Before I take off:
The long anticipated Lausanne III Congress: Cape Town 2010, is taking place this week in South Africa. This is the ecumenical council of evangelical missions - with 4,200 mission leaders from 192 countries, 1,100 staff working behind the scenes, and another 100,000 participants meeting in groups at internet-based link points around the world. The goal was to have 65% of those attending be from the global south, reflecting the new demography of global Christianity.
One problem with this representational approach is that almost no Catholics are present and they comprise 50% of the world’s Christians. The organizers specifically mentioned their desire to have Catholic and Orthodox Christians present but it seems that the resulting numbers are very, very tiny and essentially invisible. It is really too bad. We badly need the wake-up call that witnessing the amazing passion, dedication, and sophistication of the evangelical missions movement would give. Please take the time to look around the site and watch some of the videos. Their focus is definitely not insider baseball.
If we think of Catholics and Orthodox Christians as a unit and all the heirs of the Reformation as a separate unit, we will see a definite trend. In 1900, Catholics and Orthodox Christians together comprised nearly three quarters of all Christians on the planet.
The 20th century and the rise of Communism in its historical homelands was disastrous for Orthodoxy, whose global footprint has dropped from 22% of all Christians in 1900 to 12.6% today.
Catholics, who hit the high water mark of 53.9% of all affiliated Christians in 1970, have been slowly declining ever since. A good case can be made that one cause of Catholic decline, in addition to the wide-spread disaffection in Europe, is because most of our missionaries abandoned initial proclamation of Christ as the heart of Catholic missionary work in the 60’s. While evangelical and renewalist Protestants just revved their engines.
110 years later, the Catholic and Orthodox communions have dropped to roughly 60% of all Christians and the heirs of the Reformation now make up about 40%. (There are a number of double-affiliated Christians who have been counted twice.) New forms of Christianity, which hardly registered on the ecclesial radar in 1900, are now major players. Independent Christians make up 17% of all Christians and renewalist Christians (Pentecostal/charismatic/neocharismatics) make up 30%. They are heirs of the Reformation, they are ones evangelizing, and they are the fastest growing faiths in the world.
To give some perspective, the general global population is growing at a 1.21% per annum rate. Catholics lag behind at 1.0% growth per annum. The Orthodox bring up the rear at a 0.68% per year growth rate. The Muslim community is growing nearly three times as fast as the Orthodox at 1.82% per annum. While Independent Christians and renewalist Christians are growing at a blistering 2.42% per annum, twice as fast as the global population. World Christian Trends estimates that there are 41,000 new renewalist Christians in the world every 24 hours. (These figures are from the Status of Global Mission, 2010.)
The projections for 2025 follow the same trajectory. But the outlook for Orthodoxy is even more bleak. As John Allen pointed out in his book "The Future Church", the population implosion taking place right now in Russia and other parts of the Orthodox heartland means that it is very likely that Orthodox numbers will shrink another 25% in the next 15 years. Since the Orthodox haven't done much mission work in the global south, they can't count upon growth there to counteract their losses in eastern Europe.
Meanwhile, the percentage of Catholics will continue its slow decline, dropping below the 50% mark to about 48.8% of all Christians. While Independent and renewalist Christians continue to grow rapidly. If these trends do not change significantly in the next 40 years, Protestants and their spiritual heirs will comprise the majority of Christians by 2050.
This isn't a numbers-for-its-own-sake game. We are talking about the spiritual, earthly, and eternal well-being of many hundreds of millions of human beings. We have a beautiful and rich theology of evangelization but our practice as a communion is so lame compared to the energy and fire being demonstrated at Cape Town 2010. (As I have noted before, watching Catholics evangelize is like watching a bunch of Southern Baptists sight-read their way through the liturgy of Holy Week. Because knowing how to do something complex like evangelization or liturgy is as much about culture, inherited assumptions and practices, and building upon the achievements of past generations as the theology. )
This could have been our wake-up call – if we bothered to take the evangelical missionary movement seriously. But we haven't. One day soon, we won’t have a choice.
An interesting side note:
The online resources for Cape Town 2010 are so extensive that I haven’t had time to figure them all out but the goal was that interested Christians around the world could attend virtually. (The software they are using has this motto ”Real is so yesterday”.)
The organizers announced this morning that their internet connections had survived a major cyber attack. “We have 700 GlobaLink sites in 95 countries extending the Congress to 100,000 people’, said Victor Nakah, GlobaLink Chair for the Congress. ‘Finally, after two rough days, they are being served as planned.’
The word is out from Tall, Skinny Kiwi about about the source of the disruptions:
Here's the skinny. The bandwidth and internet access problems that have plagued the Lausanne World Congress in Cape Town over the past few days were the result of a malicious virus from a phone brought into the Cape Town International Convention Center. According to unofficial reports, millions of hits from 66 different sites eventually crashed the system.
Which country? Well, one of my strongest theories was that the New Zealand Government was upset at their small representation and were getting back at Lausanne. But now we have heard that 95% of these internet hits came from the country of China, and the 66 locations were also situated in China, and that account of a Chinese fellow taking photos of Congress participants before running away, and this has caused us to consider China at least as a potentially suspicious candidate.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government refused at the last minute to let the Chinese participants leave the country to attend Cape Town 2010.