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.
6. Churches have crossed the 5 million mark.
In 2017, there will be more than 5.5 million congregations in the world thanks to a 2.9 percent growth rate. Churches will number 7.5 million in 2025 and around 9 million in 2050, according to projections.
Christianity may be on the decline in Europe, but worldwide, it’s enjoying healthy growth. (Our GDP should grow so fast.) This means that the intellectual center of Christianity will eventually move south. Presently, nearly all commentaries and original research comes out of Europe or North American — but just as the intellectual center shifted more and more to the US after World War II, we’ll see greater internationalization of the intellectual leadership of Christianity.
This is not a bad thing at all, but it means we need to be careful that we plant healthy churches that teach a healthy Christianity. To the extent we support missionaries who teach legalism or a prosperity gospel or other error, well, that error may become the orthodoxy of the intellectual capital of a future Christian world.
We in the Churches of Christ are particularly guilty of supporting missionaries who teach a legalistic gospel that we would never tolerate in our own pulpits. We love the missionary and don’t really know how to extricate ourselves from a missionary who hasn’t changed as we changed to a truer gospel here.
Here’s the solution:
- Specifically adopt a policy not to support missionaries who teach a legalistic or prosperity gospel — no matter how many converts he makes and no matter how beloved he is by the congregation.
- Share your thinking with your members. They need to know why you do what you do.
- Work with your missionaries to try to teach them a better, truer gospel. Phone calls and email are nearly free nowadays. There’s no excuse for not talking. Share literature.
- Be patient. Express your love. Make it clear that this is critically important to the success of the missionary’s mission.
- If the missionary is too proud to change, he’s too proud to be a missionary. If he’s open minded but just not persuaded, keep on praying. Keep on trying. If he rebels, fire him. So long as he’ll listen and study with you, keep studying with him.
- Consult with a professional missions organization such as MRN re how to handle.
- It’s worth making a trip or two to visit the missionary to teach grace face to face.
- Ultimately, you can’t continue to support a man that teaches the wrong gospel. Give him plenty of notice, be kind, but send your support to a Christian missionary, not a false-gospel missionary who happens to have some history with your church.
- In a generation or two, that nation may well be sending missionaries to the US. Pray that the missionaries come teaching the true gospel.