As you take the next few minutes to read through this short blog, let’s start with a quiz. I’ll keep it to one question, and I’ll make it multiple choice to keep it simple.
1. The fastest growing church in the world today resides in:
a. Southern California
b. Birmingham, Alabama
d. Indianapolis, Indiana
And the correct answer is? Iran. The second fastest growing church is in Afghanistan, where Afghans are being reached in large part by Iranians. This growth isn’t coming from churches in the good old U.S. of A. or from the West in general.
In the last twenty years, more Iranians have become Christians than in the previous thirteen centuries—since Islam came to Iran. In 1979, there were an estimated 500 Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today, there are hundreds of thousands—some estimate more than 1 million. According to the research organization Operation World, Iran has the fastest-growing evangelical movement in the world.
I listened to a podcast the other day about the persecuted church in Afghanistan. One of the pastors interviewed said he and his wife came to America for graduate school with the thought of remaining in the U.S. to serve Afghan refugees. Not long after the pastor received his seminary degree, however, his wife wanted to return to Afghanistan as soon as possible. Her reasoning? “Satan has put the American church to sleep, and we need to go where our brothers and sisters are being persecuted.”
This, by the way, occurred long before the U.S. military exodus from Afghanistan. We pray for our Afghan brothers and sisters who are being raped, tortured, and executed for their faith. And we are humbled by their faithful witness which is leading to the spread of the Gospel throughout that war-torn and terrorized country.
In the early third century, Tertullian wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
To quote Dave Smith, our former Outreach and Executive Pastor, “The American church is like the 1960s beauty queen who still thinks she’s attractive.” According to a research project conducted by Hartford Seminary and Leadership Network, only 6% of the growth of megachurches in America today comes from conversion growth. The other 94% represent “transfer growth” coming from other churches.
Maybe those of us leading larger, evangelical churches need to stop thinking we have all the answers and start humbling ourselves to learn from our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. Maybe all of us who espouse faith in Jesus Christ in American churches need to realize that affluence has killed the influence of the church in the West.
Rainer research indicates that “all-white megachurches based on large campuses in the suburbs will experience the most rapid declines over the next ten years. Not only is the megachurch movement beginning to fade, but many of these churches also grew with the Boomer generation through the 1990s and 2000s. As the Boomer generation ages, all-white suburban megachurches will see steep declines” (Sam Rainer).
We can do two things with this information. We can hedge our bets that this trend is a blip on the radar and go on our merry way. Or we can humble ourselves, pray, seek the Lord, and learn from what God’s Spirit is up to around the world. I, for one, choose the later, and I hope you will as well.