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.
1, Some Christian groups are growing faster than others.
While Protestants (1.64 percent) and Catholics (1.08 percent) are growing near or below the population growth rate of 1.21 percent, evangelicals and Pentecostals/Charismatics are growing much faster.
Evangelicals (2.12 percent) and Pentecostals (2.22 percent) are outpacing other branches of Christianity. By 2050, those two groups combined (1.67 billion) will outnumber Catholics (1.61 billion).
2. Pentecostals continue with their explosive growth.
In 1900, there were less than 1 million Pentecostals/Charismatics in the world. In 2017, they will climb to 669 million. By 2050, they will top 1 billion—the second Christian group to do so, behind Catholics.
I’ll bet you didn’t know that. I didn’t. Non-Pentecostal fundamentalists and Mainline denominations are largely on the decline everywhere.
I really can’t explain the rapid growth of Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. I can guess. My experience is that these churches tend to be very pastor-driven. That is, they don’t have a lot of committees and boards to make decisions. The pastor runs the church. Period. In essence, they follow the Carver model of church governance. Most universities, for example, for this template. The board sets policies and goals, but the school president runs the university and makes all decisions within the policies set by the board.
The advantage of this model is that the church can make decisions more quickly and easily, and the members’ are freed from governance and administration to pursue true mission. Of course, if the pastor does a poor job, you have a colossal mess — and we’ve all seen examples of scandals from church pastors who weren’t well overseen by their elders or other boards.
And, evidently, the worship style (low church, high energy, highly creative at times) appeals to many. The theory is that the Spirit is in charge, and so we should not feel constrained by tradition but be willing to experiment within the freedom God has given.
Many such churches do not engage in tongue speaking, prophecy, or faith healing during worship. So I’d be cautious in concluding that it’s the spiritual gifting aspect of the denominations that drives growth. I suspect its more the sense of freedom, a vital, immediate connection with the Divine, and the absence of traditional constraints on what is acceptable worship.
But I’m just guessing. This article by Ed Stetzer offers some other theories. I think he may be onto something.
One key to growth is for you actually to believe what you have is so important that propagation to other contexts in its current version is necessary. The Vineyard Church movement exploded in growth in the 1980s for this reason. They thought that people needed to experience what the Vineyard had to offer.
Baptists thought that way in the 50s. Methodists thought that way in the Second Great Awakening.
Pentecostal believe they have something worth propagating. And that’s worth learning from.
So how do the Churches of Christ turn things around and begin to grow again?
Amos Yong, a professor at Fuller, is a Pentecostal and has studied its growth around the world. One thing he mentions as a factor in growth is the empowerment of women in their fellowship, especially in places where women have little power (Latin/ South America, Africa). Another growth factor he mentions is the strong belief in the Holy Spirit. The Church of Christ has weaknesses in both of these areas.
1) Bring back the Holy Spirit.
2) All churches should send ministers for continuing education. They need to learn what is happening in the real world that their parishioners are contending with.
3) Follow the Christian calendar and stop using the “we don’t know when it happened” disclaimer on Easter and Christmas