Is Western Christianity dying? Why “Christian” will no longer be synonymous with the white, wealthy West
Christianity is dying in the West.
Although this may sound like a loaded, melodramatic statement, statistically it’s true.
According to Pew Research, over 80% of all Christians worldwide lived in Europe and North America in 1900. By 2050 this number is expected to drop below 30%.
That’s just 28 years from now.
The unfortunate part of this is that for many of us living in the West we don’t need a stat to tell us what we’ve been feeling and experiencing for years now.
Church buildings filled with seniors are closing their doors and being repurposed, young people are abandoning the faith they grew up in and an increasing mistrust, disdain and growing intolerance for Christianity is prevalent almost everywhere we turn.
The question many pastors, leaders and lay people are asking, is “what can we do to change this?”
The Western Church
And for many, that change is sought in seminary lectures, books on returning to the ancient practices of our faith, creating bigger, flashier attraction-model type services, going completely virtual, etc.
While all of those things serve a purpose and help different people, very rarely do we hear of churches pausing to re-evaluate and seek help from the “silent” half of the body of Christ — the Global South.
As I mentioned above with the statistic about the West’s declining population of Christians, in 28 years the West will no longer be synonymous with Christianity. And while that may be sad news for those living here who want to see the church grow, it’s not all bad news.
The same study by Pew Research says that by 2050 the top 10 Christian countries are going to be in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, with the USA as the only North American country left standing.
Another study predicts that by 2060 more than 4-in-10 Christians are expected to be sub-Saharan Africans.
So, with that in view, maybe the question the Western church should be asking is not just “what can do to change things”, but “what are they doing that’s working?”
I think that naturally there is often a hesitancy in the West to look towards the “other” for guidance. The attitude of “West is best” so often permeates multiple spheres of our society. Whether it’s in clothing, language, education, medicine and health and unfortunately even in worship practices. This attitude impacts our ability to lean into what non-Western cultures have to contribute to the richness and growth of the Christian tradition and faith.
After all, most of us could think of a plurality of reasons as to what’s not working here: skepticism and denial over anything remotely spiritual, increasing individualism, the “security” of wealth and material possessions, increasing social isolation, struggles with discipleship, etc.
And even with these persistent, growing problems, the flow of missionaries is often always West to South, instead of us going there to learn from them. Or them coming here to evangelize us.
The changing face of the global church
So, what would it look like if we turned our posture from one of only giving, to one of receiving?
What can we learn about spiritual disciplines from a mom in Brazil who wakes up while it’s still dark, and her kids are fast asleep, to pray? What can we learn from the teenager in China who recently heard the gospel and is attending an “unapproved” government, house-church? What can we learn from a 20-something-year-old Indian professional who hides her faith while living with her husband and in-laws, who are devout Muslims?
These are the new faces of Christians in our world today.
Persecution, religious extremism, oppressive political regimes, poverty and war is an everyday reality for the rising population of Christians in the Global South. Yet, despite all of this, their churches are growing underground and in major cities, children are being discipled, emerging leaders are growing in their knowledge of the holy Scriptures and the Gospel is being spread against all odds.
What can we learn from them?
At Compassion Canada we know how important the contributions and work of the church is in the Global South. That’s why we’ve made it part of our mission to partner with the local church to help us release children from poverty in Jesus’ name. This way it’s the local church supporting, discipling and doing life with the children and members of their communities. And through that partnership, we’re also able to gain insight and a whole different perspective into the life-changing stories that are happening.
It’s these stories that come flowing out of the leaders of the local churches we meet and talk to almost every single month that empowers us to continue the work we do in an informed and responsible way.
The church is so much stronger when we link arms together across borders, nations and continents to learn from one another the different cross-cultural ways of following Jesus.
Here are four ways you can engage with the body of Christ in the global South:
1. Read and stay up to date with what’s happening to churches in the global South
2. Learn some of the spiritual disciplines and practices that are helping Christian communities thrive in those countries (especially persecuted Christians)
3. When going on mission trips, consider focusing on what the local churches and leaders have to teach you, rather than only what you have to give them
4. As the church continues to mature, with different denominations and cultural expressions of Christianity growing, let’s make it a priority to remember that Jesus came and is coming back for a unified body not a divided one. May we continue to link arms and pursue togetherness in the body of Christ.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)
Elizabeth St. John is a Content Specialist at Compassion Canada. She’s passionate about crafting stories that shine a light on God’s redemptive power in a broken world. When she’s not fitting words together, she’s either cooking her favourite foods or watching movies with her husband.