Megatrends Shaping the Future of Missions in General
and Global Partners in Particular
“So what is a “megatrend“? Trends are an emerging pattern of change likely to impact how we live and work. Megatrends are large, social, economic, political, environmental or technological change that are slow to form, but once in place can influence a wide range of activities, processes and perceptions, possibly for decades. They are the underlying forces that drive change in global markets, and our everyday lives.” - Peter Fisk (https://www.thegeniusworks.com/2019/12/mega-trends-with-mega-impacts-embracing-the-forces-of-change-to-seize-the-best-future-opportunities/)
Missions agencies, including Global Partners, are not immune to the patterns of change shaping the world around us. We can choose to ignore the handwriting on the wall, or be like the men from Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (I Chron.12:32) It is a choice between proactively moving the mission forward and scrambling to stay relevant and viable. As Craig Groeschel noted, “The difference between a good leader and a great leader is one who learns to anticipate rather than react.” (Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast – 11/5/20).
So, what are the megatrends we need to anticipate? Based on my reading (see the Reference List at the end) and my observations across the scope of GP’s world, I suggest the following.
“Globalization is a term used to describe the increasing connectedness and interdependence of world cultures and economies.” (National Geographic) In my almost four decades in missions I have watched the world become smaller and smaller. The pace of the growth of interconnectedness has increased, driven to a great extent by rapid developments in technology.
Culbertson summarizes the implications of globalization for missions as follows:
“Some things about globalization actually facilitate world evangelism. For instance, because of easy mobility, millions of believers have crossed international borders on short-term mission trips. On the other hand, today's missionary teams are often multi-national. Thus, missionaries have to think cross-culturally just by living and ministering with missionaries from other nations.
At times, globalization gives rise to seemingly contradictory trends. For example, globalization leads some people to see religion in private and individualistic terms. For others, globalization has caused them to slide toward secularism or, at the very least, to embrace shallow forms of spirituality. Then, tragically, the flow of religions across cultural boundaries has too often fostered aggressive intolerance.”
“Migration is, and perhaps has always been, one of the most significant issues in Christian mission.” (Lightyear)
According to the World Migration Report 2020, 1 out of every 30 people in the world (272 million people) is a migrant (that is, they currently live in a country different from their birth country). That includes 25.9 million refugees, or involuntary migrants.
The missiological implications are pointed out by Lightyear as follows:
In short, migration matters missionally for three reasons: firstly, because it matters to the people we live with (or will live with in the future); secondly, because it matters to the God whom we follow and worship; and thirdly, because people are increasingly absent from where we would expect them to be present, and present where we could not expect them (and the dynamics of this translocation have been, and continue to be, a rich contributor not only to the numerical growth and geographical spread of the gospel, but also to the theological, liturgical, and ecclesiological development of the church).
“Additionally, along with globalization has come the rapid growth of cities and the rise of urbanization. In the year 1800, only 3 percent of people lived in cities. By 1900, the fraction of city-dwellers increased to 10 percent. Between 1900 and 2007, though, it increased to 50 percent. By 2050, it is estimated that 75–80 percent of all human beings will live in cities. Cities are where the people are and where they will be in the future.” (Mohler)
The exponential growth of cities has massive implications for how we should engage in missions. “Christian mission won the ancient Greco-Roman world because it won the cities.” (Rijnhart et al) If Christian mission is going to effectively reach the current world it will be because we have focused on reaching the cities.
Rijnhart et al summarize the reasons why urban ministry is so critical as follows:
- Cities are culturally crucial. In the village, someone might win its one or two lawyers to Christ, but winning the legal profession requires going to the city with the law schools, the law journal publishers, and so on.
- Cities are globally crucial. In the village, someone can win only the single people group living there, but spreading the gospel to ten or twenty new national groups/languages at once requires going to the city, where they can all be reached through the one lingua franca of the place.
- Cities are personally crucial. By this I mean that cities are disturbing places. The countryside and the village are marked by stability and residents are more set in their ways. Because of the diversity and intensity of the cities, urbanites are much more open to new ideas—such as the gospel! Because they are surrounded by so many people like and unlike themselves, and are so much more mobile, urbanites are far more open to change/conversion than any other kind of resident. Regardless of why they may have moved to the city, once they arrive there the pressure and diversity make even the most traditional and hostile people open to the gospel.
