Some Christian Researchers Think Population Growth Will Stall the Great Commission

Image: Christianity Today The global percentage of the unevangelized.
Image: Christianity Today
The global percentage of the unevangelized.

Over the past century, the Good News has taken off faster than at any other time in history.­­

It took nearly 2,000 years for the gospel to spread from the early church to nearly half the world’s population. In 1900, 45.7 percent of people everywhere were aware of the gospel, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. More than 100 years later, that number has grown to more than 70 percent.

Given that the number of mission organizations has grown from 2,200 in 1970 to 5,100 in 2015, the whole world should soon hear the Good News, right?

Not so fast, said the CSGC. By 2050, it predicts only another 2 percent of the world’s population will be evangelized, totaling 72 percent.

The root of the slowdown: babies, rival religions, and the painstaking work of building disciples.

The evangelism boom of the 20th century came primarily from the work done among African tribal groups that had no ties to the world’s major religions. The number of Christians on the continent rose from 7 million in 1900 to 470 million in 2010, according to Pew Research Center. But in the same timespan, the number of Muslims in Africa grew from 11 million to 234 million, while the number of those practicing tribal religions shrank from 76 percent of Africans to 13 percent.

In other words, most people today who have not heard the gospel already belong to a major religion, says CSGC director Todd Johnson. And those faiths are growing.

A recent Pew study found that Muslims have the youngest population—34 percent are under 15, compared with 27 percent of Christians and 20 percent of Buddhists. They also have the highest fertility rates in the world: Muslim women average 3.1 children, while Christian women average 2.7 children.

Those Muslim babies—and a solid 77 percent retention rate—are predicted to help Islam overtake Christianity as the world’s biggest religion by 2070, according to Pew’s “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010–2050” report.

The effect of births eclipses conversions by far. Pew states that before 2050, about 9.4 million Muslims will leave Islam, while about 12.6 million will join, adding up to a 3.2 million increase—not much when considering the overall leap Islam will take from 1.6 billion adherents in 2010 to 2.76 billion in 2050.

At the same time, Christianity is set to gain 40 million adherents but lose 106 million to religious switching. Christianity’s much smaller overall growth, from 2.17 billion to 2.92 billion adherents, will also come primarily from babies.

While birth rates are falling in India, where most of the world’s Hindus live, the population of that nation is expected to grow from today’s 1 billion people to almost 1.4 billion people by 2050. At that time, Pew estimates, there will be about 1.3 billion Hindus worldwide.

Naturally, these estimates could change depending on future demographic shifts. Still, future missionaries will most likely need to focus on places like China and India to fulfill the Great Commission.

“If you’re not evangelizing in an area that has a high population growth, you’re losing ground,” Johnson said.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra