21 Days for Global Harvest

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The Student Volunteer Movement 2 is initiating a 21 day prayer focus for Global Harvest from September 29 – October 19, 2013.

21 Days for Global Harvest is an annual worldwide prayer campaign for the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation. Individuals, churches, para-church ministries, student fellowships, mission organizations around the world unite to pray daily for personal revival, spiritual awakening in the body of Christ that leads to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. You can sign up to participate at http://21daysofprayer.net/

Those who sign up will receive a daily e-mail a prayer focus for the day. Also participants can choose to “adopt” a least reached people group to pray for during the 21 days. This is an excellent opportunity to join thousands of other believers worldwide to pray that God’s name be glorified among the nations.

The Student Volunteer Movement 2 published a book I wrote, Declare His Glory among the Nations, An Eye Opening Look at Psalm 96. Psalm 96 is one of the most amazing mission passages in the entire Bible. It provides us with the mandate, the motives, the message and the model that we need to understand our role in God’s plan to be known, worshiped and served by all nations. These meditations on Psalm 96 offer an eye opening perspective about how we can “declare his glory among the nations” in the 21st Century. Declare His Glory among the Nations is available from Amazon.com.

Thousands of European churches transformed into mosques, bars, pizzerias or warehouses for a lack of worshipers

Usually we think as Europe as a Christian continent.  However this is quickly changing.  A headline in a Romanian newspaper drew my attention to this fact.

“Thousands of European churches transformed into mosques, bars, pizzerias or warehouses for a lack of worshipers”

This article noted that in France only 5% of Catholics go to church. In Denmark only 5% of Lutherans attend church.  Only 3% of the population attends church in the Czech Republic. The Anglican Church declares that 10% of their churches (1,600) are empty and are no longer needed.  A colleague of ours, who works in England, shared that between 1995 and 2005 the number of youth in English churches dropped 62% from 613,000 to 230,000. 39% of the churches in England have no one under age 11; 49% have no youth between 11 and 14 and 59% have no youth between the ages of 15 to 19 – alarming trends!

Evangelicals_ContintentsIf we compare the percentage of Evangelical Christians in Europe to other continents, we see that Europe has the smallest percentage of Evangelical Christians – just 2.4%! (Source: Operation World). Europe is quickly becoming a post-Christian continent.

There is, however, that there is a significant difference between Eastern and Western Europe.  While churches are being closed in Western Europe, there is a building boom for churches in Eastern Europe. In Poland churches are being demolished to build bigger ones, and in Russia 11,000 churches have been built since the collapse of Communism.  We observed a similar building boom in Romania. Just a few minutes from our home there are two Orthodox churches and a Baptist church were recently finished. This building boom is one evidence of the spiritual awakening which has occurred in Eastern Europe since the collapse of Communism. Vladimir Putin’s concluding comment in his recent op-ed published 9/11/2013 by the New York Times, “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal,” could be considered another sign of a spiritual awakening taking place in Eastern Europe.

Today Europe is a mission field, with so many turning away from the church and the arrival of immigrants from Asia and Africa.  There are over 230 unreached ethnic groups in Western Europe today. It has been over 100 years since Europe experienced a significant continent-wide revival.

Realizing that decline of Christian spirituality in Europe, churches from Africa, Asia – notably South Korea – and Latin America are sending workers back to Europe. Some of the largest, most dynamic churches in Europe are pastored by Africans. These countries recognize the contribution that European missionaries made to establish and build up the Church in their countries. Now, they realize, is the time for them to come to the aid of Europe.

At a global level, the re-discipling of Europe is now a high priority – an unthinkable need just 50 years ago. What a transformation for the world’s most “Christianized” continent, seat of the Catholic Church, home of the Protestant Reformation and birth place of the modern missionary movement.

The Challenge of the Harvest Field in Eastern Europe

Evangelicals EEEastern Europe is where East meets West, and this clash of cultures has shaped the region. Except for Greece all of these countries were a part of the Communist “Eastern Block.” Also this region is where the Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim worlds intersect. As a result there are nearly 10 million Muslims in the region (7%), and the only Muslim majority countries in Europe are found here: Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo.  Likewise the Protestant Reformation did not deeply penetrate this region. As a consequence Evangelical Christians are few. Eleven of the sixteen countries are less than 1% Evangelical. Eight of the countries – half the region — are less than 0.5% Evangelical. Overall the region is 1.56% evangelical compared to 2.5% for Europe and 7.9% for the entire World. Europe’s least evangelized countries are found here: Kovovo, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro.  Several of the most challenging unreached people groups in Europe are in this region.  For example the Bosniak people group is perhaps the least evangelized in Europe – 2.2 million people spread over nine countries in the region.

God @ work

In spite of these challenges, God is at work in this region. The number of evangelical believers is growing in all but one country. In fact some of the most responsive peoples to the Gospel in Europe are found in this area.  Montenegro, Albania, Moldova and Macedonia have growth rates above the world average and ten countries are better than the European average. Likewise there are significant movements developing in Romania. Throughout the region the Romani people (gypsy) are generally very responsive to the Gospel. Among established churches there is a growing vision for church planting and cross cultural work. These are some signs that God is at work in the region.  Still there are significant challenges to making disciples of each people group in this region.

Harvest Field Considerations

1.    This region has been shaped by a clash of Eastern and Western Cultures. Some examples are:

  • The Pope and the Patriarchs (Catholic Church vs the Orthodox Church – battles for control)
  • The Mongolian Empire spread by Ghengas Khan in the 12th century touched the eastern part of this region.
  • The Ottoman Empire (Islam) vs. the Christian West (13th century until early 20th century)
  • Some countries were impacted by the Protestant Reformation more than others: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania for example.
  • Democratic powers vs Totalitarian powers (Nazi German and Communism – Russia).
  • Every nation in the region was under the yoke of Communism except Greece.
  • Relations with the European Union now greatly influence the development of region.

2.    There are 9.7 million Muslims in the region (7%). Three countries have a Muslim majority (Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia). Another four countries have significant Muslim populations ranging from 12% to 31%. There are twelve large Muslim people groups in the region (more than 10,000 individuals).

3.   The “Christian” world is 50% Catholic, 45% Orthodox and 5% Protestant. Evangelicals are just 1.56%.

4.   There are 4.7 times as many Muslims in this region (9,707,732 or 7%) as Evangelical Christians (2,076,634 or 1.56%).

5..   There are more evangelicals in Romania (1,149,647) than all other countries combined (926,987).

6.    According to the Joshua Project, there are 91 “least reached” peoples in the region (“least reached” referring to a rank 1.0 on the Joshua Project scale).Together they number nearly 5.5 million people.

7.   There are 23 “least reached” people groups larger than 10,000 individuals are in this region.

8.   31 languages are spoken by more than 100,000 people in the region. An additional 12 Languages are spoken by over 40,000 people in the region.

9.    There are 18 distinct language groups in this region without any Scripture. Ten are spoken languages. Eight are sign languages. The deaf seem to be generally neglected in the region.

10.  13 language groups have just portions of the scriptures (Wycliffe)

11.  The number of Evangelicals is growing in all countries since 2005, except for Slovenia. For ten countries, the AAGR (Average Annual Growth Rate) for 2005-2010 is better than the European Average of 1.1%. Four countries are better than the world average of 3.0%.

12. All “Eastern Block” countries – except the Czech Republic – experienced better numerical church growth in the 1990s. It appears that the negative trend in the Czech Republic might be starting to turn. Greece (the only non-Eastern Block communist country) experienced better growth in the first decade of the new Millennium. The decade of the 1990’s was overall a better decade of growth. Examining the AAGRs for the first decade of the new millennium shows a slight trend toward greater growth in the second half of the decade as opposed to the first.

Disciple Making Priorities

1.   The church is to evangelize everyone.

  • Of the nearly 135 million people in the zone, 80% claim to be Christian but there are just two million evangelicals (1.56%).
  • Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bulgaria (and probably Kosovo) are the least evangelized countries in the region (all more than 5% unevangelized according to OW).

2.    Those without Christian churches in their midst are to be given high priority.

  • High Priority countries (largest  percent unreached) are Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Montenegro.
  • The 12 large Muslim people groups represent a priority
  • The Bosniak people group is perhaps the least evangelized in Europe – 2.2 million people spread over nine countries in the region.

3.   Those relatively responsive to Christ should receive high priority.

  • Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and Moldova are hotter spots, all having a higher AAGR for evangelicals than the global AAGR since 2005.
  • The Romani (gypsy) people in the region seem very responsive.

This is an executive summary prepared for the Global Church Planting Network in January 2013. The full report, with supporting documentation is available at www.GCPN.info

The Top 50 Countries where it is Difficult to be a Christian

Persection

Since we’ve recently looked where Christianity is hot and where it is not, it seems appropriate to also look at the countries where it is difficult to be a Christian. The organization Open Doors tracks the top 50 countries where the persecution of Christians is the highest.  The map above shows those countries. Further information about each of these countries can be found at http://www.worldwatchlist.us/ so that you can “remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated” (Hebrews 13:2).

Several readers of a previous article, “The Top 20 Countries where Christianity is Growing the Fastest,”  commented that persecution does not always limit church growth. In fact, it may accelerate church growth. How true is this observation?

The following graph depicts the projected Average Annual Growth Rates for the period 1970-2020, as determined by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity,  for the top 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most severe for 2013, as indicated by Open Doors. In order to categorize these countries, I determined the global mean for the growth of Christians (1.47%) and the standard deviation (2.05). These measures provide guidance in categorizing the 50 countries into  the categories of Significant Growth, Growth, Decline and Significant Decline.

Persecution AAGR Graph

Since 30 countries of the 50 countries where persecution is most intense fall into the category of “significant growth” or “growth,” it appears that persecution is not always significant deterrent to church growth. It is rather striking that eleven* of the top 20 countries where Christianity is growing the fastest are also on the top 50 persecution list. On the other hand, considering that the majority of countries where there is freedom of religion is permitted are in decline or evidence low growth, as indicated in “Is Christianity being accepted or rejected in your country”, it could be that freedom of religion actually contributes to the decline of Christianity.

So then, what is your perspective on the relationship between persecution and church growth?

*The eleven countries were Christianity is growing at a significant rate and a high level of persecution are: China, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, Bahrain, Bhutan, Mali, Brunei and Kuwait.

Is Christianity being accepted or rejected in your country?

csgc world mapThis world map shows the projected Net Christian Growth for the period 1970-2020 and highlights where Christianity is being accepted or rejected.  The data source and technical details behind this map follow under the heading of “technical discussion”. But first let us draw some generalizations which outline an amazing story.

In the western hemisphere, only three countries have projected growth: Cuba, Guyana and Surinam. Every other country has seen more people turn away from the Christian faith than have embraced it.

Dr. Kurt Urbanek, author of “Cuba’s Great Awakening: Church Planting Movement in Cuba” (available from www.amazon.com) provided me with an insider’s perspective of what is happening in Cuba. He begins chapter 1 of “Cuba’s Great Awakening “ by saying:

“In the face of staggeringly difficult political, social, and economic circumstances, Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented movement of God. This inspiring movement has seen hundreds of thousands come to faith in Jesus Christ and thousands of new church starts. Congregations among Baptists alone have multiplied from 238 to 7,039 churches, missions and house churches in just 20 years. Among the Assemblies of God, the increase has soared from 89 churches in 1990 to 2,779 in 2010 and this number of congregations is augmented by 7,997 house churches. Total Assembly of God membership (including adherents) has increased from 12,000 in 1990 to over 688,931 in 2010. This spiritual awakening continues and promises even greater blessings in the days to come.”

In Europe, there is a clear distinction between Eastern and Western Europe. Those countries that were under Communism will have experienced growth (with the likely exception of the Czech Republic). On the other hand, Christian profession in Western Europe is in decline – as it also is in Australia and New Zealand.

Christianity is growing by conversion in Asia and sub Saharan Africa.  In my previous posting, The Top 20 Countries Where Christianity Growing the Fastest, I offer a more in depth look at the countries that are colored red on this map.

The Good News

Conversion growth is taking place in Eastern Europe, Asia and sub Saharan Africa. 93 countries are expected to have positive growth for the period 1970-2020.  It seems that countries formerly  influenced by Communist ideology now evidence Christian growth (for example Cuba, China, Mongolia, Cambodia,  Eastern European countries – Albania in particular, Russia, Angola, Benin, Ethiopia, Somalia and Mozambique).

The Bad News

A majority of countries (142) in the world have no net Christian growth or are in decline. More people are rejecting Christianity than accepting Christianity in these “yellow” and “brown” countries. The majority of Christians live in countries that are in decline (1.351.316.660 as compared to 1,210,480,000). Christianity is declining in the more economically prosperous, democratic countries, which were significant in spreading Christianity to Asia, Africa and Latin America prior to 1970.

Your Perspective

Looking at this map may cause a thoughtful person to raise other questions that will lead to the identification of other political, social and spiritual factors that contribute to the growth or decline of Christianity.

So is Christianity being accepted or rejected in your country? What factors contribute to this trend? You are welcome to share your perspective here.

Technical Discussion

The data for the above map was taken from the report, “Christianity in its global context,” published in June of this year by The Center for the Study of Global Christianity. The full report can be found online at www.globalchristianity.org/globalcontext. This report provides estimated growth rates for Christianity and population in each country for the period 1970-2020.

Disclaimer: Limits of the Data

The data and analysis in this article are not able to measure the dynamic involved where people who profess Christianity, sometimes called “nominal Christians,” are moving toward a more genuine practice of the Christian faith.  In Latin America, for example, this dynamic would represent what is happening with charismatic renewal within the Roman Catholic Church as well as the growth of evangelical churches. The majority of these people come from a Christian background.  So this positive movement from the mere profession of Christianity to a consistent practice of the Christian faith is not measured by this data set.  The data does not enable one to evaluate to what degree those who profess Christianity actually practice their faith on a consistent basis.

Factors that influence the Growth or Decline of Christianity

As a person strives to better understand the dynamics that contribute to the growth or decline of a religious movement in a country or region, it may be helpful to look at both “natural factors” and “conversion factors”. “Natural factors” relate to population growth. Population growth has two primary components: births and deaths; immigration and emigration. When the number of births is greater than the number of deaths, this is referred to as “biological growth”. The population Annual Average Growth Rate (AAGR) represents the net result of these “natural factors”. A second factor that relates to the growth of a religious movement is conversion growth. (This could be considered “super-national growth” if one recognizes a divine involvement in the conversion process).  Just like “biological growth”, this also two is a two-way street. Some people accept Christianity from a non-Christian background, while others from a Christian background are rejecting the faith of their forefathers. The net result of these two dynamic factors I call the Average Annual Conversion Rate (AACR) or the Net Christian Growth Rate

The Net Christian Growth Rate represents the Average Annual Growth Rate of Christianity minus the Average Annual Growth Rate of a country’s population.  Filtering the out variable of population growth (or decline) provides a more exact measure of the rate at which people are accepting or rejecting Christianity.  This is especially true when a country’s population is in decline, which “masks” the true conversion rate. For example, the AAGR for Christianity in Georgia is 1.52%. But the population AAGR is -0.29%. So the Net Christian Growth Rate or AACR is actually 1.81%, which moves Georgia up into the top 20 countries where Christianity is growing the fastest.

The Average Annual Conversion Rate is determined by subtracting the Christian Average Annual Growth Rate from the Population Average Annual Growth rate. The result is the Average Annual Conversion Rate. The Average Annual Conversion rate provides a more accurate indication of those who are accepting Christianity as compared to those who are rejecting Christianity.

What is significant growth or decline? Where does one draw the line?

In order to determine what was significant growth or decline, I calculated the global mean (average) and the standard deviation for the Christian Average Annual Growth Rate. Those countries that have a growth rate greater than one standard deviation above the mean are considered as having significant growth. Those countries with more than one standard deviation below the mean are considered to have significant decline.  The global Population Average Annual Growth Rate for 1970-2020 is projected to be 1.47%. The global Christian Average Annual Growth Rate for the same period is also projected to be 1.47%. Therefore the net Christian Average Annual Growth Rate or the Average Annual Conversion Rate is 0.0%. (On the map I chose to color the three countries with zero net growth yellow indicating decline.) The standard deviation for this data set is 1.64%. Thus countries with an AACR greater than or equal to 1.64% are considered in significant growth. 20 countries fall into this category. In an earlier posting I took a closer look at some of the contributing dynamics in those 20 countries. Those countries with an AACR less than or equal to 1.64% are considered in significant decline. 17 countries fall into this category. I chose to include Jordan in this category since its AACR equals 1.64% and the next closed country is 1.52%.

The Average Annual Growth Rate

For comparison, the following map shows Average Annual Growth Rate for Christianity for the period 1970-2020 This map is based on the data found in the report prepared by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.  In this case the global mean is 1.47% and the standard deviation for this data set is 2.05%. Thus countries above 1.47% AAGR have above average growth; those countries having an AAGR greater than 3.52 have significant growth (specifically 36 countries, which are colored red). On the other hand, countries with an AAGR less than 1.47% are in decline, and countries with an AAGR of less than -0.58% are in significant decline (11 countries, which are colored brown). Comparing the map at the beginning of this article with this map may suggest other questions that reveal other growth factors. Your questions and observations are welcomed.

Christian AAGR