Churches, the World Evangelical Alliance, the Pentecostal World Fellowship, and the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Peter Crossing, of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, noted in Manado that in 1910 about 66 percent of the world's Christians lived in Europe; a century later it was only 26 percent. Crossing, a researcher for the Atlas of Global Christianity, said the overall percentage of Christians had remained fairly constant over the last century, but there had been a "dramatic change in the center of gravity of global Christianity." Crossing notes that one hundred years ago the center would have been near Madrid, but by 2010 it had shifted somewhere just south of Timbuktu in Mali. Though Christians in the northern hemisphere still dominate financially 60 percent of the world's Christians live in the southern hemisphere.
Dr. Sang-Bok David Kim of the World Evangelical Alliance told the GCF that huge changes in the church internationally meant "Christianity is no longer a 'white man's' religion. Christians are now everywhere." This is not a guess. It is a fact.
Dana Robert added that, "Contemporary Christians are focusing on mission for multiple purposes—both to recover tradition and to recover from tradition. Conversations about mission and witness have become an urgent agenda for declining mainline Christian. At the same time, adherents of new ministries often see their witness as a recovery of primitive Christianity that challenges the older denominations.”
Here is my problem. The center of the Christian faith is leaving the West and within a few generations the global church will look very, very different. I write about this in Your Church Is Too Small. I talk about this weekly. But few Western leaders understand it or show any willingness to face up to it. Why? Their “church is too small.” They think local and continue to refuse looking global. They think small paradigm shift and will not have the courage to give up the paradigm they trust in so deeply order to recover a biblical, missional paradigm rooted in pre-Christendom and the ancient church.
I do not want to throw out Western Christianity with all its great contributions to the global church. But I do want us to stop acting like we have the first and/or last word on the church and her mission from our culturally-colored Western perspective. Until we embrace the missional-ecumenical paradigm more fully I believe we will never wake up from our cozy slumber. In thirty years the reality of all this will have mugged us. The problem is that then it will be too late for most of what we could do correctly now.