Top Ten Mission Trends in the 21st Century: Rise of the Pentecostal Church


pentecostalFor centuries the church has thought of itself as existing in three major branches:  Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox.  Within each of these branches there are, of course, countless smaller orders, denominations and bodies of believers.   One of the most dramatic changes during the 20th century has been the emergence of a broad spectrum of Pentecostal Christians which have grown so numerous that many are considering it a separate, fourth branch of Christianity.[1] The number of Pentecostals world-wide has now grown into a force which is numbered, not in the thousands, but in the hundreds of millions of believers (Chart Below).[2] This has not only influenced Western, Protestant Christianity, but has been a major force on the mission field, particularly in Latin America and Africa, but true to a large extent throughout the world.   In Latin America, for example, Pentecostal Christianity makes up the largest segment of Protestantism which is expected to constitute one third of Latin American population by the year 2010.[3]

As we think about the world, we can no longer assume that Pentecostal branches of Christianity are small or that Pentecostal theology is being embraced by only marginal groups of believers.  Today, many of the most vigorously growing Christian movements in the world are identifying with some aspects of Pentecostal theology.  It is not unusual, for example, to see believers around the world gathering to lay hands on the sick to pray for someone’s healing or hearing of someone prophesying in the church or speaking in tongues.  Regardless of your position on the ongoing experience of spiritual gifts in the life of the church, we cannot afford to ignore this global movement and the fact that an increasing number of our brothers and sisters in the global church are Pentecostal, Charismatic or Independent believers.


[1] The World Christian Encyclopedia organizes Christian affiliation into six broad categories:  Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Independent and Marginal.  The growth of the Independent category, largely Pentecostal, is one of the most remarkable trends of the last century.    See, World Christian Encyclopedia, Table 1-5, vol. 1, p. 16.

[2] Documentation of this can be found in the following works:  Karla Poewe, ed., Charistmatic Christianity as Global Culture (Columbia:  University of South Carolina Press, 1994);  Walter Hollenweger, Pentecostalism: Its Origins and Development Worldwide (Peabody, Mass.:  Hendrickson, 1997);  Murray W. Dempster, Byron D. Klaus, and Douglas Peterson, eds., The Globalization of Pentecostalism:  A Religion Made to Travel (Oxford and Irvine, California:  Regnum International, 1999); and David Martin, Pentecostalism:  The World Their Parish (Malden, Mass:  Blackwell, 2001).

[3] Dana L. Robert, “Shifting Southward:  Global Christianity Since 1945,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, vol. 24, #2 (April, 2000) 56.   Even in the 1990’s Brazil, known traditionally as the world’s largest Catholic country, had nearly 80,000,000 Christians who fit into the broad category of Pentecostal, Charismatic or Independent.    Of the 80 million, 32% were Pentecostals, 42% Charismatics and 27% independents.  See, David B. Barrett, George Kurian, and Todd Johnson, World Christian Encyclopedia, vol. 1 (Oxford University Press, 2001) 134, col. 1.

Top Ten Mission Trends in the 21st Century: Church Planting


The gospels record that the last act of Jesus prior to His ascension was to deliver a final commission to his disciples.  Today, this is known as the Great Commission.  A close examination of the gospels reveals that Jesus issued the Great Commission on several occasions to his disciples between His Resurrection and His ascension.  He delivered the Great Commission at least twice in Jerusalem, once in Bethany and once in Galilee.[1] One of the most striking facts about these final commissions from our Lord is that the emphasis is not merely on making converts around the world, but the incorporation of new believers into the redeemed community of the church!  For example, the most well-known of the Great Commissions is found in Matthew 28 where Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you, and surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).  The only imperative in the entire passage is the command to ‘make disciples’.  That is the central core command around which the entire passage is structured.   In several of the Great Commission passages Jesus mentions the central role of baptism which is not merely referring to being baptized into an individualized faith, but being baptized into the community of those who declare that “Jesus is Lord.”

