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.


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