by Dr. David Schreiner
The sub-headline of a recent Pew Research study reads, “Babies born to Muslims will begin to outnumber Christian births by 2035” (Pew Research Center, April 5, 2017, “The Changing Global Religious Landscape”). This is a fascinating declaration, but not a novel one. It does reinforce the ever-pressing reality that Christianity is being overtaken by an equally ambitious faith. Yet the depth of this study goes beyond merely pitting Christianity against Islam as the world’s most expansive religion. It is a study about what is driving these shifting demographics and the implications that follow. In other words, this study puts trends into perspective. By implication, it presents a challenge for the Church and any theological institution associated with it.
This study maintains that by 2060 the world’s population will reach approximately 9.6 billion people. In the midst of this increase, Islam will have increased at a clip of 70%, compared to Christianity’s 34% (p. 8). These numbers by themselves create a stunning image. However, looking a little deeper, things get more interesting.
Implications of the Shift
First, while Christianity will be only one of two religions who will have increased their footprints by 2060 (p. 8), that increase will not be proportionate. Christianity in Europe and North America will shrink while Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa will increase. To be even more precise, according to this study, 42% of the world’s Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa (p. 12). Folks, that is nearly one in every two!
How will this happen? In short, the researchers maintain that “religious switching” and low fertility rates will chiefly drive the shifts in places like North America and Europe (p. 10). Conversely, high fertility rates and a decreasing child mortality rate (thanks to medical and technological advancements) will result in the increases in sub-Saharan Africa (p. 10). At the very least, this means that the future of the global Church will almost certainly not reside with North America or Europe.
A Wake-up Call
Indeed, this revelation is not new. But North American Christians, of which I am one, had better wake up. We must invest in the proper education of Christian leaders in developing nations, with a particular emphasis upon those in sub-Saharan Africa. We must invest in methods to teach those leaders proper doctrine and empower them to learn and disseminate proper scriptural interpretation.
In addition, the looming shadow of Islam reveals an adversary. Make no mistake, Islam is a missional religion, and through a variety of means, it craves converts. Thus, there is a need for a proper defense of the faith. This to not say there needs to be a violent struggle against Islam. But it does emphasize that Christianity must prepare a proper defense of the faith, and a proper defense of the faith will be paramount in places like sub-Saharan Africa. So it seems that the allocation of resources and a need for apologetics are two sides of the same coin in light of future trends.
What does this mean for us?
In light of all of this, I am grateful for WBS. One of our initiatives is called The Shepherd Project (formerly Mission Possible), which targets the development of Christian leaders in developing countries. In fact, WBS graduated the first Shepherd Project grads this past May. Help support this initiative. Give to it generously and spread the word. The future of the Church depends on programs like these.
I am also grateful for WBS because while so many theological institutions seem to be pushing apologetic and doctrinal concerns to the back burner, we continue to press their importance. Just recently, WBS offered a seminar aimed at a Christian response to Islam and has offered a specific Apologetics M.A. for several years.
The Church must be proactive. It must heed the trends discussed in studies such as this Pew Research study and implement initiatives to respond to them. If the Church chooses merely to react, then it will be too late. Of course, this takes vision, ambition, fearlessness, and a hearty dialogue between the Church and its theological institutions to get in front of these trends. Perhaps most importantly, it requires that individual churches think beyond themselves and see themselves in a global context.
Read more about Kennedy’s ministry in Uganda and how it was strengthened by the Islam course offered through WBS’ partnership with The Lilias Trotter Center in the 2016 issue of The Compass.