One of the challenges we face in the current globalization of the Christian movement is that the evangelistic-conversion thrust is moving at a much faster rate than the church-planting – discipleship thrust.  The result is that people are being brought to faith at a rate much faster than they are being effectively incorporated into a local church and at least initiated into the discipleship process.  This is of great concern for several reasons.  First, if someone is not quickly incorporated into the church they are more likely to succumb to doctrinal errors.  Many new Christians who have not been incorporated into a Christian church have been lured into heretical movements such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormonism (LDS) or other groups which have not been faithful in preserving and defending historic Christian faith.  Second, if incorporation into a church does not happen quickly, new believers are more likely to fall away altogether and leave their newfound faith.  While it is difficult to document how widespread the problem of retention in the faith is, we know that the problem is large because the number of reported conversions in some countries far exceeds the number of actual worshiping Christians.  Once someone who has made a profession of faith in Christ falls away, they are – statistically speaking – far more difficult to reach than someone who has never responded to the gospel.

Western Christians, in particular, too often assume the presence of an existing infrastructure of church bodies which are within easy driving distance of any city or town in America.  However, this is seldom the case on the mission field.  What are the implications of this for a local church?  I have found that it is far easier to raise money to fund a purely evangelistic enterprise as opposed to the more difficult task of raising money to train and disciple existing believers.  Nevertheless, the church must keep the entire goal and scope of the Great Commission in mind as we pursue missions in our local churches.  We need to do a better job explaining to our members that to lead someone to Christ without also thinking about their incorporation into a body of believers is irresponsible and, frankly, a direct disobedience to the Great Commission which calls us to baptize new believers into a community of faith and to teach them everything he has commanded us.  We have, I fear, been guilty of under-interpreting the Great Commission through viewing it as a call for us to evangelize all over the world.  It does mean that, but it also means much more.  It is also a call to plant viable, self-replicating churches among all people-groups.   Our vision must be nothing less than a commitment to “disciple the nations.”

[1] The major Great Commission passages are as follows:  Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:46-49, John 20:21 and Acts 1:7, 8.

Top Ten Mission Trends in the 21st Century: Evangelism vs. Mission



There is a widespread confusion in local churches today in discerning the difference between the evangelistic mandate of the church and the missionary mandate of the church.  This confusion has led many churches to claim a wide array of mission activities which are actually, in fact, evangelistic activities.  In short, evangelism refers to Christian witness among those who belong to the same culture as we do.  Missions, in contrast,  refers to Christian witness across cultural boundaries to men and women who do not belong to our culture and where there are either no Christians or the national church is not yet viable.  Why is this distinction important?  There are three reasons why remembering this distinction is vital to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.  First, we must always remember the vital difference between those who currently do have access to the gospel and those who do not.  If we belong to a culture where the church has been sufficiently planted then it is likely that non-Christians already have friends or neighbors or even family members who are Christians.   It is likely that there are local churches, radio broadcasting and a host of literature available which gives this non-Christian access to the gospel message.  Furthermore, it is likely that the Bible is also available in the language of these non-Christians.  In short, they have access to the gospel message even if they are non-Christians.  In contrast, there are thousands of people groups in the world today who simply do not have access to the gospel.  The missionary mandate focuses on this latter group and constitutes approximately 33% of the world as demonstrated by the graph below (See, Chart C).  Second, it is vital that local churches wisely allocate their scare missions resources.  Why should we spend missions money to send a young family to a part of the globe where the church is already viable?   If, for example, there is a vigorous church present among the Yoruba in Nigeria, why should we allocate resources to send someone who is culturally and linguistically removed from the Yoruba (e.g. an American, English speaking person) to do evangelism for the Yoruba Christians?  It is not only an unwise allocation of resources, but it is actually a missiological impediment to the full emergence of the indigenous church among the Yoruba.  Third, we must recognize that evangelism, even on a massive global scale, will never fulfill the Great Commission.  Even if every Christian in the world became an anointed evangelist and, furthermore, every person they witnessed to (friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members and so forth) became Christians, at the end of this wave of evangelism there would still be over one billion people who have never heard the gospel message.  Why?  Because these are the people groups who currently do not have any Christians in their midst.  There are thousands of people groups where people simply do not have any Christians in their family, or among their co-workers or in their neighborhood and so forth.

This distinction is not intended to diminish the vital importance of the evangelistic mandate.  It is merely intended to clearly understand the differences between the two mandates and the vital importance for the local church to be certain that everything they call missions is actually missions.

Chart C


Top Ten Mission Trends in the 21st Century: Taking Advantage of Our Growing Knowledge


Going out as a missionary was very different in previous generations compared with today.  It wasn’t that many years ago when a young person would present themselves at the altar of a church and declare their desire to become a foreign missionary and in due course of time be sent out knowing very little, indeed, about the peoples to whom they were sacrificing everything to minister to.  I think that many of us who have studied the lives of these missionaries are amazed and awed at the depth of their commitment, despite facing so many unknowns.  While commitment to the task is an unchanging necessity for the mission field throughout the ages, we are now in a position to better prepare men and women for the challenges which they will face and to learn from the wisdom and mistakes of those who have gone before us.

In an article of this brevity it is impossible to go beyond broad generalizations, but it may be helpful, just as an example, to give a simple beginning lesson to make the point.  When we all learned to read we began by learning the ABC’s.  Likewise, one of the basic building blocks of information which an inspiring missionary learns is the global “windows.”  A global window is like the ‘alphabet’ of missions.  It helps people to start with some broad generalizations about the world and then to dig deeper as they prepare for work among a particular group in a particular place.   In order to begin to break the global mandate down into bite sized pieces, we must begin by seeing the world as a conglomerate of five basic blocks known as mega-spheres or, more popularly, as “windows”.  The first and most well-known “window” on the world is the 10-40 window.  This refers to those people-groups who live 10 degrees north latitude to 40 degrees north latitude of the equator spanning from N. Africa, across the Middle East and central Asia all the way across most of India, China and Japan.  This sphere refers to the place where the most unreached peoples live and is the heartland of the major non-Christian religions of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.[1] The fact that most unreached peoples live in this relatively small corridor of the world reminds us of the importance of developing viable strategies for reaching Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist peoples for Jesus Christ.[2] The second “window” on the world is known as the younger church window.  This refers to the entire African continent below the Sahara desert.  In this region we are experiencing a very rapid increase in the number of new Christians and new churches.   The African church below the Sahara desert is increasing at a rate of approximately 16,000 new members per day.  This underscores the growing need for effective church planting, discipleship and leadership development in this sphere.   The third “window” on the world is the “post-Christian” window and refers to the Western world, most notably N. America, Western Europe and some portions of E. Europe.  In this region there is a significant decline in Christian affiliation among people groups who were the traditional heart-land of Christian faith through most of the last five hundred years.  Reaching people who are nominally Christian or who have already had prolonged superficial, but not effective, exposure to the Christian gospel calls for unique strategies and gifting.   The fourth “window” on the world is the Catholic-Pentecostal Window.  This refers to the remarkable situation in Latin America which for the last four hundred years has been predominately Roman Catholic, but in the twentieth century has also witnessed the dramatic rise of the Pentecostal movement in Latin America.  One cannot work effectively in Latin America without a deep understanding of the historic role of Catholicism or the more recent growth of  Pentecostalism in the region.  The fifth “window” on the world is the Orthodox window.  This refers to the regions north of the 10-40 window and East of Western Europe located in Euro-Asia which represents the traditional heartland of the Eastern Orthodox church.  Many people who know only of the atheistic legacy of the Soviet Union are unaware that Russia was Christianized by Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the 8th and 9th centuries.  Major Eastern communions such as the Russian or Ukranian or the Serbian orthodox church have long histories in these countries which are today the object of much missionary outreach.  It is, of course, vital to bring the gospel to this area, but it must be done with an awareness of and a sensitivity to the prior presence of the Orthodox church.   Walter Swatsky, a leading expert in Russian Christianity has correctly stated that “the one thing that we do not need now is evangelists from the West who neither speak the languages nor understand the cultures of the former Soviet Union.”[3] As with all of these mega-spheres, missionaries today need to do their homework and to commit themselves to the kind of preparation and study which is needed to be effective in any ministry.

[1] There have been several books and prayer-guides which focus exclusively on this particular geographic corridor.  See, for example, George Otis, Jr., ed.,  Strongholds of the 10/40 Window, (Seattle:  YWAM, 1995) or C. Peter Wagner, Stephen Peters and Mark Wilson, eds., Praying Through the 100 Gateway Cities of the 10/40 Window, (Seattle:  YWAM, 1995).

[2] See, Timothy C. Tennent, Christianity at the Religious Roundtable:  Evangelicalism in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, (Grand Rapids:  Baker Press, 2002).

[3] Walter Swatsky, “After the Glasnost Revolution:  Soviet Evangelicals and Western Missions,”  International Bulletin of Missionary Research  Vol. 16, #2, (April, 1992), 54.