Wednesday, September 5, 2012

USA - Fastest Emerging Mission Field in the World

I read an interesting blog post by Timothy Tennet, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, this week on some eye opening statistics that he believes will take the majority of the church another twenty years to realize. For example, "if China has 90 million believers, but the vast majority of those believers are under 30 years old and the United States has 90 million evangelicals and the majority of those are over 50, then there is a demographic story that is not “heard” when one is looking at the raw statistics of Christian affiliation."

The biggest take away from this post by Tennet is that the USA is one of the fastest emerging mission fields in the world. So, if you are the type who was never been willing to go to the mission field, well congratulations the mission field is coming to you. The Millennials in the US, roughly those ages 18-29, are continually growing more skeptical of anything being "truth." And considering that I am in the Millennial age range, I can vouch for this growing skepticism across the board amongst my own peers, especially those that have a church background. This is one reason that so many of the church kids are no longer found near a church upon entering their freshman year of college.

Tennet believes that if you are under 25 years old you will almost surely live to see the day when the most Christian countries in the world will be China and India, whereas it will be quite difficult to find Anglo Christians in the pacific northwest. This is another eye opening thought for me being that I am working amongst those in India, currently some of the most unreached people in the world. 

This is both encouraging for me and discouraging for me. Encouraging as I am excited to see countries like China and India to be full of the knowledge of the glory of God (Habakkuk 2:14)  and the majority of people worshipping King Jesus. Discouraging as I can see a glimpse into the future of my own culture and see the truth of what Tennet points out. I am not sure his views on prophecy and as much as  I hate to say it, but I believe his prediction is prophetic in nature.

This is one reason that I believe we need to see more churches planted in every city of every state of every country. The church, a community of believers, is what God has left to reach all people everywhere. But I sense in the US we will ignore this reality in our own backyard until it is almost too late. It is just as a city grows and they neglect to develop the needed infrastructure in that place until later when it causes many more headaches. I sense the church in the USA will do the same when looking at these demographics and stats.

Most of us probably fall into this category: "These demographic facts are not easy to accept.  It is much easier to turn up the volume on our latest Christian CD, point to the hundreds of cars in mega-church parking lots, or pick up the latest Christian romance novel, rather than soberly face the fact that we are not passing the faith down to the next generation."   So, What should we do?  

Here are three suggestions by Tennet that I think we would all do well to pay attention to, especially if you want to continue to be missional going forward:

1.  Your church should plant at least two ethnic, non-Anglo churches in the next decade.  If you are in a major urban center, you will need to plant four.  This does not necessarily imply purchasing land and building buildings.  It may be as simple as starting a new service at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday focused on a nearby Korean or Hispanic populations.
2.  You must introduce rigorous catechesis for all members, young and old, enquiring and established.  We must re-teach the historic faith to this generation with a special eye to interacting with key objections and misunderstandings which are prevalent in our society.   Every pastor should insist on a course no less than six weeks long which introduces the candidate to the faith (historically, doctrinally and experientially).  After baptism, even more instruction, discipleship, and mentoring should follow, which brings people more fully into what it means to be a member of the church.  Incorporating members into small group discipleship settings must be the norm, not the exception.
3.  Evangelism must be at the heart of the church’s life.  The church must regain confidence in the gospel and the clarity of the good news.  I will let others speak for their own denomination, but one of the most striking observations I have made of my own denomination (United Methodism) is how confused and inconsistent and muddled the whole thing is.  Enormous energy is spent just trying to remember or recapture the gospel and fighting heresies at every turn. In the process, tens of thousands go unevangelized. Don’t get me wrong, this is a noble and important struggle and every soldier in this struggle deserves our support and prayers.  But, I do long for the day when United Methodism gets refocused on our historic message and witness.  I see signs this is happening, but we’ve got at least twelve years before we see the tide turned. Like the famous frog in the pot of water slowing coming to a boil, the church has slowly taken on the skepticism and doubts of the world regarding the power of Scripture, the centrality of Jesus Christ and the message of salvation. But, the gospel remains the power of God unto salvation.   Let me say it as clear as I can:  There are not multiple paths to salvation.  Salvation is found only in Jesus Christ.   Jesus Christ really and truly and bodily and historically rose from the dead.  This good news is for the world. Jesus Christ is building the community of the redeemed, which is His body, the church.  We are called to live out all the realities of the coming New Creation in the present age.

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