Aaron Earls has posted on global Christianity trends in an article at the Facts and Trends blog. We Americans have a tendency to assume that the USA is the world, and so we think that what happens here determines how the rest of the world thinks and behaves. But the fact is that we are but one nation out of many, and most Christians live somewhere else.
9. Missionaries are growing slowly.
In 2017, there will be 430,000 international missionaries—up from 420,000 in 2000. While up dramatically from 62,000 in 1900, the growth rate (0.54 percent) is less than half the population growth rate as a whole (1.21 percent).
It’s astonishing that international missions are doing so well with so (relatively) few missionaries. What’s the likelihood long term? Well, the economics point to more missionaries, I think.
Think about it. In the US, the number of jobs is about to drop — a lot — because of self-driving cars, trucks, cabs, delivery services, and ocean vessels. Some new jobs will created in maintaining and continuing to design these things, but it’s obvious that a lot of jobs — primarily held by men — will be gone forever.
Now, if you’re a reasonably intelligent 40-year old male who just lost his UPS delivery job, how tempting would it be to go to a missions training program and go preach in a foreign land? Well, so long as the mission work is funded, people will take the jobs. And they’ll be plenty of people to apply — many of whom will be gifted to work in the field.
So it’s not a question of supply of missionaries so much as a question of the availability of funds to support more missionaries and to train missionaries. And that’ll happen.
One reason is that the self-driving vehicle revolution that’s almost here will greatly increase productivity — much as the microcomputer revolution did. And higher productivity means higher profits — more GDP per person — and some of that money will find its way into mission work.
Distance learning will make it easier for former drivers to learn enough Bible to be capable missionaries without having to move to Nashville or Abilene. And excitement at the rapid growth of Christianity throughout the world (coupled with fear or resentment of Islam and other competing thought systems) will drive people to donate and volunteer as the word gets out.
In the 1960s and 1970s, countless men laid off as factories and farms became more efficient with mechanization attended Bible schools to retrain as preachers. Some proved to be very effective — even though it was not a rigorous system of training by any means. But with major universities now offering courses online, the use of distance learning to obtain accredited degrees is entirely accepted.
The key will be whether the leaders of our missions organizations and universities get ready to ride the crest of the wave — and manage to select good men and women for their training programs. They won’t lack for candidates.