4. DECLINE IN RELIGIOUS WORKERS VISAS
While it is difficult (maybe impossible) to document, it appears that it is becoming increasingly difficult for missionaries to obtain visas or residence permits to allow them to serve in the countries to which they are being sent. Two forces seem to be at work:
- Countries which historically had been open to Christian missionaries are becoming less so. Missionaries are no longer held in high esteem and are not viewed as offering benefit to the country so as to warrant the approval of residency status.
- Some creative access countries are becoming more restrictive and cracking down on missionaries who are being not fully honest in disclosing their reasons for being in their country. Turkey, India, and China come quickly to mind as places that recently have been stepping up their restrictions on foreigners involved in missionary activity. Tent-faking, to use a term coined by Barna, is becoming less effective in these increasingly hostile places.
The reality is that the parts of the world that are least evangelized are also the areas that are most hostile to Christian missionaries. One only needs to superimpose Casper’s map of “the top 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian” over a map of the 10:40 window representing the areas where the least reached peoples live to realize that it is becoming more difficult to access the places where missionaries are needed most.
“The vast majority of countries in this part of the world either do not grant missionary visas, or else restrict missionary activity so as to preclude any attempt to convert members of the majority religion. In effect, human governments and human societies have stated their intent to veto the Great Commission.” (Lying, Hostile Nations, and the Great Commission)
5. GLOBAL SHIFT OF CHRISTIANITY
As Zurlo et al point out, “The decline of Christianity in the Global North is now being outpaced by the rise of Christianity in the Global South (i.e., Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania). Christians in sub-Saharan Africa generally have high birth rates, and people from other religions continue to convert to Christianity in China, India, Cambodia, Mongolia, and elsewhere throughout Asia.” They provide the following diagram to show the status of global Christianity.
The implications for missions are immense. A few years ago, Oscar Muriu, senior pastor at Nairobi Chapel told students at Urbana “The world has changed. Our definition of what it means to be Christian is going to be increasingly defined by the 2/3 world and our paradigm of missions must of necessity, therefore, change." (Christianity Today)
Which of these megatrends do you see having an I impact on you and your ministry? What megatrend do you see that I missed that will greatly influence the shape of global missions and GP?
The next blog post will look at megatrends within the church itself that are shaping our future.
Arthur, E. (2017). The Future of Mission Agencies. Mission Round Table, 12(1), 4-12.
Arthur, E. (2019). Mission Agencies in the 21st Century [Scholarly project]. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/38654079/Mission_Agencies_in_the_21st_Century_A_Research_Report_for_Agency_Leadership_and_Boards
Casper, J. (2020, January 15). The 50 Countries Where It's Hardest to Follow Jesus. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/january/top-christian-persecution-open-doors-2020-world-watch-list.html
Culbertson, H. (n.d.). Globalization. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://home.snu.edu/~HCULBERT/global.htm
Fuller, J. (2017). Future Proofing OMF. Mission Round Table, 12(1), 13-22.
The Future of Missions 10 Questions About Global Ministry that the Church Must Answer with the Next Generation (Publication). (2020). Barna.
Gina A. Zurlo, T. (2019, October 16). World Christianity and Mission 2020: Ongoing Shift to the Global South. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2396939319880074
Global Mission in the Twenty-first Century. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2020, from http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Global_Mission_21.pdf
Global Mission Trends. (2020, September). Retrieved from https://joshuaproject.net/assets/media/handouts/global-mission-trends.pdf
Lightyear. (2017). Missional Migration. Mission Round Table, 12(2), 4-8.
Lying, Hostile Nations, and the Great Commission. (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.9marks.org/article/lying-hostile-nations-and-great-commission/
Missions Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2020, from http://www.thetravelingteam.org/stats
Mohler, A. (2017, October 25). Globalization and the Christian Mission. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2017/11/globalization-christian-mission/
Pocock, M., Rheenen, G. V., & McConnell, D. (2005). The changing face of world missions: Engaging contemporary issues and trends. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Rijnhart, C., Jurie Kreel, B., Harries, J., &; Pier, M. (2018, March 22). What Is God's Global Urban Mission? Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.lausanne.org/content/what-is-gods-global-urban-mission
Wan, E. (n.d.). Rethinking Missiology in the context of the 21st Century: Global Demographic Trends and Diaspora Missiology. Retrieved from http://www.enochwan.com/english/articles/pdf/Rethinking%20Missiology%20in%2021st%20Century.pdf
World Migration Report 2020 (Rep.). (2019). Geneva: International Organization for Migration. https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/wmr_2020.pdf