by Sharon E. Mumper
Reports from around the world.
GUATEMALA: Reaping without effort
When should a church be content with its rate of growth? When annual growth reaches 10 percent a year? How about 12 percent? Ask Guatemalan church leaders. With 12.5 percent average annual growth per year-one of the highest in the world-Guatemalan evangelicals could sit back and happily count the names on rapidly expanding church membership rolls.
But societal conditions and the fact that denominational growth ranged from 3 to 25 percent per year indicated that the church as a whole could grow even faster. "Some denominations weren’t working very hard," said Jim Montgomery, president of Dawn Ministries. "They were just walking into the grain field and grabbing a few handfuls."
At the request of Guatemalan leaders, Montgomery and others studied the situation. They concluded that with effort the church could increase its growth rate to 17 percent per year. At that rate, evangelicals could form 50 percent of the population of the country by 1990.
At a conference in 1984, church leaders enthusiastically endorsed that goal. Preliminary data indicates that the growth rate in Guatemala is climbing upward.
While Guatemala provides one of the church’s more spectacular examples of expansion, the evangelical church is growing throughout the world-especially in developing countries.
CHINA: 3,000 percent growth
Perhaps the most amazing growth has taken place in China. Firm statistics are unavailable, and estimates of the number of Protestants range wildly from 5 to 100 million. Christian Communications Limited of Hong Kong says estimates of 35 to 50 million are "credible," and the Chinese Church Research Center in Hong Kong says Protestants now comprise nearly 5 percent of the total population of the country.
When the Communists swept into power in 1949, Protestants numbered only about 1.3 million. Since then, the church has grown 3,000 to 4,000 percent. Much of the church’s growth has occurred over the last decade, and has been accompanied by stories of miracles and healings.
For this reason, not everyone would agree with the use of the word "Protestant" to describe Chinese Christians. "I think the growth in China is more characterized by using the word ‘Pentecostal’ or ‘Charismatic’ than either ‘Protestant’ or ‘Catholic,’" said C. Peter Wagner, professor, Fuller Seminary School of World Missions.
Wagner believes that the most massive church growth in the world is in China. "There is a quarter of the world’s population, and one of the highest rates of Christian growth that has ever been seen," he said.
In his book, "God Reigns in China," Leslie Lyall, a former missionary to China, estimated that in the three years following 1980, as many as 27,000 people per day may have become Christians.
Because of the growth of the church in China, some researchers believe that the Christian population of Asia will soon equal that of the so-called "Christian West," including North America and Western Europe.
The number of evangelicals in the world today is estimated at 245 to 262 million, or a little over 5 percent of the world’s population. This is a decadal increase of perhaps 1.5 percent of the world’s population.
SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA: A Christian land mass?
The church is growing even faster in many African countries. Donald McGavran, founder of Fuller School of World Mission in Pasadena, California, asserts that sub-Saharan Africa is "becoming a Christian land mass, just as Europe did between the years 200 and 1000 A.D."
Countries like Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia, and the Ivory Coast are seeing explosive church growth. The Lutheran church’s fastest growing body worldwide is in Ethiopia, according to Wagner.
Some 67 to 72 percent of the population of Kenya profess to be Christian, according to Tokunboh Adeyemo, general secretary of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar.
He said the greatest growth in Africa is among Pentecostal churches, mainline charismatic churches, and churches that emphasize missions.
Even when accurate statistics are available, however, leaders disagree as to their meaning. The Central African country of Zaire is a case in point. Evangelical churches are growing at about 10 percent per year, a rate at which the church should double every seven years.
According to a survey done by McGavran six years ago, 63 percent of Zairians had their names on Protestant or Roman Catholic church rolls. Another 25 percent professed to be Christians.
Despite this, according to Montgomery, only a third of Zaire’s 30,000 villages had at least one Protestant church. "There are 20,000 villages without a single Protestant church," he said. "In the cities, there are 10,000 people for every Protestant church."
REFUGEES: The ground is fertile
Refugee populations present some of the most fertile ground for the gospel.
"When a society is in ferment, the church is ripe for growth," said Montgomery. Some 75 years of missionary labor in Cambodia produced only 5,000 to 10,000 converts, he said. In the few short years since Cambodians began fleeing to refugee camps, some 20,000 refugees have become Christians.
Traditionally, Afghan Muslims have fiercely resisted Christianity. Today, however, Christian workers in Pakistan find Afghan refugees ready to listen to the gospel.
If the trauma of being uprooted opens people to the gospel, becoming resettled seems to close them once again.
"When the Vietnamese came to America in 1976, there was tremendous openness to the gospel," said Wagner. "Now, 10 years later, that has largely passed. The Buddhist temples are probably growing faster among the Vietnamese than the Christian churches."
WORLDWIDE CRISES: Opportunities for ministry
"Wars, earthquakes, strife, refugees, famines-all can make people more responsive to the gospel," said Montgomery. He noted that churches in Mexico City have found greater opportunities for ministry since the earthquake last year. Colombians in volcano-stricken areas have been more open since that disaster.
In Argentina, the evangelical church is growing at an annual rate of 12.5 percent. "The Falkland Islands crisis changed the whole national social psychology of Argentines and opened them to the gospel like never before," said Wagner.
"People are much more open to the gospel now than before the war," said Montgomery. "Anything that disrupts society tends to open people to the gospel-when people get the feeling that society isn’t working; that there are no answers for their problems."
He noted that after World War II, Japanese were very open to the gospel. As Japan gained economic strength and became successful, the Japanese became much more resistant to the gospel.
"But now missionaries are saying many Japanese have found that materialism has left them empty. It doesn’t solve their heart needs," he said. Once again, society is not fulfilling expectations, and people are responding to the gospel in increasing numbers. Annual evangelical growth in Japan is a healthy 7.2 percent, according to figures released by the Global Mapping Project, Inc.
Throughout the world, countries and people are in crises. Natural disasters, warfare, rocky economies, rapid changes in society-all contribute to global destabilization.
Christians do well to sympathize with those who are in trouble and to do what they can to help. Nevertheless, for those who communicate the gospel, the world’s turmoil should elicit hope, not gloom.
THE PHILIPPINES: A lesson for evangelicals
Manila’s February revolution not only launched a new government-it also taught evangelicals a valuable lesson.
"A lesson has been learned," said Agustin (Jun) Veneer, Jr., general secretary of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches. "Perhaps we have concentrated our efforts on evangelism and church planting, and we have neglected the other concerns such as justice and mercy.
"Evangelicals need to catch up on our homework concerning nation building," affirmed Isabelo Magalit, pastor of Diliman Bible Church in Quezon City. "A nation is great only if it is righteous. This is the kind of stress we need to make."
"In a democratic country … I doubt that anyone, evangelical or otherwise, can escape the responsibility to participate in the process of government and justice questions," Veneer said. "Evangelicals should not hesitate to work with non-evangelicals in issues that confront justice, oppression, human rights, and the plight of the poor."
While some people have concentrated strictly on prayer, others have urged those who pray to be prepared to be the instruments of God’s answer to prayer, said Vencer.
The dicotomy between prayer and social action is a fresh issue for Philippine evangelicals who were torn between the two courses of action during the four-day "revolution" in Manila. While some urged prayer in homes and churches, others joined the thousands of predominantly Catholic Filipinos at the barricades protecting two dissident military officials.
At a time like that, it is easy for people to misunderstand one another’s motives. Since then, torn relationships have begun to heal. The broad gulf in opinion is narrowing, as evangelicals work to establish a wide range of acceptable alternatives for Christian concern and action.
"I think that in the future we can have a much more healthy attitude toward the functioning of the body," said Veneer. "The diversity of spiritual gifts can provide a biblical basis for the existence of interest groups within the body. Some members of the body may be more politically active, while others will be more zealous in evangelistic outreach. Others will be committed to intercessory prayer."
Division comes when people feel that others are only concerned about justice when they are performing certain actions, or when they hold certain political opinions, he said. "This should encourage us to discuss issues among ourselves as evangelicals. After that, if the Lord leads us in separate ways, at least we understand one another," he said.
While recognizing the importance of "going beyond preaching to apply the gospel to our context," the church leaders are moving ahead with plans to plant a church in every barangay (village) by the year 2000.
Formally adopted as a goal by a coalition of denominations and parachurch organizations in 1983, the group adopted the name "DAWN 2000" in March. The goal is ambitious. There will be 50,000 barangays by 2000, according to government projections. Today, only 10,000 have local Protestant churches, and there are only 13,000 Protestant churches in all of the Philippines.
Although the goal is challenging, it is "very achievable," according to Veneer, who chairs the DAWN 2000 executive core committee. DAWN 2000 participants plan some new joint ventures. But new projects are not the focus of the organization. They hope to strengthen existing programs and share resources and research data.
With the deep-seated social and spiritual needs of the Philippines it won’t be easy to avoid an "either-or" confrontation in the evangelical church. But in the years to come, Christian leaders hope to make progress on both fronts. If they can do this, they may well serve as an example for much of the rest of the Christian world.
UGANDA: The cost of obedience
Despite frequent outbursts of violence in war-torn Uganda, missionaries and national workers continue to minister to both spiritual and physical needs. The effort is not without cost.
John E.H. Wilson, an African Enterprise team leader, was shot and killed outside Kampala, Uganda’s capital, in March. Wilson, a native of Uganda, had been an evangelist with the South Africa-based mission since 1974.
Expatriates ministering in Uganda move in and out of the country as conditions permit. Despite the continuing warfare between rebel and government troops and the violence of roving gangs, the church in Uganda continues to grow.
But the Ugandan church has learned how to grow under adverse conditions. During Amin’s rule, some 300,000 church members were killed, according to David Barrett, author of "World Christian Encyclopedia." Despite this, during the 10-year period that included the rule of Amin, the church grew at a rate faster than that of the population.
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