The Future of Missions
United World Mission’s board and leadership team led a research project last summer on the future of missions focused on this question: What will UWM’s mission environment look like in 2030? The purpose was to provide greater clarity for a momentous year of ministry in which we look back and give glory to God for 75 years of His faithfulness at UWM and look forward to the next decade of service. Thanks to the participation of so many of our people and partners as well as analysts, mission pastors, scholars, and comparable missions organizations, we heard from more than 240 people. In addition, we reviewed the latest research from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell, BARNA, and Missio Nexus, to name a few.
The Research Says…
Over the next 10 years, we anticipate significant disruption for cross-national missions – especially for mission organizations like UWM that are based in the U.S. Before I share with you a few reasons why we believe this to be the case, let me say that while change can be frightening and even unnerving, as God’s children we get to see our majestic King work all things together for the good of those who love him (Rom 8:28)! Bless the Lord!
Globally, the church in the Majority World (MW) will continue to grow at a faster rate than in the West. By 2050, one out of two evangelicals will live in Africa! By contrast, less than one out of five evangelicals will live in the West. This amazing growth – the fruit of centuries of cross-national missions – will create opportunities and challenges.
One of the most significant opportunities is the MW’s influence on missions. Today, it’s estimated that the MW sends 50% of all cross-national missionaries. By 2050, it’s estimated that the MW will send 80% of all near-culture and cross-culture missionaries! At the same time, one of the most significant challenges will be to equip enough Christian leaders to support this growth. Today, 9 out of 10 MW church leaders have little to no theological or ministry training – a troubling reality to be compounded by further growth in the church.
In the U.S., we anticipate that the church will increase its focus on local outreach due to three factors:
- First, the U.S. is becoming “less Christian,” making the U.S. a compelling mission field. Over the past 10 years, the percentage of Americans that identify as Christian dropped from 77% to 65%, while the number of “Nones” – or those with no religious affiliation – grew from 17% to 26%. These trends are expected to continue, especially as many pastors believe COVID will permanently reduce weekly church attendance.
- Second, the U.S. church’s interest in ministering to local diaspora communities is growing.
- Third, last summer’s protests have prompted many U.S. churches to focus on racial justice in the U.S. When it comes to cross-national missions, the U.S. church will be more inclined to partner with the global church, motivated by a desire to have a more direct impact, and less inclined to send U.S. missionaries overseas, long-term. Even if the U.S. church was more inclined to send missionaries, the emerging generation, which has overtaken the Baby Boomers as the largest demographic in the U.S., is less willing to serve long-term over short-term by a factor of two.
The global and U.S. church trends depict a future of significant disruption for missions, and that doesn’t even account for our current global pandemic or the prospect of large-scale conflict among belligerent nations. Once again, hear me when I say that God is in control! Over the past 75 years, UWM has faithfully advanced the Gospel in the face of health crises and war. Moreover, over the next 10 years, we are uniquely positioned to serve alongside the growing, global church with our culture of partnering, facilitation and, ministry training. We expect the ministry of the Center for Intercultural Training to become even more important globally. Also, with the addition of the Overseas Council ministry, we’re well-positioned to tackle the Global Leadership Challenge by equipping the 9 out of 10 leaders who have little to no theological or ministry training. We believe the future, while uncertain, will be an exciting one!
Our mission began 75 years ago when churches UNITED to serve the global church. Our future service for God’s Kingdom will be empowered by our past identity in serving the church for its mission. We will need to hold fast to things that must not change and adapt where innovation will advance God’s mission. Please pray for wisdom and discernment as the UWM board and leadership team continue to discern how the Lord is leading us to serve Him in this new decade of ministry.
by Sam Sholander, Chief Expansion Officer
World Christianity Encyclopedia 3rd Edition (Johnson & Zurlo, 2020)
Mission Agency CEO Survey (Missio Nexus, 2019)
Future of Missions (BARNA, 2020)
The Future of the Global Church (Johnstone, 2011)
Pew Research Center (2019)
Church Leader Survey Results (BARNA, 2020)