Mission Trends

by A. Scott Moreau and Mike O’Rear

In this installment we dare to offer resources to help you better understand contemporary global trends in missions.

It seems that we suffer from a glut of information on the latest trends in popular culture (music, fashion, shopping, movies, lifestyles)—but what about trends that have eternal significance? Following music or fashion is easy; discerning the “signs of the times” in mission is much harder. Seeing what God is doing around the world—through people, organizations, and events—takes diligent digging out. God’s work through Christians serving him across cultural boundaries, whether in their own countries or elsewhere, is carried out by millions of people working for tens of thousands of organizations. It is not constrained or organized for easy global overviews, so uncovering broad trends among missionaries and agencies is always going to be a challenge. As if that weren’t enough, missions is happening in almost every nook and cranny of the world by people from every other nook and cranny. Truly, God is the only one able to understand all that is happening today.

In spite of this reality, in this installment we dare to offer resources to help you better understand contemporary global trends in missions. Bearing in mind that this could include just about anything, we’ve had to limit the number of specific topics we’ve organized based upon our own interests. By this we are not purposefully excluding the things that consume your attention right now. The simple truth is that we do not have the time or resources to track down everything that is happening in missions! Keeping our limitations in mind, we invite you to browse the page we’ve initiated at www.mislinks.org/topics/issues.htm,1 bearing in mind that by linking to a site we are not condoning its philosophical orientation. As always, space does not permit us to discuss all the links we have set up.

Global Trends Resources
While there are excellent resources that are oriented toward looking at the large picture of global trends, they tend to be surprisingly few in number. We’ve split these into two categories: those that present global trends from secular perspectives, and those that present global trends from missions-oriented perspectives.  

Secular Perspectives
Several major sites, although secular in nature and scope, offer trend analysis very helpful for missional application. The Futurist Top 10 Forecasts for 2009 (wfs.org/Sept-Oct08/Nov-Dec%20FUTURIST/topTen.htm), for example, predicts that “the Middle East will become more secular, while religious influence in China will grow.” If the former is true, what new hindrances and opportunities for mission focus will result?

Global Issues (www.globalissues.org), with over five hundred articles and seven thousand supporting links, “looks into global issues that affect everyone and aims to show how most issues are inter-related.”

Google News Timeline (news.google.com/archivesearch) offers a fascinating collection of information. Clicking on the link we provide on the MisLinks page brings you to archived news stories on global trends over the past several decades. Our link brings you to a timeline of stories, one of the options on the Google news archives. You can explore by decade, year, month, and day. The timeline is available for anything you type into the search bar.

Over the past twenty years the National Intelligence Council (a U.S. government agency; www.dni.gov/nic/NIC_home.html) has developed declassified reports on global trends.

The most recent, Global Trends 2025 (www.dni.gov/nic/PDF_2025/2025_Global_Trends_Final_Report.pdf), comes as a 120-page report that is the result of the NIC’s efforts to “identify key drivers and developments likely to shape world events a decade or more in the future.”

World Bank’s Six Strategic Themes page (go.worldbank.org/56O9ZVPO70) offers significant resources on: (1) the poorest countries, (2) post-conflict and fragile states, (3) middle-income countries, (4) global public goods, (5) the Arab World, and (6) knowledge and learning.

World Global Trends (t21trends.blogspot.com) is a blog that devotes attention to news and sites offering economic, social, and technological data to provide significant information for understanding the challenges in today’s globalized world.

Trying to understand global data is always a challenging task. There are a growing number of sites that focus on presenting information in a visual way that enables intuitive comprehension of the data being presented. Gapminder (www.gapminder.org) is a fascinating site offering compelling visual data presentations that enable the viewer to understand connections between, for example, health and economic indicators in countries over time. If you have never visited Gapminder, watching some of the videos available in Gapminder World (graphs.gapminder.org/world) is well worth your time.

ManyEyes (manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com) is an IBM site that allows registered users (registration is free) to input data and choose several means of visualizing it. You can see all the visualizations that users have posted, comment on them, and add your own visualizations of any existing data set on the site. For example, using data from The Association of Religion Data Archives (www.thearda.com), Scott set up a bubble chart of the number of Muslims for each country of the world (manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/visualizations/muslim-world-by-country); you may be surprised to see what country has the most Muslims.

Another fascinating site is WorldMapper (www.worldmapper.org), which presents maps illustrating issues from education to poverty to health for every country by showing the data through distorting the size of the countries according to the information. As we viewed the site, there are almost six hundred such maps, and new ones are being added on a regular basis.

Mission-Oriented Perspectives

Joshua Project
offers a one-page color map of trends in the 10/40 Window that is helpful for a quick overview (www.joshuaproject.net/assets/GlobalMissionTrendsMap.pdf).

