There has never been a time in human history when there are so many opportunities to share the Good News, so many young people recently born who need to hear, and so many questions that people are asking about themselves, their future and about their wider world.
Here are 7 dimensions that will shape these exciting FUTURES:
F – Fast
U – Urban
T – Tribal
U – Universal
R – Radical
E – Ethical
S – Spiritual
Our increasingly joined-up world will create more uncertainties as events in one place trigger other events. The days of having only one strategy are over. We need to plan flexibly, taking every opportunity for the Kingdom.
Part of the speed of global change is the astonishing rise of Asia — 40% of the global economy by 2015. This will be a massive psychological adjustment for many in developed nations over the next 15-20 years.
At the same time, the faster our world changes, the more people crave things which do not change, whether protecting a beautiful view from developers, or seeking the sanctuary of a Cathedral in which prayers have been said every day for over 1,000 years. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Urbanisation and related issues, such as demographics, will profoundly shape our world and mission over the next 30-50 years. One billion children are alive today — more than ever in human history– all of whom will be adults by 2030, and at the same time 1 billion people will be over 50 in 10 years’ time.
Over 750 million people will migrate from rural areas into cities in the next decade, most of whom will exist at first in informal, slum dwellings, on the edge of megacities, or in small pockets of land within them.
This migration has left behind old patterns of mission in developing nations, often concentrated around hospitals in remote areas.
New missions will be needed in megacities, in densely inhabited districts with highly mobile populations of people who have lost many cultural roots.
In some countries like Germany and Russia, on current trends, 8 great-grandparents will be needed to produce a single great-grandchild. Either couples need to start having larger families again, or communities will need to encourage large-scale immigration, or populations will fall. We can expect large migrations — as in the UK, where we have seen rapid expansion of ethnic churches, whether Korean, or Polish, or Nigerian. Each migration is creating new mission opportunities.1
Tribalism is the most powerful human force on earth. God loves tribes. In a sense every family or community is a tribe; every brand or team creates a tribe; and every church can be a tribe of tribes — with different cells, activity groups and so on.
While human beings have an in-built need to belong, we are also witnessing break-down of traditional families on a worrying scale. The majority of children in some nations are now born out of marriage, often with no biological father living at home.
Destruction of families is creating huge emotional voids, with people searching for new forms of family. Churches which offer a sense of family, home groups, and so on, will find routes to growth.
Tribalism can lead to intolerance, sectarianism, extreme nationalism, and worse — and prominent Christians will continue to have a growing role as peacemakers.
The opposite of Tribalism is Universalism or globalisation. The result can be found in the ubiquity of English language, McDonald’s restaurants, and the same worship songs everywhere — but with catastrophic loss of culture, identity, language, and local history.
Globalisation will be an unstoppable, ever-stronger force, balancing tribalism in many places, shrinking our world, weaving together national interests in clusters of new trading alliances and partnerships. And the more globalised the world is, the more tribalised people will naturally want to be.
A key driver of this Universalism will be our web-enabled and increasingly mobile phone-dominated world, with 70% of human beings already using wireless technologies to communicate at the speed of light.
Digital technology is a major threat to totalitarian power; so we can expect dictators to make greater efforts to control it. It will also present growing opportunities to reach and influence people in new ways.2
Some parts of our world will become more polarized, politically and spiritually. The church can expect new Christian groups to emerge that follow very strict teachings, which seem to embrace elements of historic puritanism, as a mirror to Islamic fundamentalism. Such groups will be viewed by many older Christians as divisive, deluded, dangerous, and destructive, but could create some of tomorrow’s most vibrant and effective missionary movements. Local tensions between Christians and Muslims will continue to dominate headlines in nations like Nigeria.
Our world will increasingly be looking for radical answers to urgent challenges of sustainability: how do we support aspirations of up to 9 billion people, in a way which protects future generations? We can expect rapid innovations to provide solutions to many of these challenges in an affordable way, part of a US$40 trillion green tech boom.
Every crisis or leadership scandal will raise further urgent questions about values and morality. This questioning will take place in governments, board rooms, leadership teams, and church denominations. Once again, there will be huge opportunity for those of faith.
People may not love our God but they often love our values; for example, behave honestly, work hard, look after your neighbour, be a good citizen.
Many of the most pressing ethical challenges we will face will be in life-sciences. They will include ways to keep people alive or to shorten life, artificial ways to create new human beings, or use of tissue from the unborn in treating disease.
Other profound issues for the church will be over expressions of sexuality — attitudes to those who engage in sexual activity with others outside of traditional marriage.
Many societies are embracing sexual freedoms with terrible consequences, such as massive exposure of young children to hard pornography via the internet, and huge numbers of children seduced and sexually abused by adults. At some point (as has always happened in history), we can expect a backlash which may be profound, long-term, and revolutionary.
In the meantime, we can expect much soul-searching after exposure of yet more scandalous behavior by sexually incontinent church leaders. It will take more than a decade to regain previous levels of trust, and will require rigorous, consistent responses at every level, as well as radical steps by churches in every nation to prevent history repeating itself.
Despite all the noise in some developed nations by a small minority of militant atheists who promote their lack of faith almost as a religion of their own, the fact is that our world remains deeply spiritual in outlook and directions, even if often deeply confused about the place of formal, institutional religion in individuals’ own lives.
The vast majority of people alive today are convinced that there is a dimension to existence far beyond anything that can be measured by scientists, that there is an ultimate destiny, that God exists, and that there is a purpose and a plan for their lives.
The greatest passion, energy and mission growth in the church will continue to be in emerging nations. We can expect vibrant Latin American, African, and Asian church networks to dominate global theology and practice within 20 years, with uneasy reactions from some prominent leaders in developed nations, who will continue to wield disproportionate (and increasingly resented) influence because of history and unequal economic power.
Power of People Movements in Mission
So what form will mission take in future? We live in an age of popular uprisings, people movements, and revolutions, driven by visions of millions of people for a better world. People movements can spread at the speed of light in a digital age.
The greatest people movement in history was begun by Jesus. The early church placed less emphasis than we do on institutions, structures, rules, and committees. Their emphasis was on obedience to Jesus, infectious passion for a lost world, courage, determination to see God’s kingdom come, and on the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.
I am sure you can think of people movements that have touched your own life. Here are a few that have touched mine, all of which rapidly became national and global, from small church-based groups in the UK.
MARCH FOR JESUS
I will never forget a wet Saturday in 1987, with over 2,500 people in London, led by Graham Kendrick, marching in a colourful procession, worshipping and praying for the City, united in a single prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”
By 1994, similar prayer marches spread globally. On a single day over 10 million people marched in 170 nations. By 2000 over 60 million had taken part, facilitated by a small team.
Alpha started as a small Bible study group in the 1970s in Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, London, and was redesigned by Nicky Gumbel in 1990. The concept spread across every denomination, fed by training conferences, a newspaper, books, and other resources.
Alpha courses have now been attended by 11 million people (33,500 courses in 163 nations). A small team manages Alpha in London, with volunteers all over the world. Alpha is one of the most effective evangelistic movements our nation has seen in the last 100 years.
24-7 Prayer Rooms
In September 1999, a small group of students led by Pete Greig, began to pray in Chichester, UK. They prayed for a month, in relays. Soon hundreds of temporary prayer rooms sprang up across the country and in other nations. As some stopped, others started.
The people movement became known as ‘24-7’ — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The word spread from one person to another, through conferences, email, and websites. Once again, a small facilitating team, strong vision, and common method were at the core.
ACET – Aids Prevention and Care
This is an example, on a much smaller scale, of one that I have been involved in personally since November 1987, when a small group of church volunteers operating from our own home, started to help people dying at home with AIDS in West London. Within three years, teams were working across the UK in schools and homes. Today ACET teams are serving communities in over 20 nations. ACET has grown as yet another movement of faith, with a small organisational and inspirational base.
We need to pray for a new generation of missional people movements that will take the power of the gospel to every person. And then we will no longer be speculating on future trends, but changing them!
1 Editor’s Note: See Gina Bellofatto’s article ‘People and Their Religions on the Move: Challenge and opportunities of international migration’ in the November 2012 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis.
2 Editor’s Note: See Thomas Harvey’s article ‘Governing the Internet and Grasping the Potential: Implications for Christian mission and discipleship’ in the November 2012 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis.