The demographic of Christianity continues to shift from the Global North (Europe, North America) to the Global South (Africa, Asia, Latin America). Christianity in the Global South is growing both qualitatively and quantitatively at a phenomenal pace in comparison to Global North Christianity.
What are the key attributes of some of the varieties of Global South Christianity? What lessons can Global North Christianity—notably United Kingdom Christianity—learn from some of the varieties of Global South Christianity? This article examines some essential characteristics and practices of Christianity in Ghana, Brazil, and East Asia.
A Voice from Africa (Ghana)
African evangelical charismatic Christianity is well-known for its exhilarating praise and emotive worship. The worship service consists of loud, upbeat praise songs accompanied by congregational clapping of hands and dancing. Also, the worship service is made up of solemn, meditative worship songs during which worshippers may stand, sit, kneel, or lie prostrate on the ground. The medium of worship moves freely from African languages to foreign languages. The content of the worship is the honour given to God through his names and titles as well as thanksgiving for God’s acts of salvation of spirit, soul, and body.
Secondly, it is marked by spiritual warfare prayer and spiritual fasting. In warfare prayer the supplicant wages spiritual war against Satan and the kingdom of darkness. The African traditional worldview sees Satan and his demonic forces as the ultimate cause of life’s problems. To be successful in life, a person needs to neutralise the attacks of Satan and his cohorts. The common content of intercessory prayers are requests for God to bless the supplicant with spiritual success, deliverance from curses and evil covenants, healing of diseases and financial prosperity. Fasting often accompanies prayer. There is individual spiritual fasting as well as church spiritual fasting practices.
Thirdly, biblicism and mother tongue interpretation of Scripture is an attribute. The Bible is interpreted literally, trusted completely, and obeyed explicitly. The Bible is viewed as God’s Word to guide humanity in matters of faith and practice. The use of one’s mother tongue to study the Bible often highlights new perspectives of the Scriptures which may resonate with or critique a person’s context. This insight may be obscured by the use of a foreign language to study the Bible. As such mother tongue interpretation of Scripture aids in the effective discipleship of Christians.
Fourthly, community care is an important trait. Traditional African society is a communal society. The group’s interest is more important than that of the individual. This value is assimilated into the church where members go the extra mile to ensure that the needs of the group are met. Times of joy, such as the birth of a child, marriage, passing an examination, and receiving a job promotion, are shared by the church family. Likewise, times of sorrow, for example illness, exam failure, job loss, and bereavement, are also shared together.
Fifthly, a passion for evangelism, church planting, and social ministry permeates church life. Some of the evangelistic methods are personal witnessing, door to door evangelism, crusade evangelism, musical concerts evangelism, drama evangelism, film evangelism, and radio/ TV evangelism. Church planting is done using evangelistic outreach and church home cell groups to form a new church plant. The social ministry consists of social welfare (educational institutions, health care institutions, agricultural projects, income generation projects, small scale enterprises), and social justice (advocacy and activism in governance, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental issues). The preceding factors have contributed to the growth of evangelical charismatic Christianity in Africa (Ghana).
A Voice from Latin America (Brazil)
The growth of the church in Latin America has been contrasted with the decline in church attendance in the UK and in Europe. While some British Christians seem to be despondent about their prospect as a church and look towards the Global South to find hope of renewal, Latin American Christians seem to have bought into the view that the Holy Spirit is only breathing there. Frequently, the imagery of life and death is used to contrast the vitality of the Church in the Global South with the Church in Europe, as if life is there and here only death.
Even though Roman Catholicism is the main religion in the region, there is a huge gap between those who profess themselves to be Roman Catholics and those who actually are practising Christians. Similarly in the UK, we think of the chasm between those who say they are Christians and those who attend church and practice the faith. As some statistics have shown, 20% of Latin Americans are said to be evangelical Christians. These figures are cause of excitement for some and fear for others. An estimate of 8,000 to 10,000 people convert daily to evangelicalism, most of them coming from the Roman Catholic Church.
Let us think of the case of Brazil, which is known for being a Roman Catholic country. Brazil has the largest Roman Catholic community in the world, over 100 million faithful, corresponding to 50% of the country’s population. However, until the 1970s, 92% of Brazilians were said to be Catholics. In the year 2000 this percentage had declined to 73.6% and in 2010 to 64.6%. Now they account for 50% of the Brazilian population. This is a huge and significant change and it is happening too fast.
On the other hand, the evangelical churches in 1970 accounted for only 5.3%. By the year 2000 they had grown to 15.5%, then to 22.2% in 2010, and now they represent 31%. Some researchers predict that if this trend is maintained, by the year 2032 evangelicals will have overtaken Roman Catholics. Brazil remains a country with a Christian majority. Other religions which appear in the census are Afro-Brazilian religions (mainly Candoblé and Umbanda) with 2%; Jews 0.3%; and Muslims with 0.02%. Those claiming to be without religion are now 10%. In 1970 they were less than 1%.
Evangelical church denominations in Brazil can roughly be divided as such: 22% are Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals, such as Assemblies of God, The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, and The Foursquare Gospel Church, among others. The more historical churches represent 7%—Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, etc.
It is evident that there has been a significant growth of evangelicalism in Brazil in its traditional and, more strongly, in its Pentecostal variety. The same can be said of Latin America as a whole. However, that growth has not resulted in notable transformation of the societal landscape. It means that there has not been a visibly positive contribution from evangelicals to promote structural changes in economic, social, and political life. Latin America remains one of the most unequal regions in the world in terms of distribution of wealth.
A Voice from Asia (East Asia)
Christians in Asia grew twice as fast as the general population over the 20th century. About 60% of the global population lives in Asia, yet this region is still the least evangelised, with 8.2% Christians in 2020.
The Hindu population grew over the same period, though they are still concentrated on the Indian subcontinent. Muslims grew at a somewhat faster pace and displaced Chinese folk-religionists as the continent’s largest religion, with 27.4% of the population in 2020. Asia became the most non-religious continent in the 20th century. As of 2020 more than 640 million do not have a religion, which is just under 14% of Asia’s population. Agnostics and atheists grew the fastest.
Missionaries today are sent from everywhere to everywhere. Asia, formerly a mainly missionary-receiving continent, now has many countries also sending missionaries. The Korean mission movement started in 1907. Between 1988 and 2013, the Korean church emerged as a leading missionary-sending force. Other mature Asian indigenous missions include the Indian missions, the Philippines missions, and the Chinese missions in East Asia.
In recent years, new Asian missions have emerged from countries such as China, Cambodia, Bhutan, and amongst Asian diasporas in the West. For example, there have been some significant breakthroughs in the development of the Indigenous Mission Movement (IMM) from China. China’s increasing participation on the global stage has opened up opportunities for churches and individual Christians. At the same time, mission awareness and teaching in churches have grown to the point where there is a greater emphasis on reaching across borders and cultures.
Another example is the missional leadership trainings in Cambodia for pastors and leaders on topics such as ‘Mission of the Church’ and ‘Missional Leadership in Buddhist Contexts’. The key party conducting them is Shalom Mission Cambodia, an indigenous organisation involved in church planting, leadership training, and community development. Its vision is to plant a church in every province in Cambodia and develop true disciples of Jesus Christ who will transform their communities holistically.
However, Asian leaders in missions acknowledge that there is still much room to grow and improve. We need to work harder on some of the weaknesses of Asian indigenous missions such as:
- Frequently, financial support to missionaries is not long term.
- There are few candidates for ministries with a less ‘visible’ success, like Bible translation or cultural interpretation.
- Missionaries lack training and leadership development.
- Inadequate member care and personal development is provided.
Conclusion: The Future of Missions – Partnership and Collaboration
Since Global South churches and missions have matured (and are still growing) significantly over the past hundred years, mission leaders should encourage greater and deeper intercultural partnership and collaboration, such as that between Africans, Latin Americans, Asians, and Western missions. This will strengthen Christianity globally.
Let us reflect on today’s intercultural partnership and collaboration between, for example, the Global South and Global North in missions:
- What resources and expertise could Global North missions share with Global South indigenous missions that will strengthen them, eg in member care, intercultural training, and leadership development?
- What lessons can the Global North learn from Global South missions? For example, in inter-religious dialogues, as Christians in Asia have the rich experience of being effective witnesses for Christ in the midst of multi-faith communities.
- Will Global North churches and agencies receive into their midst Global South leaders and mission workers? Some call this ‘reverse missions’, where we are willing to learn and receive help from those we have historically served.
Representatives from the Global South have spoken. We would like to hear from the Global North in response. The global church is the one body of Christ and we should work together for God’s glory.
- This article is a summary of the three presentations at Spurgeon’s College Conference 2022 by Philip Lutterodt, Global Christianity – A Voice from Africa: Ghana; Joabe G Cavalcanti, Global Christianity – A Voice from Latin America: Brazil, and Loun Ling Lee, Global Christianity – A Voice from Asia: East Asia.
- Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, African Charismatics: Current developments within independent indigenous Pentecostalism in Ghana (Leiden: Brill, 2005).
- Kwame, Bediako, Jesus in Africa: The Christian Gospel in African history and experience (Akropong-Akuapem: Regnum Africa, 2000).
- Ogbu Kalu, African Pentecostalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
- María Victoria Sotelo & Felipe Arocena, ‘Evangelicals in the Latin American political arena: the cases of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay,’ SN Social Sciences, Volume 1, No.180, 2021,https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s43545-021-00179-6.George Isaac Simán Gutiérrez, ‘The Rise of Evangelicals in Latin America: What Would Jesus Do?’ Politics Today, February 22, 2021, https://politicstoday.org/the-rise-of-evangelicals-in-latin-america-what-would-jesus-do.
- Brazil’s Changing Religious Landscape, Pew Research Centre Report, July 18, 2013, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2013/07/18/brazils-changing-religious-landscape/.
- James Roberts, ‘Brazil to stop being majority Catholic this year, polls suggest,’ The Tablet, January 18, 2022,https://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/14909/brazil-to-stop-being-majority-catholic-this-year-polls-suggest.‘Projeções indicam que evangélicos serão maioria no Brasil nos próximos dez anos,’ por Redação, Junho 1, 2022,(Title translation by author: ‘Projections indicate that Evangelicals will be the majority in Brazil in the next ten years’), https://correiodeminas.com.br/2022/06/01/projecoes-indicam-que-evangelicos-serao-maioria-no-brasil-nos-proximos-dez-anos/.
- ‘50% dos brasileiros são católicos, 31%, evangélicos e 10% não têm religião, diz Datafolha,’ (Title translation by author: ‘50% of Brazilian are Catholics, 31% Evangelicals and 10% without religion, says polls from Datafolha’), https://g1.globo.com/politica/noticia/2020/01/13/50percent-dos-brasileiros-sao-catolicos-31percent-evangelicos-e-10percent-nao-tem-religiao-diz-datafolha.ghtml.
- ‘Quais são e qual o perfil das 10 igrejas evangélicas mais numerosas do Brasil,’ Gazeta do Povo, Setembro 26, 2022, (Title translation by author: ‘Who are the biggest Evangelical churches in Brazil and what are their profiles’), https://www.semprefamilia.com.br/religiao/quais-sao-e-qual-o-perfil-das-10-igrejas-evangelicas-mais-numerosas-do-brasil/.
- Daniela Fernandes, ‘4 dados que mostram por que Brasil é um dos países mais desiguais do mundo, segundo relatório,’ BBC News Brasil, 7 dezembro 2021, (Titletranslation by author: ‘4 data which show that Brazil is one the most unequal countries in the world’), https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/brasil-59557761.
- Todd Johnson and Gina Zurlo, eds., World Christian Encyclopedia, 3rd edition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020).
- Allen Yeh, ‘The Future of Mission is from Everyone to Everywhere,’ in January 2018 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2018-01/future-mission-everyone-everywhere.
- Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, The Korean Missionary Movement: Dynamics and Trends 1988-2013 (William Carey Library: 2016). Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, ‘Missions from Korea 2016: Sustainability and revitalization,’ International Bulletin of Mission Research, April 2016.
- Wu Xi, ‘Doing Missions with Chinese Characteristics Developments in the Indigenous Missions Movement from China,’ ChinaSource Quarterly, Summer 2020, Vol. 22, No. 1, https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/chinasource-quarterlies/doing-missions-with-chinese-characteristics/.
- Kirsteen Kim, ‘Unlocking Theological Resource Sharing Between North and South,’ in November 2017 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2017-11/unlocking-theological-resource-sharing-north-south.
Philip Lutterodt is the pastor of Mitcham Baptist Church in South London. He was previously academic dean and lecturer at Maranatha Bible College in Accra, Ghana.
Joabe G. Cavalcanti is the vicar of St Barnabas Mitcham in the Diocese of Southwark where he is also a tutor in Christian doctrine. He is originally from Brazil, where he studied theology and philosophy. Joabe holds an MA in theology from Trinity College, Bristol.
Loun Ling Lee is the editor of Lausanne Global Analysis. She teaches ‘Missional Reading of the Bible’ and ‘Engaging with the World’s Religions’ in Malaysia and the UK. Formerly a lecturer in mission at Redcliffe College, UK, training director of AsiaCMS based in Malaysia, mission mobiliser with OMF, and pastor at Grace Singapore Chinese Church, she serves on the board of OMF UK.