A more extensive analysis of global trends and their impact on missions is offered by First Fruit (www.firstfruit.org/news-resources/guiding_trends); this is one worth coming back to over and over again! For those who like book lists, Scott compiled one using the library features of Google books on mission trends. Rather than give the URL here (it involves a long string of numbers), we encourage you to visit the MisLinks page and click through to the list.

Reconciliation Ministries Network has a very helpful PowerPoint available online (www.rmni.org/PowerPoints/GlobalMissionTrends09.ppt) that presents basic issues of missions and missionaries, as well as exploring four significant global mission trends: (1) the long-term growth of Christianity, (2) globalization, (3) urbanization, and (4) the resulting mission force shifts.

It is not surprising that the Network for Strategic Missions KnowledgeBase (NSM KB; www.strategicnetwork.org), with almost eighteen thousand articles on missions arranged in over three thousand topics, would have extensive resources on mission trends. In Table 1, we list broad topics from this resource site for mission trends, the URL for each, the number of articles for the main topic, and the number of sub-topics (each with its own set of articles). As Table 1 indicates, there are hundreds of articles on this site alone dealing with global trends from a mission perspective.


Significant Global Trends which Impact Missions

In addition to the general sites, we link to numerous resources on specific trends. The first set draws attention to the changing realities of our increasingly connected—and broken—planet. Whenever people are marginalized or oppressed, there will be a direct impact on missions. As more evangelicals focus on people groups, the reality of marginalization has received increasing attention. Oppressed peoples are found in every corner of the world. As we continue to reach all people for Christ in every corner of the globe, following God’s heartbeat for the marginalized and oppressed will increasingly be a focus for agencies and cross-cultural missionaries.

Groups such as the United Nations Population Fund (www.unfpa.org/swp), Amnesty International (thereport.amnesty.org), and UNICEF (www.unicef.org/sowc09) all offer helpful information on marginalized people and human rights. To read what missiologists, missionaries, and mission leaders are saying about the issues, we provide links to let you browse through the following NSM KB topics: marginalized (30 articles), orphans (29 articles), refugees (148 articles), and street children (37 articles).

The recent financial meltdown and impact of integrated markets worldwide has raised economic challenges for people everywhere and vividly reminded us that global economic realities are now inescapably connected to agencies and missionaries—both positively and negatively. Global Economy Matters (globaleconomydoesmatter.blogspot.com; “written by macro economists and policy analysts who have a common interest in global macro and economic policy”), offers fresh news and perspectives on country, regional, and global economic trends and issues.

World Bank offers high-quality economic data from around the world (go.worldbank.org/45B5H20NV0), including data of world development indicators (go.worldbank.org/U0FSM7AQ40). To explore what missions-minded academics and practitioners are thinking about the issues, use our links to browse through the following NSM KB topics: economics (153 articles), financing missions (53 articles), money (41 articles), and poverty (105 articles).3

Finally, over the coming decades the increased stresses on the environment will affect all of humanity, both as stewards of God’s creation and the ever-increasing human toll. Both will draw increasing focus. Believing that “missions and care for God’s creation belong together,” Care of Creation (careofcreation.net) is devoted to “loving God’s world by working with and through his people to care for and heal God’s hurting creation.”

EcoTopia’s ecology and environment links page (www.ecotopia.org/about/ecolinks.html) offers almost one hundred relevant links to sites focused on ecological issues.

Floresta (www.floresta.org/index.html) “reverses deforestation and poverty in the world by transforming the lives of the rural poor.”

Sites such as the State of the World Forum (www.worldforum.org) focus on ecological issues with a goal to make the planet green in ten years. To see a variety of mission reflections, read the articles in the NSM KB on the topics of ecology (20 articles), environment (30 articles), hunger (21 articles), and water (31 articles).

Global Religious Trends which Impact Missions
Secular social science scholars have been surprised over the past several decades that as education and scientific advancement increased, religions not only held their own, but thrived. At the same time, however, thriving religions of all types provided new sets of challenges for the Church.

The World Network of Religious Futurists (www.wnrf.org) explores religion trends and projects future issues for religions. They have sections devoted to exploring Jewish futures, Christian futures, Muslim futures, and so on. Their “Search the Future of Religion” page (www.wnrf.org/cms/search.shtml) provides one hundred links to sites which research religion and analyze its future trends.

Baylor’s Institute for the Study of Religion (www.isreligion.org) “exists to initiate, support, and conduct research on religion, involving scholars and projects spanning the intellectual spectrum: history, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, political science, theology, and religious studies.” They offer numerous reports, case studies, and research initiative descriptions all focused on understanding religions around the world.

The Religion News Blog Religion Trends page (www.religionnewsblog.com/category/religion-trends) provides news articles about religious cults, sects, world religions, and related issues.

For additional resources on religious trends and on specific religions, check out the MisLinks Religions (www.mislinks.org/research/religions.htm) and Folk Religions (www.mislinks.org/topics/folkrel.htm) pages.

Within the scope of global religions, scholars such as Philip Jenkins have demonstrated that the world Church is massive and energetic. We provide several links to works by Todd Johnson, who continues the work initiated by David Barrett in World Christian Encyclopedia. For example, Christianity in Global Context: Trends and Statistics (pewforum.org/events/051805/global-christianity.pdf) is a three-page summary of the global Church written for the Pew Foundation.

World Christian Trends, Update 2007 (www.lausanneworldpulse.com/766/08-2007?pg=all), a summary of a presentation for Lausanne, was written for Lausanne World Pulse as part of the preparations for Capetown 2010, Lausanne’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the World Missionary Conference in 1910.  

Trends in Global Missions Methods
The final set of links focus on contemporary evangelical missions methods and strategies. One of the more significant trends in the past two decades has been the more explicit evangelical emphasis on holistic ministry, typically in the form of relief and development work. The Association of Evangelical Relief and Development Organizations (AERDO) offers significant resources for its member agencies of current evangelical work.  Eric Swanson’s “Ten Paradigm Shifts toward Community Transformation” (www.intheworkplace.com/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=14950&columnid=1935)
explores trends among Christians in churches and missional organizations that are shaping how they are engaging the world in meaningful ways. For greater depth, browse through the linked NSM KB topics: holistic mission (139 articles), integral mission (2 articles), justice (74 articles), peacemaking (35 articles), social mission (19 articles), and urban mission (227 articles).

With the closing of many countries to traditional missionaries in recent decades, those who want to serve Christ in cross-cultural settings have had to shift gears in thinking about the types of professional “platforms” they use (Business as Mission, community development, disaster relief, justice work, kingdom businesses, teaching, and so on). Establishing organizations from businesses to medical facilities to NGOs to training institutes allows those who love Christ and the nations to be engaged in meaningful work and appropriate witness just about anywhere in the world. To help you understand these trends and give you many more links than we can provide on this page, we’ve linked to the MisLinks BAM (www.mislinks.org/practical/bam.htm) and Missions Methods (www.mislinks.org/practical/methods.htm) pages. Another good place to start is the NSM KB topic “Missions Methods” (www.strategicnetwork.org/index.php?loc=kb&view=b&fto=1358&sf=Y), which has fifty-eight articles you can browse.

Finally, mission trends are often framed in the strategies of missionaries and their sending organizations. One very helpful resource for finding some of the best evangelical thinking in this regard is the Lausanne Occasional Papers (www.lausanne.org/documents.html). Written from a variety of conferences over a 30-year span on mission trends from business as mission (LOP 60) to the homogenous unit principle (LOP 1) to reconciliation (LOP 51) to theological education (LOP 57), the more than sixty papers are a treasure trove guiding evangelical thinking on world evangelization. Perhaps no greater trend in contemporary missions exists than that of approaching the task through the lens of people-group thinking.

Because Ralph Winter played such a significant role in focusing attention on people groups, we link to the U.S. Center for World Mission’s information section on understanding unreached people groups (www.uscwm.org/equip/topics/understand unreached.html).

In addition, Missions Atlas Project (www.worldmap.org) offers excellent online resources with extensive information on countries and people groups, including a missiological profile of the country and peoples, interactive maps, country links (e.g., Operation World), demographics (e.g., people groups), and news/blog (linking you to news and blogs with a focus on the country or people groups in the country).

Trying to set up a page on trends in missions is challenging and frustrating at the same time. It is challenging to even discern which trends to present. It is frustrating in that significant topics such as theological shifts, fads in areas such as spiritual warfare, and technological realities such as how the Internet has completely changed the ability to communicate with home and family while on assignment all deserve more significant treatment than on our page or in this article. Let us know what you think and help us improve the page!

1. All URLs start with http:// unless otherwise noted.
2. Those noted as “Premium” require an annual subscription to the NSM KB site.
3. For all NSM KB topic listings throughout this article, the link to each topic is provided on the MisLinks Trends page: www.mislinks.org/topics/issues.htm.


A. Scott Moreau is editor of EMQ and a professor in the Intercultural Studies department at Wheaton College Graduate School (Wheaton, Ill.). His email address is A.S.Moreau@wheaton.edu, and the Wheaton Missions Department web address is www.wheaton.edu/intr.

Mike O’Rear is the president of Global Mapping International (Colorado Springs, Colo.), which is dedicated to providing access to information for church and mission leaders, especially in the Two-thirds World. His email address is mike@gmi.org, and the GMI web address is www.gmi.org.


 Copyright  © 2009 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.  

Related Articles

Welcoming the Stranger

Presenter: Matthew Soerens, US Director of Church Mobilization, World Relief Description: Refugee and immigration issues have dominated headlines globally recently. While many American Christians view these…

Upcoming Events