A Backwards Map and What It Means for the American Church
On a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, people were asked to name one country on a world map, and of course, they struggled. You can watch the video below (spoiler: I think they found a homeschool kid at the end!) One of the tactics the show used to confuse their participants was placing Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania on the left and placing North and South America on the right of the map. We aren't used to seeing the world this way, and that says volumes about the need for a shift in our perspective.
A seismic shift: 1950 to 2050
We are living through one of the most incredible shifts in population and influence the world has ever experienced. In 1950, 1 out of every 4 people on earth (25%) lived in Europe and North America. In contrast, 1 out of every 12 people (about 8%) lived in Africa. According to the Population Reference Bureau by 2050, those numbers will be virtually reversed with 1 out or every 4 people living in Africa and about 9% of the world's population living in Europe and North America. By 2050, Africa and Asia will combine for almost 80% of the world's population.
If we are serious about the Great Commission, then these numbers must matter to us. For the same reasons that we are focused on planting churches in the major cities of North America, we must focus on encouraging, funding, and serving as catalyst for church planting movements across Africa and Asia. Currently, about 5% of the world's population lives in North America, but if the giving of my own denomination is any indication, about 97% of the resources of the North American church stay in North America. We MUST reach North America--it is vital for world evangelization because of the massive financial resources that are concentrated here, and it would be foolish to abandon efforts to reach North America--but we must also wake up to the realities around the world and use the resources garnered from our efforts here to increase missional efforts where they will make the most long-term impact.
God is 1,000 Steps Ahead of Us
The news for the church in North America and Europe can sometime seems bleak--churches are closing, baptisms are down, attendance is declining, and we aren't planting enough churches to keep up with population growth. In many areas, Christians have resigned themselves to a defeatist mentality thinking that the golden age of church has come and gone in western society. While I completely disagree with that sentiment, I understand why people feel that way; there is not doubt that churches are loosing influence in western culture, and many people seem cold to the message of the gospel. It might seems like the church is retreating, but a shift in global perspective changes everything--want to take a guess where the gospel is spreading like an uncontrollable wildfire? Africa and Asia (including, for the first time in modern history, the middle east). The largest Christian population in the world will soon be in China, and Africa is on the verge of becoming a majority Christian continent.
ROI (Return on investment)
The Lord, in His sovereignty, has awakened the hearts of Africa and Asia just as their population and influence are exploding. Over the past few centuries, God has mobilized Christians and churches from Europe and North America to pray, give, and go to the nations of the world, including nations in Africa and Asia. The seeds sown have now taken root and are producing an incredible harvest. What's the next step for western Christianity in world evangelization? What can we do now to invest in the areas of the world where the gospel is exploding? Despite population shifts, it seems that for some time, American Christians will have access to significant financial resources. What will we do with the treasure God has entrusted to us?
As the world shifts, so will the role of the American church in missions. Given the location of unreached people groups and the promising trends in the global church, it is growing less and less likely that American missionaries will be the ones to finish the Great Commission. As a child, I imagined an American missionary walking into the village of the last unreached people group and sharing the gospel--I still believe the church will complete the Great Commission in my lifetime, but the missionaries who reach the last unreached people groups will most likely be from Africa or Asia. That does not mean the American church will not have a part to play--it will just look different than most of us have imagined.
Maps and Perspective
In the western world, we read from left to right, and I suppose that has something to do with the way maps are most often designed. We start with what we know--the US, and we work from there. I'm no cartographer, but I assume Europe used to occupy the far left spot and was moved to the center with the discovery of the new world. As an American, I'm thankful for the influence the Lord has given us, and my default map of the world has America on the left. As a follower of Christ, however, my highest allegiance is to His kingdom and His command to make disciples of all nations. May the Lord give us wisdom as we invest the resources He has given us to accomplish the Great Commission in Montgomery, Miami, Mogadishu, Mashhad, Mumbai, and Mianyang.