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Global South: The new demographics of faith

Many of us who grew up in Churches of Christ remember the visits of missionaries from Africa. Bearing stacks of slide carousels, they clicked through photos of smiling Christians, thatched-roof churches packed with worshipers and baptisms in muddy rivers.
So Africa seemed the logical place to begin our new series, “Global South: The changing face of the church.”
What does the rapid shift in the demographics of faith mean for Churches of Christ? How can we best support the work while avoiding traps of dependency and paternalism? In future installments of this series we’ll explore these questions, focusing on church growth and challenges across Africa. We’ll also investigate churches in other parts of the Global South, including:
• Latin America: In Guatemala, large Churches of Christ meet in mountainous villages, miles from paved roads. Some have elders and share God’s word with hundreds at gospel meetings. Ministry training schools across the region prepare future generations of ministers.
• Southeast Asia: Vibrant ministries exist in Thailand and Singapore. In other nations, where public assemblies are forbidden, untold numbers of churches meet in homes. An increasing number of U.S. missionaries recognize the need to plant churches in these white fields, where Asian seekers are hungry for the gospel.
• India: The subcontinent is home to more than a billion souls — more people than in all of Africa. Most of the country’s Churches of Christ are located in southern India. Some believers have survived the waves of the 2004 tsunami, and waves of anti-Christian violence.
David Goolsby of Nashville, Tenn., has visited churches around the world. In his view, congregations in the Global South resemble Churches of Christ during America’s pioneer days up until the end of World War II.  
With that in mind, we caution our brethren in the South against overestimating growth figures, as American church leaders did after the war. The unreliable statistics led to the myth that Churches of Christ were the fastest-growing body of believers in the nation in the 1950s.
We also caution against getting too caught up in numbers. Though we marvel at the phenomenal growth of Global South churches, we urge brethren around the world to spend the necessary time to teach, to train and to grow strong, indigenous leaders who are willing to spread the gospel wherever they are called.
We rejoice for the strong church leaders emerging in the Global South. Many are not content to keep the gospel within the borders of their home countries. African missionaries, for example, are taking the gospel into the unreached nations of the continent.
The growth of Christianity in the Global South doesn’t mean we should give up on the North. Southern Christians haven’t. The countries where we once sent missionaries are now sending Christian workers back to us.
On page 19 you will see the impact African Christians are making on a church in Minnesota. Across Europe, African immigrants are reinvigorating churches.
Those who are able should visit our brothers and sisters in the Global South and learn more about their lives and their faith. When Christians from the Global South come to us, our pews must be places where they feel welcome.
Working to heal the long-standing racial divisions in our own nation should be a first step toward this goal. We must ensure that churches in the United States reflect the changing demographics of our nation.
“One of the great testimonies we see in Africa is when visitors come,” said Chad Westerholm, a missionary in the southern African nation of Mozambique. “People are intrigued. ‘Why did these people come from America?’ The answer is a testimony to God’s redeeming work of bringing people of all nations to salvation.”

Filed under: Global South Staff Reports

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