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Supplements » Facts and Figures (May 2002)
Facts and Figures by David Holloway
Recently Mark Noll, of Wheaton College, USA, was surveying what had happened to world Christianity during the 20th century. He began by noting that the famous missionary conference held in Edinburgh in 1910 had fourteen hundred delegates but only eighteen were from outside Europe or North America. The conference was planning the evangelization of the world. The slogan from the end of the 19th century was: "The Evangelization of the World in this Generation". And people were assuming there would be a simple extension of Western Christianity. "What actually happened," said Noll, "was dramatically different. The surprises as well as the magnitude of developments in the twentieth-century history of Christianity can be illustrated by considering a series of comparisons for present realities of this past week:
• Last Sunday it is probable that more believers attended church in China than in all of so-called Christian Europe.
• Last Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Episcopalians in the United States combined - and the number of Anglicans at church in Nigeria was several times the number in these other African countries.
• Last Sunday more Presbyterians were at church in Ghana than in Scotland, and more were at church in the United Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa than in the United States.
• Last Sunday more members of the Assemblies of God in Brazil were in church than the combined total of the Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ in the United States.
• Last Sunday more people attended the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul (Pastor Paul Yonggi Cho) than attended all of the churches of significant American denominations like the Christian Reformed Church, the Evangelical Free Church, or the Presbyterian Church in America.
• Last Sunday Roman Catholics in the United States probably worshipped in more languages than at any previous time in American history.
• Last Sunday the churches with the largest attendance in England and France had mostly black congregations."
World Christian Encyclopaedia
Detailed facts and figures as to what happened in the 20th century can be gleaned from the Oxford University Press's new edition of the (huge) World Christian Encyclopaedia (WCE). There you learn that the total number of people classified as Christian grew enormously from 1900 - 2000. In 1900 there were 558 millions while there were 2000 million (33.0% of the world's population) in the year 2000 - with massive growth in the Third World, especially Africa. However, since 1900 there have also been massive defections from Christianity "in Western Europe due to secularism, in Russia and later Eastern Europe due to Communism, and in the Americas due to materialism"
According to the Encyclopaedia, the number of Christians ...
"... had increased rapidly during the 'Great Century' from 1815-1914 at a rate of 1.2% per decade, then after 1914 reverted to a catastrophic decline of 0.4% per decade which by 1980 had worsened to 1.0% per decade. Despite this, the absolute number of Christians increases at 25 million a year. Christianity has in fact surged ahead in the world's less-developed countries from 83 millions in 1900 to 1,120 millions by the year 2000. During the 20th century, in fact, Christianity had become the most extensive and universal religion in history. There are today Christians and organized Christian churches in every inhabited country on earth ... In Africa, Christians have mushroomed from 9.9 million in 1900 (0.6% of the world's population then) to 360 million in 2000 (8.9%).The present net increase on that continent is 8.4 million new Christians a year (23,000 a day), of which 1.5 million are net new converts (converts minus defections or apostasies). Sizeable net conversions are also taking place in Asia (2.4 million a year)"
Sadly, however, losses from Christianity in the Western world over the last 60 years have slightly outweighed these gains. In Europe and North America ...
"... net defections from Christianity - converts to other religions or to irreligion - are now running at 1,820,500 former Christians a year. This loss is much higher if one considers only church members: 2,224,800 a year (6,000 a day). It is even higher if one is speaking of only church attenders: every year, some 2,765,100 church attenders in Europe and North America cease to be practising Christians within the 12-month period, an average loss of 7,600 every day."
Jesus moved from a largely rural and small town setting to that of urban Jerusalem. His disciples then took the gospel for the most part to urban centres. Paul's mission strategy was to target urban centres from which the gospel could spread to surrounding areas. This was especially true for cities such as Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus and Phillipi.
Throughout the history of Christianity cities have played a key role. The Reformation, for example, was based in mainland Europe on cities such as Wittenberg, Zurich and Geneva and in Britain on Oxford and Cambridge. And when 19th century London developed as the first "world-class city" there were major developments in mission and evangelism resulting, humanly, in phenomenal church growth worldwide.
From 1400-1700 all the world's five largest cities were non-Christian and even anti-Christian and hostile to Christian missions. By 1800, however, two of the world's five largest cities had become centres of Christian outreach - London and Paris. Then began the century historians have called the "Great Century" when the gospel was preached literally across the world. By 1900 all the five largest cities had become "strongholds of Christian life, discipleship, urban evangelism, urban missions, foreign missions and global missions: in order of size, London, New York, Paris, Berlin and Chicago."
But by the year 2000 two of the five largest cities were non-Christian. And it is estimated that by 2025 four of the top five will be hostile to the Christian faith, and by 2050, if things progress as at present, four of the top five (Karachi, Bombay, Dhaka and Calcutta) will be non-Christian and even anti-Christian giants of around 40 million each. "The plain facts are that Christians are decreasing as a proportion of all urban dwellers. In this vital area of urbanized life, as expressed in the world's cities, discipling the world's cities as measured by the presence of Christians (the number of baptized or affiliated church members of all confessions) has been declining markedly throughout the twenthieth century. In the year 1800 31% of all urban dwellers in the world were Christians. In 1900 this had risen spectacularly to 69%. Then the tide suddenly turned. Today that proportion has dropped once more to under 40%."
Urbanologists are predicting that the deepening and spreading of information and knowledge will more and more be the world's dominant activity. So the success of cities, it is said, will depend on their ability to pass on their knowledge base from one generation to another; to promote innovation while guiding scarce resources to strategic priorities; and to be people-oriented: old industrial cities have been product-oriented.
"The existence of a large and dominant middle-class, together with local autonomy, is the critical attribute of progressive cities. In the future, therefore, high priority will likely be given to creating the amenity-rich environments that attract the middle class. Such environments are needed in order to develop, retain and recruit talent required by knowledge-intensive activities. Thus, it is likely that the great industrial cities of the past and present, such as Manchester and Birmingham [and Newcastle] ... will shift to become more people-oriented, and their success will then depend on how attractive their environments are in relation to other cities also competing for knowledge workers. And the critical attribute of success will be leadership, especially the ability to envision the future of world cities and to formulate strategies for their design and development. As for Christian patterns of urban ministry, they will have to be based on and related directly to all of these secular realities" (WCE).
Certainly if we judge from other parts of the world, the growth of larger churches where biblical information and knowledge is on offer and the gospel preached will be a key strategy for winning the cities of Britain and Ireland back to Christ. From every perspective, not least that of eternity, such churches are essential "amenities". Perhaps the time has come for a new mission to the cities of Britain and Ireland, with this strategy in mind.