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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Growing Christian Church

This entry is for LX who I told I would post certain entries form the 1st chapter of Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity?. In reference to the growing influence we find the following. First, the highlights of a Europe that is becoming increasingly "post-Christian".
  • 90 percent of Greeks acknowledge the existance of God, and only 5 percent of Greeks are atheists.
  • Ireland still has church attendence figures of around 45 percent, twice as high as the Continent as a whole.
  • Along with Ireland, Poland and Slovakia are two of the most religious countries in Europe.
  • Some commentators have noted that even Europeans who are not religious continue to describe themselves as "spiritual". These analysts argue that Europe has not abandoned religion in general but only "organized" religion.

Now for analysis of the US where, to the casual observer, it would appear that Christianity is on the decline. The statistics paint a different picture however.

  • Liberal churches are losing members in droves. Once these churches welcomed one in six Americans; now they see one in thirty. In 1960 the Presbyterian church had 4.2 million members; now it has 2.4 million. The Episcopal church had 3.4 million ; now it has 2.3 million. The United Church of Christ had 2.2 million; now it has 1.3 million. Traditional Christians who remain within liberal churches become increasingly alienated. Some have become so disgusted that they have put themselves under the authority of more traditional clerics in countries like Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
  • The traditional churches, not the liberal churches, are growing in America. In 1960, for example, the churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention had 8.7 million members. Now they have 16.4 million.

Now for some interesting tidbits of information that D'Souza researched regarding the world as a whole.

  • We often read that Islam is the fastest-growing religion. Nottrue. Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in the world today. Islam is second. While Islam grows mainly through reproduction-which is to say by Muslims having large families-Christianity spreads through rapid conversionas well as natural increase.
  • ...Islam is regional, with little or no sway in the United States, Canada, Central and South America or Australia. Christianity is a force on every continent and in every region of the world, with the sole exception of the heartland of Islam, the Middle East.
  • Europe today has 560 million Christians and America has 260 million, yet many of these Christians are in name only. In comparison, there are 480 million Christians in South America, 313 million in Asia and 360 million in Africa. The vast majority of these are practicing Christians. There are more church-going Presbyterians in Ghana than Scotland.
  • A century ago, less than 10 percent of Africa was Christian. Today, it's nearly 50 percent. That's an increase from 10 million in 1900 to more than 350 million today. Uganda alone has has nearly 20 million Christians and is projected to have 50 million by the middle of the century. Some African congregations have grown so big that their churches are running out of space. While Western preachers routinely implore people to come every Sunday to fill the pews, some African preachers ask their members to limit their attendence to every second or third Sunday to give others a chance to hear the message.
  • Central and South America are witnessing the explosive growth of Pentecostalism.....In Brazil for example, there are now 50 million evangelical Protestants whereas only a few decades ago there werent enough to count. The movement of Catholics into Protestant Evangelicalism should not be considered purely lateral, however, as the conversion of lackadaisical nominal Catholics to an active energized evangelicalism can perhaps be considered a net gain for Christianity...... And the Catholic numbers reamin huge: Brazil had 50 million Catholics in 1950 but now it has 120 million.
  • Despite the limitations imposed by the Chinese government, it is estimated that there are now 100 million Christians in China who worship in underground evangelical and Catholic churches.
  • In Korea, where Christians already outnumber Buddhists, there are numerous mega-churches with more than 10,000 members each. The YoidoFul Gospel Church reports 750,000 members.
  • The Catholic Church in the Philippines reports 60 million members and is projected to have 120 million by mid-century.
  • ...Third World Christianity is coming our way. South Korea has become the world's second largest source of Christian missionarieswith 12,000 preaching the faith abroad. Only the United States sends more more missionaries to other countries.

"We may be seeing the beginning of a startling reversal. At one time Christina missionaries went to the far continents of Africa and Asia, where white priests in robes proclaimed the Bible to wide-eyed and uncomprehending brown and black people. In the future, we may well we may well see black and brown missionaries proclaim the Bible to wide-eyed and uncomprehending white people in the West."

7 comments:

Tracy said...

Thanks JD for posting this; as I read it my heart becomes encouraged. May the name of Jesus truly be lifted up in all the world for He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Saleslady371 said...

This is so encourging to me. Thanks.

SmartLX said...

Thanks very much. It appears I have an answer to my question: if we can tell anything about proselytism from these figures, most people who convert are either from "liberal churches" and therefore have already accepted much of the core dogma (including the big pills - the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus), or from countries where Christianity is relatively new and the general populace is relatively unfamiliar with it.

Coming back to my original point, I can see how the entirety of theology can be brought to bear when "traditional" churches reach out to "liberal" ones. Re-evaluating the supposed nature of God is what switching denomination is all about.

When you're reaching out to atheists and other religions, however, the philosophy-of-religion aspects - those parts of theology that don't just take it as read that God exists - are all that are relevant.

So is it these parts of theology that are responsible for the growth of Christianity at the expense of other religions? I doubt it, because in places like Africa and Korea which D'Souza mentioned, Christianity is still coming off a fresh start. Most of the converts are the result of plain old preaching: spreading the Gospel as is, and welcoming those who believe it.

Finally, just how effective has any form of proselytism been on the explicitly non-religious? D'Souza avoids any figures at all about changes in this population anywhere; he only brings up Greece where there weren't many atheists at the time of one survey. In his other figures on France, he would have rejoiced in saying that the evangelical churches had grown at the expense of atheism, or of any religion other than non-evangelical Christianity for that matter, if it had been true. He didn't.

What I'm saying is that where non-Christians are nevertheless familiar with Christianity and have consciously rejected it, the whole of its advanced theology hasn't helped evangelists much when overcoming their objections. Its usefulness to proselytisers over and above the simple act of preaching appears negligible.

JD Curtis said...

Please don't accept the above entry as the totality of the arguement raised by D'Souza. I just got tired of typing. In reference to France, are they really just canibalizing the Catholic church or converting the atheist/agnostic/irreligious?

This link states that there are alot of people who say that they are Catholic in France, however, only a very small percentage are actually practicing. I would count it as a gain if they convert from non-practicing Catholic to practicing evangelical.

Insofar as the US is concerned, I once heard my pastor say "Christianity in the US is about 2,000 miles wide......and about half an inch deep." Many people are familiar with the most basic tenets of Christian belief but that's all. They identify themselves in polls as Christian but they don't go to church and they can't answer any of the tougher questions about their faith.

SmartLX said...

I didn't think it was everything D'Souza had written. He did a whole book after all. I just figure you're picking the most relevant parts.

In reference to France, are they really just cannibalizing the Catholic church or converting the atheist/agnostic/irreligious?

Exactly what I'd like to know. I'm saying that D'Souza in particular would love to announce the latter, and therefore it's significant that he didn't. France doesn't seek this sort of information about its citizens like some countries do, so we have to rely on churches' internal headcounts. Right now we're only going on that of the loudest church.

I agree with your pastor, actually. Most American Christians' faith is pretty shallow, if it's really faith at all. Of course that means fertile pastures for evangelicals.

JD Curtis said...

D'Souza's book was written in '07. I'm assuming the info gathered was from 06.

GCT said...

The latest polls show that religious "nones" are growing faster than any other group.

Oh, and "they can't answer any of the tougher questions about their faith."

Sounds familiar
*Snort*