The West as the “Fastest Growing Mission Field in the World”

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Some readers of this blog may not know that I had a life as a missiologist before I became the President of Asbury Theological Seminary.  I had the privilege of teaching in the area of missiology for nearly two decades.  I have a long appreciation for the significance of the emphasis on unreached people groups and the transition from seeing missions as about “going to places” to “going to peoples.”  With the exponential rise in global relocation (both immigration and emigration) it is increasingly difficult to tie “peoples” to “places” as we once did.  It is therefore difficult to speak with a singular voice about the state of the church in a particular place, especially the United States which is marked by such diversity.  Certainly the ethnic churches in the United  States are among the fastest growing churches in this country and, by any standard of measurement, quite a few of these church planting movements could easily be declared to be “vibrant.”

On the other hand, European people-groups, regardless of where they have migrated to (Western Europe, North America, S. Africa, Australia, etc…) are in spiritual decline.  The white Caucasian peoples, once the standard bearers of global Christianity, are now losing the faith in record numbers (between 4,700 and 7,000 per day).  To put this in generational perspective, 65% of the “builder” generation identified themselves as Christian; whereas only 35% of the “baby boomer” generation did.  Generation “X” has only 24% who identify themselves as Christian and the millennial generation (born between 1980 and 2000) is only 15% Christian in their self identification.  If this trend continues then the next generation will be statistically able to be classified as an “unreached people group” as have quite a few European groups in the current generation.  Contrast this with the same generational spread in India which has gone from 1.5% Christian to 2.5% to 4.5% to nearly 10% and you begin to see that in another generation, India (long considered the mission field) will have more Christians than among the Caucasian population of the United States.  It is true that the overall Christian percentages in the United States look to be trending very strong through 2050, but this is because of the dramatic growth of non-white Christian movements in N. America.  So, it is clear to me that Caucasian people groups in the United States (and, indeed, wherever these groups are found) represent the fastest growing mission field in the world.

This has important implications for all of us committed to training ministers of the gospel.  We must move from a caretaker/career footing to a more missional/prophetic footing.  The church in the West must change.  The leadership must change.  Our perspective must change.  If we do not then in another generation the phrase “a white Christian” may sound like, if I can borrow a line from Philip Jenkins, “a curious oxymoron, as mildly surprising as a ‘Swedish Buddhist.’ Such people can exist, but a slight eccentricity is implied.”

– Timothy C. Tennent

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