A few weeks ago our network had the opportunity to hear from Trevin Wax. Dr. Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher for LifeWay Christian Resources and author of “This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel.” He spent three hours with our pastors and ministry leaders discussing the major points of his book and how these trends influence our ministry today. While he made a number of important points, in this article I want to discuss a couple that will impact the way we plant churches in Jacksonville and abroad over the next few decades.
First, an analysis of past and current trends indicates that God will continue to grow His Kingdom! In light of passages like Matthew 16:18, you probably said, “Well duh,” when you read that but recent trends in the U.S. seem to paint a different picture. Dr. Wax presented several facts, however, that indicate that the future is bright for the Evangelical Church:
- Born-again believers are growing in the U.S. (A lot of people are still being saved every day)
- On a global scale, the percentage of people unaffiliated with any religious system will decrease from 16% to 13% from 2010 to 2050.
- Evangelicalism will become more ethnically diverse in upcoming years.
I could write volumes about the importance of each of these trends, but for the remainder of this article, I would like to focus on the second point.
If you happen to read the local newspaper, scan social media, or watch almost any news broadcast, it may feel like “the world is going to Hell in a hand basket,” and the future will never be good as the past. While I, like many of you, lament some of the changes in our culture, the Bible assures us that God will use even the most horrible things for His Glory and His Purpose. If Wax’s projections are correct, than Christians have an unprecedented opportunity for harvest over the next three decades.
In 2010 there were 6.9 billion people in the world and 1.1 billion (16%) were unaffiliated with any religion. By 2050, the U.N. estimates that there will be 9.6 billion people in the world and Wax concludes that 1.25 billion (13%) will be unaffiliated with any religion. So in 2010 5.8 billion people were affiliated with a religion and in 2050 8.35 people will be affiliated with a religion. If those numbers made your head spin or you just woke up face down on your tablet in a pool of drool, let me sum this up. In the next 3 decades over 2.5 billion people will begin following some religious system. The question is, will they be born-again believers or will they be Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus (the 3 largest religions after Christianity in 2015)?
There are, obviously, a number of different potential methods we can use to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity and impact the world for Christ. Many of you are more qualified than me to talk about them. Please grant me one more moment to offer three ways we may best use the time Jesus gives us over the next three decades to share the gospel with and make disciples of the 2.5 billion people who will choose to follow some religious system.
- We must sacrificially give everything we can to the global mission movement, which is spearheaded by the International Mission Board. The greatest population growth over the next three decades will be in Africa and India will be the world’s most populous country. We need to send more people and resources to those places.
- We need to make disciples of our children. Our family is our first and most important ministry. We need to make a concerted effort to teach and live the Gospel with our spouses and children. We also have a responsibility to the orphan who has no family. They need to hear the Gospel, from us, and not the gospel of other religions.
- We must embrace and celebrate our ethnic diversity, not just tolerate it. This means we cling to our biblically-based, fundamental theological beliefs and utilize effective methodologies based on ministry context. The Southern Baptist Convention of Churches began in the U.S. but we have an opportunity to expand our reach for Christ and make an unprecedented global impact in the next three decades.
While recent events leave many feeling like our best days are behind us, I believe we have an opportunity to be a part of a spectacular future. Now is our time to harvest!That leaves one remaining question: What part will you play in the harvest?