Missions & The West

Key Points

  • Christianity is in decline in the global West and growing in the global South. 
  • The more economically stable a country is, the less religious it is. 
  • Given the economic advances of the global West, it has naturally become less religious. 
  • A strategic mission field for the global West is the university, where intelligentsia are born. 
  • Apologetics is the key to evangelizing the university and reaching the next generations. 

LYNCHBURG, VA—On May 20th, 2015, Wes Granberg-Michaelson opened his article in Washington Post with an incredible statement. He said, "While Christianity may be on the decline in the United States, the world is becoming more religious, not less."1 While North America and Europe are experiencing a decline in Christianity, it is on the rise in Latin America and Africa. For example, nearly 92% of South America is Christian compared with 76% of people in the U.S. (down from 80% in 2008). 2, 3, 4 Even among those who self-identify as Christian in the U.S., only 40% actually attend worship services.5 The new mission field is the global West, not the global South. 

But Why Is This?

To put it simply: the more affluent a country is, the less religious it is likely to be. “…Religious belief declines as existential security increases.”6 If you have a low income and are less educated (and therefore feel less in control), you are more likely to be religious.7 As the saying goes, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Instead, they are dining at five-star restaurants.

Now let’s apply this to the West. Amidst the Industrial Revolution was the separation of Western Europe and North America from the rest of the world.

A FEW centuries ago it would have been difficult to tell Europe apart from the rest of the world—in economic terms, at least ... But by the 19th century, things were rather different. Western Europe and parts of North America had become fabulously wealthy. Almost everywhere else was horribly poor. Economic historians refer to this as the 'Great Divergence'.8

Although there is debate about what caused this divergence, it is acknowledged that the technology that was produced (and the lack of technology in other countries which sustains this divergence) dramatically impacted the economic growth of the global West.9 As one writer put it, "Science and technology are key drivers to development, because technological and scientific revolutions underpin economic advances, improvements in health systems, education and infrastructure."10 All of this led to countries which were more affluent, and thus less religious.

Scientists & Professors

Given that technological advances have led to affluence, and that affluence leads to church decline, it should be expected that these trends should be more intense for those leading the charge: the intelligentsia. And this is just what we see.

The percentage of Christian intelligentsia falls well below half of the population. Only 33% of scientists believe in a God and (relatedly) 30% are Christian.11 In colleges and universities, only 18.8% of all university professors are willing to call themselves “born-again Christians”.12 Scientists and engineers only account for "4.8% of total U.S. employment."13, 14 And only 0.41% of the population is composed of professors (and their assistants).15

The University: A Strategic Solution

If we were to try to reverse these trends, where would we begin? The answer is: it would have to be where the influence lies. As shown above, scientists and professors collectively compose just over 5% of the U.S.’s populations. Yet, they also have tremendous influence in our culture’s values due to their authoritative role in the highest halls of education.16

Seventy-nine percent of the U.S. population have positive views of science and "nearly 1 in 3 adults (33 percent) [hold] a bachelor’s or higher degree.” 17, 18 It is only natural that the general public would esteem scientists’ and professors’ views. They are the source of technological and economic advances, and thus the source of comfort and knowledge. So if one wanted to make an impact, they would have to go where scientists and professors are made: at the university. In essence, the most strategic place where missionaries can be placed is the university.

Apologetics

It is here that apologetics, the intellectual defense of the Christian faith, has potential to remedy these trends. It is a sad reality that 65% percent of Christians experience doubts, but few feel they can go to church (22%) or leaders (18%) for answers.19 If Christianity is the truth (and if it is truth that scientists, professors, and doubting Christians seek) then the new missionaries of the global West need to be apologists (intellectual Christians) who can make this truth known.

Currently, the most amount of missionary support, $20.3 billion, is allocated to home missions where Christians are sent to somewhere within their own country.20 Why then is it so ineffective in the global West? The answer is that it has not been used strategically enough. Our philosophy of missions needs an adjustment. In his book, Revolution in World Missions, K. P. Yohannan argues that it is more efficient and effective to send money to missionaries who are native to the country.21 Natives, unlike foreigners, can easily navigate complicated linguistic and cultural mores and norms. Moreover, they have a better handle on where they can be most influential.

If we apply this to the global West, we can easily see the need for missionary apologists who can speak the language of scientists and professors. They are the West's 10/40 window. And they have not been reached because it is intellectual Christians who are needed to communicate the truths of Christianity to the intelligentsia at colleges and universities. In short, missionary support of the global West is most efficient and effective when it is contributed toward apologists at the university.22 As William Dembski puts it, "Save the university and you save Western civilization ... Apologetics, the reasoned defense of the Christian faith, is the key to evangelizing the university."23

Young Adults

One may argue that cultural values are bound to change sooner or later and this may not be effective for the long haul. This may be true to some extent. However, part of the beauty of making an impact at the university is the dividends it will pay in the future as well. If one wanted to really reverse these trends, it isn’t merely the views of the current intelligentsia that need to be changed, but also their predecessors. It is the students that go on to become the scientists, professors, politicians, business leaders, reporters and celebrities of the next generation. This is why the primary target audience of apologetics missions has been, and should be, students.

However, this isn’t said lightly. These young adults come with their own set of problems. Seventy percent of college-aged young adults stop attending church by the age of 23.24 One fourth of them drop out completely, putting church behind other priorities (such as work, friends, etc.).25 These dropouts find the church too “overprotective, shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive, and doubtless.”26

Having come of age in a more secular and pluralist culture, Millennials (38%) currently experience about twice as much doubt as any of the other generational groups (23% Gen-Xers, 19% Boomers, 20% Elders) … Those who have been through college and encountered an array of ideas, philosophies and worldviews are twice as likely to experience doubt as those who have a high school education or less (37% vs. 19%).27

Apologetics organizations have the opportunity to show that Christianity is not merely the church which represents it. While the church may sometimes be overprotective, shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive, and doubtless; apologetics is creative, deep, pro-science, explorative, inclusive, and open-minded.

And it is encouraging to note that the hunger for these things have not been replaced. Wayne Oppel points out that college students still want to attend small groups with “religious substance” and “demand solid, personally applicable content.”28 Apologetics organizations like Ratio Christi strategically positions themselves to actively seek after these students. They provide students with the types of small groups they hunger for at colleges and universities across the country.

Conclusion

In short, Christianity in the West is in decline due to comforts afforded to us by economic advancements. Missionaries in the West must be intellectual Christians who can speak the language of scientists and professors (at the university) who produce these economic advancements. Thus, an investment in organizations like Ratio Christi (which send intellectual Christians to universities) is a more strategic investment in the growth of Christianity in the West.


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1 Granberg-Michaelson, Wes. "Think Christianity is dying? No, Christianity is shifting dramatically," The Washington Post. May 20, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/05/20/think-christianity-is-dying-no-christianity-is-shifting-dramatically/ (accessed September 22, 2017).

2 "South America." Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). http://www.thearda.com/internationalData/regions/profiles/Region_17_1.asp (accessed September 22, 2017). National profile as of 2012.

3 Cooperman, Alan, Gregory Smith, et. al. "America's Changing Religious Landscape," Pew Research Center. May 12, 2015. http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/ (accessed September 22, 2017.) Not including Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

4 Newport, Frank. "Percentage of Christian in U.S. Drifting Down, but Still High," Gallup News. December 24, 2015. http://news.gallup.com/poll/187955/percentage-christians-drifting-down-high.aspx (accessed September 22, 2017).

5 Cooperman, Alan, Gregory Smith, Stefan S. Coribert, et. al. "U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious." Pew Research Center. November 3, 2015. 70.  http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2015/11/201.11.03_RLS_II_full_report.pdf (accessed September 22, 2017). Not including Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

6 Barber, Nigel. “A Cross-National Test of the Uncertainty Hypothesis of Religious Belief.” Cross-Cultural Research. Vol 45, Issue 3, pp. 318 - 333 First published date: May 11, 2011 10.1177/1069397111402465 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1069397111402465

7 "Losing our religion? Two thirds of people still claim to be religious." Gallup International: Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research. April 13, 2015. http://www.wingia.com/en/news/losing_our_religion_two_thirds_of_people_still_claim_to_be_religious/290/

8 C. W. "What was the Great Divergence?" The Economist. September 2, 2013. https://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2013/08/economic-history-1 (accessed September 28, 2017).

9 "Industrial Revolution." Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. May 02, 2017  https://www.britannica.com/event/Industrial-Revolution

10 Chetty, Lee-Roy. "The Role of Science and Technology in the Developing World in the 21st Century." Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. October 3, 2012. https://ieet.org/index.php/IEET2/more/chetty20121003 (accessed September 28, 2017).

11 "Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media." Pew Research Center. Section 4: Scientists, Politics and Religion. http://www.people-press.org/2009/07/09/section-4-scientists-politics-and-religion/ (accessed September 22, 2017).

12 Gross, Neil and Solon Simmons. "How Religious are America's College and University Professors?" Social Science Research Council (SSRC). February 06, 2007. http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/Gross_Simmons.pdf (accessed September 22, 2017). It's also good to note that: "Professors who are born-again are extremely rare at elite doctoral institutions, composing only about one percent of professors at such institutions..."

13 Sargent Jr., John F. "The U.S. Science and Engineering Workforce: Recent, Current, and Projected Employment Wages, and Unemployment." Congressional Research Service. February 19, 2014. 7-5700. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43061.pdf (accessed September 28, 2017). Full quote: "In 2012, there were 6.2 million scientists and engineers employed in the United States, accounting for 4.8% of total U.S. employment."

14 Relatedly there was an estimated 2,217,600 architecture and engineering jobs as of 2014. ("Architecture and Engineering Occupations." Bureau of Labor Statistics. December 17, 2015. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/home.htm accessed September 28, 2017.)

15 Arrived at by dividing number of postsecondary teachers (1,313,000) from estimated total population (318,563,456) in 2014. (“Postsecondary Teachers.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm, accessed September 26, 2017. "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016 2016 Population Estimates." U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division: American Fact Finder (Guided Search). March 2017. https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=PEP_2016_PEPANNRES&prodType=table, accessed September 26, 2017.)

16 https://ratiochristi.org/prof

17 Funk, Cary and Lee Rainie. "Public and Scientists' Views on Science and Society." Pew Research Center: Internet & Technology. January 29, 2015. http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/ (accessed September 25, 2017).

18 Ryan, Camille L. and Kurt Bauman. "Educational Attainment in the United States: 2015." United States Census Bureau. March 2016. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p20-578.pdf (accessed September 26, 2017).

19 "Two-Thirds of Christians Face Doubt." Barna Group. July 25, 2017. https://www.barna.com/research/two-thirds-christians-face-doubt/ (accessed September 22, 2017).

20 "Missions Stats: The Current State of the World." The Traveling Team. www.thetravelingteam.org/stats/ (accessed October 3, 2017). See also: http://wwwgordonconwell.com/netcommunity/CSGCResources/ChristianityinitsGlobalContext.pdf

21 Yohannan, K. P. Revolution in World Missions: One Man's Journey to Change a Generation. GFA Books:  Wills Point, TX. 2009.

22 This is not meant to diminish the need for other missionary support locally or abroad, to the reached or unreached.

23 https://ratiochristi.org/about-us/testimonials/christian-leaders

24 McConnell, Scott. “LifeWay Research Finds Reasons 18- to 22-Year-Olds Drop Out of Church.” LifeWay. August 07, 2007. http://www.lifeway.com/Article/LifeWay-Research-finds-reasons-18-to-22-year-olds-drop-out-of-church (accessed September 22, 2017). “The statistics are based on a survey of 1,023 Protestants ages 18 to 30 who said they had attended church at least twice a month for at least one year during high school.” (Grossman, Cathy Lynn. "Young adults aren't sticking with church: 70% of surveyed Protestant stopped attending by age 23." USA Today. March 19, 2011. Print edition Life: Page 6D. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/printedition/life/20070807/d_churchdropout07.art.htm accessed September 23, 2017.)

25 Ibid.

26 Overprotective—shoots down new ideas and deters members from entering the culture of "the world". Shallow—gives easy platitudes instead of practical application to life's challenges. Antiscience—science seems useful, accessible, and open to question while faith seems impenetrable. Repressive—religious mores stifle sexual understanding and growth creating problems in building relationships. Exclusive—popular culture seems open-minded, tolerant, and accepting making the church seem bigoted. Doubtless—unempathetic to sincere doubts, making one feel unsafe in voicing questions. (Kinnaman, David and Aly Hawkins. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI. 2011.)

27 Ibid., Barna. 2017.

28 Oppel, Wayne. "The Mosaic Generation: The Future of Christianity? Who are they and how will they change the future?" Leadership Advance Online. Issue VII. Regent University School of Global Leadership. http://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/lao/issue_7/pdf/mosaic_generation_oppel.pdf (accessed September 22, 2017).