The future of global mission?

“What’s the future for global mission? Why don’t you share something about the challenges we face?” So armed with some great answers to my question on Twitter I pulled together some thoughts which I’ve turned in to complete sentences so I can blog them:

The church scene in the UK is changing. Overall the church, including evangelicals, is shrinking (the exception being London). Evangelical church groupings are tending to be more tribal though at local levels we are seeing a growth of cross-town / city unity. Churches are evolving; among newer churches, there is a greater focus on movements and on ‘missional’ being about lifestyle and whole-life discipleship to the extent that global mission is ceasing to be a priority. For those churches which have a global interest, a number now send or support directly rather than in partnership with a mission agency.

The world church is changing. As fast as church attendance is declining in Britain it is rising elsewhere. Regular attendance at evangelical churches in Brazil is four times that of the UK; higher still if you include all Christian denominations. Other countries of the world send many more mission workers than countries in Europe: South Korea and Brazil being the obvious examples. Global mission stopped being a western thing some while ago; today it is a truly global thing and the question for us is what part we might play in its future.

This growth of the worldwide church is impacting the UK. Many of the largest churches in London were started and are led by people from Nigeria, Ghana and other countries in Africa. Christians from the Far East, Latin America and elsewhere are having a positive impact on church and mission in the UK.

Mission agencies need to adapt to these changes: potentially fewer people going to serve long term, continuing financial presses. Many rely heavily on legacy income (not a great long term strategy) or on money from investments/sale of buildings. Eddie Arthur has published research demonstrating a trend among agencies, particularly new ones, away from proclamation towards more social action.

Screenshot_2020-02-10 Notifications TwitterOn twitter a number of other observations were made: the increase of digital and social media, rising urbanisation around the globe (the future is in cities), the impact of Brexit (and reasserted nationalism in some other countries) and what they might say about our openness to the world. The rise of Short Term Mission and the way it can drain funds from longer-term mission workers.

There were two observations which I hadn’t expected but are worthy of note. The first was the suggestion that we are seeing a loss of confidence in the gospel (which is different to a struggle to articulate the gospel anew in every generation) and a concern that preparation and training for mission are no longer seen as a priority.

So how might we respond to all this?

  1. God still calls people and churches to be engaged in crossing cultures and in global mission. We need to participate with others, humbly and carefully. This requires care on our part to engage well: with a mindset that responds to increasing urbanisation; with the flexibility to adapt to the impacts of migration and people movements and the positive opportunities these bring for mission, and with a determination to be holistic and live out a concern for both evangelism and social action.
  2. Flexibility and agility. The new information society with its global, digital and technological changes are revolutionising commerce and communication. It can be used to facilitate learning across the world as well. The way agencies are structured has changed since the days of the East India Company, but will have to keep changing (imagine if the internet is only a prototype for what is to come). I’ve not yet got my head around this but if we don’t adapt we will get left behind.
  3. Collaboration and partnering with others. I hope the future of mission will not be based on UK agencies doing their own thing but on them working with global partners and with each other. We may each bring something to the table, but we are no longer the people who give out the invitations nor the ones who provide the table. Instead, we need to seek to model the unity in Christ that Jesus prays for, the desire to serve that Jesus models and the concern for all things to be reconciled to God that Jesus died for.

There is probably an interesting talk here trying to get out if I had a day to wrestle with it. But if you can’t wait that long go and read Eddie Arthur’s blog. It contains many of his own thoughts on this and other mission-related themes and it is really good

Photo by Abdulhamid AlFadhly

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