The leadership team of the Lausanne Movement took the initiative to hold listening calls, inviting evangelical leaders of the world by region and issue network, in preparation for the Fourth Lausanne Congress (Lausanne 4) to be held in Seoul, South Korea in 2024. A total of 12 regional meetings were held with evangelical leaders from each region, and another 24 meetings comprising 23 issue networks and the Younger Leaders Generation (YLGen) network were also held. The meetings took place between September 2020 and July 2021, when churches and organizations were heavily influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. The leaders of each group provided the notes from the meetings that amounted to 104,187 words.
The qualitative data of the notes was analysed by the Global Listening Team in accordance with the procedures of grounded theory. The inductive analytical process was carried out in the three steps following Kathy Charmaz’s coding strategy: initial coding (line-by-line coding), focused coding, and theoretical coding. The coding and analysis were conducted using a QDA (qualitative data analysis) software called NVivo for Windows, a product of QSR International.
The notes were based around five discussion questions that guided the course of the listening calls. The questions were 1) What are the most significant gaps or remaining opportunities towards the fulfilment of the Great Commission? 2) What promising breakthroughs and innovations do you see that can accelerate the fulfilment of the Great Commission? 3) In what areas is greater collaboration most critical in order to see the fulfilment of the Great Commission? 4) Where is further research needed? 5) To whom else should we be listening as part of this process?
The thematic analysis of the meeting notes used these five categories in order. First the regional notes and then the issue network notes, including those of YLGen, were analysed before the synthesis of the two at the end.
A total of 42,171 words were used in the notes of the regional listening calls. The analysis through a line-by-line coding of the 12 reports came up with a total of 285 thematic codes. A subsequent focused coding and analysis were directed to the 56 codes commonly addressed in four or more listening calls.
The dominant themes that emerged within the category of the first question on the remaining gaps were ‘need for discipleship’, ‘reaching younger generations’, ‘love and unity’, ‘diversity in leadership’, ‘churches not engaging with the outside world’, ‘the remaining unreached people groups (UPGs)’, ‘advance of Islam and need for Muslim evangelism’, ‘environmental crisis and creation care’, ‘lack of cross-cultural missions’, ‘lack of contextualization’, and ‘need for marketplace and workplace ministries’.
The dominant themes analysed within the category of the second question on the breakthroughs and innovations were ‘using new technologies and media for ministries’, ‘indigenous mission movements’, and ‘breakthroughs and innovations in ministry’.
The dominant themes belonging to the category of the third question on collaboration were ‘need for collaboration’ and ‘Lausanne Movement as a platform’.
The important themes that emerged in relation to the category of the fourth question on research were ‘diaspora and immigrants’, ‘sociocultural context of ministry’, ‘the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on ministry’, ‘unreached people groups (UPGs)’, ‘contextualization of theology’, ‘church growth’, ‘collaboration of churches’, ‘Gen Z and younger generations’, and ‘leadership’.
The important themes belonging to the category of the fifth question on whom else to listen to were ‘Gen Zers and younger people’, ‘the Holy Spirit’, ‘people on the ground’, ‘pastors and church leaders’, ‘unbelievers and people of other religions’, ‘each other’, ‘women’, ‘academic voices’, ‘indigenous people’, and ‘political leaders’.
A total of 62,016 words were used in the notes of the issue network meetings. The analysis through a line-by-line coding of the 24 reports came up with a total of 247 thematic codes. A focused coding and analysis were directed to the 59 codes commonly addressed in four or more issue network listening calls.
The dominant themes that emerged relating to the category of the first question on the remaining gaps were ‘need for discipleship’, ‘involving young people’, ‘love, unity, and partnership’, ‘acceptance of ministry in the church’, ‘lack of holistic perspective’, ‘lack of contextualization’, ‘churches not engaging with the outside world’, ‘training of workers and leaders’, ‘gap in resources’, ‘churches not using contemporary technologies and media’, ‘gap in vision and trust’, ‘unreached people groups (UPGs)’, ‘language barriers and Bible translation’, and ‘anti-Christian legislation and politics’.
The important themes in the category of the second question on the breakthroughs and innovations were ‘new technologies for ministries’, ‘breakthroughs in ministry’, ‘churches awakening more’, ‘churches and leaders more united’, ‘indigenous mission movements’, and ‘new leaders are emerging’.
The dominant themes that emerged in the category of the third question on collaboration were ‘need for collaboration’, ‘Lausanne as platform’, and ‘need to share information’.
The important themes belonging to the category of the fourth question on research were ‘research on best practices’, ‘more empirical research’, ‘research on evangelistic ministries’, ‘research on unreached people groups (UPGs)’, ‘research on fundraising and funding sources’, ‘research on Gen Z and younger generations’, ‘research on the sociocultural context of ministry’, ‘research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic’, ‘research on biblical understanding of current issues’, and ‘research on contextualization of theology’.
The emerged important themes that fall in the category of the fifth question on whom else to listen to were ‘Gen Zers and younger people’, ‘Majority World leaders’, ‘people on the ground’, ‘indigenous people’, ‘pastors and church leaders’, ‘women’, ‘the Holy Spirit’, ‘unbelievers and people of other religions’, ‘each other’, ‘business leaders’, and ‘diasporas and immigrants’.
All the notes of the regional and issue networks were analysed together. A total of 104,187 words were used and 391 thematic codes emerged in the notes of the whole group. From among the thematic codes, 115 came up repeatedly in four or more meeting notes.
A total of 38 codes emerged in ten or more meetings, and six codes in 20 or more meetings. The six codes were as follows: ‘need for collaboration’ (36 meetings); ‘using new technologies for ministries’ (29 meetings); ‘listening to Gen Z and younger generations’ (27 meetings); ‘need for discipleship’ (25 meetings); ‘love, unity, and partnership’ (20 meetings); and ‘breakthroughs in ministries’ (20 meetings). It can be noted that the need for collaboration was emphasized in all 36 listening calls. A total of 102 focused codes (four or more groups addressing the issue) emerged in both regional and issue network meetings.
In approaching the theme of how to address the challenges facing the evangelical church, evangelical leaders emphasized the importance of discipleship and training for workers and leaders in ministry. This emphasis is also a call back to the basics. The foundational approaches of discipleship and ministry training were considered critical in facilitating ministry innovation.
Another emphasis basic to the Christian teaching was on love, unity, and partnership. The evangelical leaders recognized the importance of unity that transcends denominational backgrounds and organizational boundaries, calling for orchestrated efforts based on Christian love and unity in addressing the diverse challenges facing evangelical churches.
The answers to the question on the gaps or remaining opportunities contain a conservative perspective on the current task of the evangelical church. The traditional emphasis on the foundational ministries showed a belief in the accumulative aspect of a paradigm shift. The evangelical leaders wanted to see accumulated ministry knowledge bring about changes in the way ministry programs and activities are carried out, instead of pursuing a paradigmatic and rapid change in ministerial approaches.
The introduction of new technologies creates more possibilities to engage with the external world on the part of evangelical churches. There was a consensus on the usefulness of advanced technologies and media in ministry, backed by ample evidence of the new possibilities of ministry innovation that could be attributed to the use of new technologies and media. A positive observation shared among many evangelical leaders was that there are noticeable internal changes within the evangelical church. Churches are awakening more, and churches and their leaders are more united, which could be attributed to the emergence of new leaders.
The ministry of evangelical churches and Christian organizations is witnessing breakthroughs, as shared by the evangelical leaders in diverse ministries. To continuously move the innovative process forward, it is critical to involve young people, which was emphasized in different ways but commonly expressed in the discussions on breakthrough and innovation.
The issue of innovating ministry approaches is an effort to increase relevancy in ministry, which is none other than part of the task of contextualization. Innovation as a creative process could facilitate contextualization in this everchanging world. The overall conversations of the evangelical leaders, however, seem to remain adaptive to the changes in the ministry environment rather than proactively promoting ground-breaking innovations in a radical way.
The need for collaboration was talked about at length in many groups. The view on the use of the Lausanne Movement as a platform for global collaboration is convincing enough. The evangelical leaders expressed a high level of confidence in the Lausanne Movement and made suggestions to further its role at different levels.
The emphasis on information sharing is noteworthy because it is the basis for mutual efforts for collaboration. By sharing information, stakeholders or partners can understand each other and move forward to maximize synergistic relationships. Such expectations seem to be highly constructive in positioning the Lausanne Movement both as a facilitator and a platform for ministry collaborations.
The evangelical leaders made suggestions for future research that vastly reflected their interests and concerns related to their ministries. The theme of lack of research reveals an area of weakness in the evangelical missions circle. There have been efforts in this area of ministry, but the evangelical churches and organizations were not unified and systematic in addressing the research needs.
Overall, the discussions on and suggestions for future research bring to light the importance of empirical research. More attempts should be made to conduct empirical research to address such real issues suggested by the evangelical leaders. The specific suggestions for future research as well as the request for more research remind us of the need for a down-to-earth approach in doing missional theology that would involve empirical research on human contexts. Pursuing an effective way of sharing research results would be an expression of servanthood.
It takes an out-of-the-box thinking to listen well to such people listed in the meetings. The idea of listening to the Holy Spirit is normative in the evangelical faith, but liable to negligence if people are too busy listening to other people. At the same time, listening to the Holy Spirit could happen as a communal exercise.
Many of the suggestions require an interdisciplinary approach to listening. Different fields of knowledge need to be considered. In many cases, listening could take the form of research because research is a systematic way of listening. A holistic understanding of knowledge would pursue an interdisciplinary study in a systematic way rather than a compartmentalized or stratified approach. Listening through interdisciplinary empirical research could be effective considering the diversity and complexity of the groups of people to listen to.
The gaps and challenges before the evangelical church are diverse and complex. The evangelical leaders, however, are well aware of the current issues and challenges to be addressed in their ministries. Regardless of the gaps and challenges, the evangelical leaders are not overly pessimistic in their outlook of their ministry. They are witnessing breakthroughs with innovative approaches in ministry in many contexts.
Overall, glocalization is taking place both widely and deeply in the Christian ministry. Much has been discussed on this over the years, but glocalization is rapidly becoming a reality with practical implications in many ministerial contexts. There are dynamic interactions already taking place between the global and the local, which must be furthered continuously.
There was a serious call for unity in the evangelical community, as often shared in the listening calls. A high sense of unity was felt amidst diversity in regional, denominational, and generational backgrounds. At the same time, there was also a strong desire to see a higher level of love and unity across different ministerial boundaries.
The Fourth Lausanne Congress planned to be held in Seoul in 2024 must be used as a global platform both for the ongoing strategic alliance of ministries and for the special orchestration of innovation in ministries. A multi-year polycentric approach is reasonable considering the complexity of the issues facing the evangelical church. The effort to listen was a good step forward, and the corporate wisdom shared in the listening calls remind us of the promise in the Holy Spirit who works for creative approaches in ministry.