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.
8. Less of the world is unreached than ever before.
In 1900, more than half of the world was unevangelized. By 2000, that number had fallen to 30 percent. In 2017, it will drop even further.
In 2017, 28.4 percent of the population will be unreached with the gospel. That adds up to more than 2 billion people who still have yet to hear about Jesus.
The percentage decrease of the world’s unreached population has also plateaued. Over the next few decades, the unevangelized number is expected to stay around 28 percent of the world’s population.
As I understand this, “reached” does not mean converted but “has heard the gospel.” Nonetheless, this is an astonishing figure to me.
On the other hand, I don’t think the plateau figure is going to hold. As I see, big increases in missions are driven by wealth and by transportation. The invention of the steam ship in the 19th Century and international commercial air travel after World War II led to dramatic increases in mission work. Just so, increasing wealth of evangelistic denominations matters because missionaries cost money — as do Bibles, church buildings, etc.
The relative safety of foreign travel enjoyed since World War II has also made a huge difference, and this is driven by strategic alliances among industrialized nations that know that safety is good for trade.
Therefore, free trade leads to mission work because the conditions required for free trade — honest police, the absence of pirates and highway robbers, the rule of law, a court system, respect for international treaties — all help with mission work. I mean, I’m not going to trade with a nation where I can’t safely travel.
But free trade also leads to reasonable exchange rates, modest tariffs, and international banking. It’s so much easier to support a missionary if you don’t have to hide hundred dollar bills in packages. If you can just deposit the money in his or her bank account and the bank will convert the currency to euros or whatever at a fair rate, mission work is much easier.
So it all connects. And despite fears of what Trump may do to the international order, the fact remains that free trade will, over the long term, expand because so many nations in poverty are seeing improvements in the quality of their lives thanks to globalization. And the US is making a tidy profit as well. And as trade improves, so will mission work because barriers to mission work will continue to come down. Erratically and too slowly, but down because there is no other rational choice. And because people of compassion will insist on free trade for the sake of those in poverty in other nations. I mean, when compassion and profit line up, well, it’s an irresistible combination — in the long run.
Now combine all that with an increasing move toward native missionaries — who don’t have a huge international travel budget and often are vocational missionaries (do mission work plus a secular job), and the cost of a missionary goes down — while his effectiveness may be far greater, especially if our universities fund local training programs for these men and women.
And so from a purely economic analysis, the rate of missions growth should rise just because the cost of doing missions should continue to fall. Add that to the power of an active, living Holy Spirit, the gospel will continue to spread.
My biggest concern is the tendency of Islamic, Hindu, and even Orthodox nations to create barriers to mission work as they see Christianity (or non-Orthodox Christianity) have so much success. The local priests, mullahs, etc. see their base of support eroding and they quite naturally lean on the government to create barriers to missions (as is happening in China, India, and Russia today). This retrograde tendency will eventually be overcome, but for a while, we can expect to see more. The economics of the change makes it nearly inevitable — unless the industrialized nations, such as the US, put major pressure on these nations to grant true freedom of religion — which recent administrations have been reluctant to do. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of wealth controlled by Christians, and they’ll use their individual influence to push for freedom as they choose what nation to invest in.
Ultimately, those nations that refuse to allow Christian missions will suffer because Christian values help create wealth — the old “Protestant work ethic” argument still carries some weight. Nations that grant freedom of religion will be more prosperous than those that do not — and this will eventually open up some closed nations. Not all. But many. I mean, the caste system in India hurts its ability to prosper. If China persecutes Christians, Americans won’t buy Chinese goods.
I realize that some will consider economic analysis foreign and even anti-Christian, but it’s just not true. In fact, if you want to understand the behavior of foreign nations, money isn’t the only driver, but it’s an important one. Leave it out, and you’ll just not understand why people act as they act.