When most people hear the word “missionary” they think of someone going off to a foreign country. That used to the case. But no more. Today, in the U.S., we are called to be “back yard missionaries” to our networks.
Today, only 30 percent of the missionaries being sent out in the world are from the U.S. In fact, Africa, Latin America, and Korea send out the most missionaries—most of them to the U.S. North America is now one of the least Christian areas in the world. Every day the gap between Christian and non-Christian grows.
During the final five years of the 1990s, world Christianity grew between 7 and 8 percent worldwide, compared to only 1 percent between 1965 and 1985. Currently 165,000 people are for the first time claiming Christ every day around the world. At the current rate, within just a few years one-half the world will be Christian. That’s almost four billion people! Yet in North America, Christianity continues to decline in actual numbers and percentage of the population.
In 1948, when Gallup began tracking religious identification, the percentage who claimed to be Christian was 91%. Today less than 75% of Americans claim to be Christians. 15% claim no religious affiliation at all and the number is growing every year. In 1972, Gallup measured 5% with “no religion.” According to CNN, “America is a less Christian nation than it was 20 years ago, and Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether…”If these trends continue by the mid-point of the 21st century it will be difficult to call the U.S. a Christian nation.” Already in the eyes of the world, the U.S. is one of the largest mission fields in the world. More missionaries are now sent to the U.S. than from the U.S. The last time I looked, the U.S. was the third highest nation receiving missionaries from other countries. Thus, those Christians who share their faith will be more like missionaries than they would like to think.
This is one of the most critical points in the story of the U.S. If we are going to transform our cities we must approach it as a missionary. Two metaphors I used in my book, Doing Ministry in Hard Times might help you explain this change to your congregation. In the book I contrast two metaphors – The National Park World and the Jungle World. The National Park world is characterized by Ozzie and Harriet and the Jungle world is characterized by Ozzy Osbourne. Your people have to realize that they no longer live in the 1950’s. Between 1954 with the advent of Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock and September 11, 2009, the world has experienced a radical break with the past. Not much will be the same ever again, including how Christians must live out their lives in the world.
Missionaries have to do three things to reach a strange and new culture. They have to learn a new language, culture, and technology. We understand the need for a missionary to learn Chinese if they are going to China. We also understand the need to not shake hands if you are a missionary to Japan. We also understand if we are in the backwoods of somewhere we don’t whip out our PowerPoint.
The same is true in the U.S. to reach the new emerging world we have to think and act differently. We have to learn a new language (Rock n Roll); we have to learn a new culture (causal and post-Christian); and we have to learn a new technology (digital). We have to become back yard missionaries.
Like first century Christianity, Christianity today is in a more hostile environment than ever before and therefore Christians have to think and act like missionaries.