Every ten years, First Fruit makes a careful analysis of major global trends and their impact on our world, to give context to our future grantmaking. After interviewing over 100 leaders in academia, policy, business, NGOs and Christian ministry, we have selected ten trends and five undercurrents which we think will most significantly influence the coming years.
We have defined trends as important global shifts that will endure for a number of years. Undercurrents underlie all of the trends and, in fact, are what drive them. They are long-term, wide-ranging and largely empirically provable.
For the purposes of the web we have broken the report down into three parts.
TEN TRENDS FOR THE COMING YEARS
1.Growth in Islam and Christianity
Both Islam and Christianity will continue to see rapid but uneven growth.
Islam’s growth will be fueled by high birth rates in some traditionally Muslim countries, coupled with immigration to Europe and aggressive expansion in other regions. Christianity will grow in the Global South, primarily driven by Pentecostalism and indigenous missions movements. Conflicts will intensify between these two major religions in many parts of the world.
Implications for the Global Church: The Church’s challenge can be summed up as learning how to love one’s Muslim neighbor in the name of Christ while seeking respect and reciprocity.
Both Islam and Christianity will face challenges from the tendency to see the other as a monolith. Both will have trouble offsetting extremism and theological shallowness from within. Conﬂict management and peacemaking initiatives will be needed, as will increased levels of advocacy and dialogue on the issue of religious freedom. Wisdom will need to be exercised when attempting to relate to Islamic communities that aspire to political power.
Ultimately, the eternal mandate of presenting the Gospel and making disciples cannot be lost, even if entailing great risk and cost, but it should be done in loving and culturally-appropriate ways. An ecclesiology that recaptures the concept of brotherhood can have great appeal, especially to younger, disenfranchised Muslims.
Miracles, visions and dreams are common experiences among Muslims whom God is calling to become followers of Jesus; hence, the Church should be prepared to address these phenomena with openness, sensitivity and Biblical grounding.
2.Prominence of the Global South Church
The West no longer will be the territorial center of Christianity. The rapidly-growing Global South Church will increasingly critique Western approaches, develop its own theologies based on issues such as persecution, poverty and suffering, and in turn will reinvigorate the Global Church towards a return to orthodoxy.
Indigenous mission movements will use new and creative ways to build structures and raise funds from non-Western sources as the middle class grows within its largely Pentecostal churches.
There will be some shifting from Western models in leadership development. More emphasis will be placed on practical, hands-on, and competency-based training and less emphasis on formal theological and graduate-level programs.
Implications for the Global Church: Local institutions, organizations, and initiatives need to be strengthened.
Centers of excellence should be established which analyze and empower local, holistic models of leadership, management, discipleship and community engagement. Theological institutions should be encouraged to remain consistent with their cultural contexts to enable truly indigenous thinking and produce orthodox, original theologians.
3.Destabilizing Youth Cohorts
In parts of the developing world, a high proportion of young people relative to the population can be destabilizing, particularly where this generation will be faced with a lack of educational and employment opportunities, high-density urban communities, gender imbalance, overwhelmed governments and communal tensions.
Many will be disenchanted with traditional institutions and religious practice, and will be susceptible to ideologues, militias, radicalization and crime. Mass communication will further fuel disillusionment, licentious sexual practices, and a “tyranny-of-the-now” global youth culture, as young people become more aware of what is happening around the world and are able to connect with one another with ease.
Many will seek out new opportunities through immigration to areas of better prosperity and openness – a potentially troubling trend to aging populations in the West and Japan.
Implications for the Global Church: There is a crying need for role models for youth, from elders and peers.
Traditional structures, often bound by the culture of an older generation, are seldom appealing to younger generations. By dealing with institutionalized issues of hierarchy, the Church could empower youth to get involved, take initiative at a much younger age, and offer fresh thinking to aging organizations. This can lead to forms of worship and practice that are relevant and engaging across generations.
The Church can equip youth to become prepared for all spheres of society by providing discipleship and leadership training, recognizing the practical need for employment and livelihood, and developing and practicing an “integral theology” through education and skills training. It will take an openness to significant change while not losing a biblical center.
4.Increase in Women and Children At-Risk
Poverty, war, ethnic conflict, massive migrations and environmental strains will contribute to a significant rise in and increased awareness of women and children at-risk of human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced labor, and displacement. Globalization, inexpensive travel, porous borders, and high rates of corruption will contribute to an ease of trafficking women and children across countries and regions.
At-risk women and children will continue to experience a greater hazard of HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and other global pandemics, causing many deaths and major social and economic disruption. The number of children orphaned by AIDS, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, will continue to swell.
Implications for the Global Church: This is an issue of social justice and mercy – legitimate expressions of the Church’s mission. The Church should be a strong advocate for the vulnerable and the powerless, as it has so often in history.
Educational disparities between girls and boys lead to women becoming trapped in dependency and therefore more vulnerable and should be rectified. Poor theologies regarding the role of women have left them susceptible to cultural or systemic expressions of power and control.
Churches, which are frequently comprised mostly of women, should consider whether they are doing enough to prepare, equip, and provide opportunities for women and treat them as having equal biblical value to men. Economic empowerment of women through tools such as microfinance can be furthered. Sharing best practices on how best to engage children at-risk can increase the effectiveness of programs and lead to better child-oriented discipleship materials.
5.Renewed Vision for Societal Relevance by Evangelicals and Pentecostals
A rediscovery is in process of both a more integrated theology and a trend toward social ministry in two of the largest and fastest growing blocks of global Christianity – Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism.
They will progressively see themselves as a part of civil society and be willing to work in partnerships with government and secular development initiatives. Church networks will provide infrastructure for disseminating knowledge, resources, and services. Pragmatists within international development circles may increasingly see the religious community as allies or sources of help on many issues.
Christian higher education will be reshaped by practical demands for societal relevance. The “Christian agenda” will broaden to include social justice, environmental concerns, and help for those less fortunate.
Implications for the Global Church: A renewed energy can emerge from the Church as it immerses itself in the realities of its surrounding communities and environment.
This should lead to effective models for engagement, as well as to widespread sharing of best practices. In the process new ways will develop for reflecting a more holistic theology and discipling believers into community and public service.
Commonalities, unity and partnership can be discovered between different faith traditions as well as with secular organizations and governments, and this could lead to the Church becoming more attractive to its surrounding communitites and better perceived by secular society.
The Church, however, will need to guard against syncretism by humbly and carefully maintaining the primacy of evangelism and sound doctrine.