The Global South: Ever Heard of Lafricasia?
Despite what it may sound like, Lafricasia is not a disease. Instead, it is a term that describes the location of the world’s most Christianized area – Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Over the next 20 years, these continents will contain the largest Christian communities in the world.
In the 1900s, Africa had 10 million Christians and by 2000 that number had grown to 360 million. This marks the largest quantitative religious shift in world history. Soon, Westerners will only account for 1 out of every 5 or 6 of all the Christians in the world. Statistically, the projected growth of the global Christian population over the next 20 years by continent is:
- 633 Million Christians in Africa
- 640 million Christians in Latin America
- 460 million Christians in Asia
- 555 million Christians in Europe
With this shift in mind, here is another question: what do you picture when you think of an average Christian? If you are like me, you may think of an older white person, most likely an American. Today, when asked their perspective of the average “look” of a Christian, most people would probably list these characteristics: white, Western, male, around the age of 48. Those characteristics are exactly right - if you are living in the year 1907! However, in the present, the movement of Christianity has shifted to what is called the Global South, also known as Lafricasia. In order to describe the “average” believer today, it would be more accurate to say: black, African, female around the age of 28! By 2100 it is estimated that 3 out of 4 Christians will be living in the Global South.
A single geographic point on the earth can be called a statistical “center of gravity”. Todd Johnson has done an excellent job documenting the shift in the center of Christian gravity that has taken place in history (see graph below). Starting in 30 AD there were a handful of believers in Jerusalem. As the book of Acts unfolds the gospel moves north to Antioch and into modern-day Turkey. A monument found by Jesuits, that was written in 635AD also informs us that by 500-600AD the Nestorians took the gospel to modern-day China. For 1,000 years Christianity was centered in Asia Minor because of the hidden history of the Christianity in China. Yet, by 1000 AD the literal center of Christianity became Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey). Then, because of the spread of Islam and the black plague the church in Turkey was hit hard.
From 1200-1700 AD the statistical center had reached its northernmost point (as the graph shows in 1500 AD near Vienna). At the reformation Christianity was almost exclusively identified as Northern and European. For 400 years (from 1500-1900 AD) Christianity lingered in the north.
The westward shift in Christianity occurred over the next 400 years and was instigated when Columbus discovered America. Though the modern mission movement was going the other way, Christian communities were small in comparison to what was happening in the West.
In 1900 something profound happened. The trajectory turned southwest toward Latin America. By 1950 the center of Christianity crossed over the 31.8-degree line where it began in Jerusalem. This is when we see Africa grow from 10 million Christians to 360 million Christians in the 20th century. In 1970 another stunning event happened: for the first time since 600 AD Christianity moved back East. This is again due to the rise of Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa, India and the movement in China. Shortly after 1980 Christians in the South were outnumbering Christians in the North. Today, the center of Christian Gravity is in Timbuktu, Mali! Christianity is now a mostly non-western, non-wealthy and non-white faith.
The Lord is using the Southern Shift of the Church to reach the world. Instead of the missionary theme of the western church sounding out, “To the Ends of the Earth” the Global South is raising the banner “From the Ends of the Earth.” The Traveling Team International has seen this as we travel throughout the Global South mobilizing. Here are just a few things that are happening:
- In China the Back to Jerusalem Evangelistic Band is a movement that is looking to gross 100,000 Chinese missionaries that will use the Silk Road trade routes to take the gospel back to Jerusalem.
- Brazil has sent 2,000 missionaries through churches and has established 100 training centers to mobilize thousands more. In the Philippines there is an increase in women going to the Middle East both to work as housemaids and to spread the gospel.
- In Nigeria, the Nigerian Evangelical Missionary Alliance (NEMA) has 95 mission agencies with 5,200 missionaries in fifty-six countries. The significance of this cannot be overstated. When a Muslim hears the story of Jesus from a Korean it is an entirely new paradigm for the Muslim who defines Christianity as strictly a Western religion. He will hear the story in a new light and, quite possibly, for the first time.
The Global South is even heading to the West. Senior Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, a Nigerian, founded the church Kingsway International Christian Centre in September 1992. Today they have nearly 12,000 people in attendance at the main service every Sunday, making them the largest independent church in the UK and Western Europe. Their attendance doubles the seating capacity of Westminster Abby. Andrew Walls is correct when he states,
In many ways the Global South church has saved Christianity. The recession of Christianity among the European peoples appears to be continuing. And yet we seem to stand at the threshold of a new age of Christianity, one in which its main base will be in the Southern continents, and where its dominant expressions will be filtered through the church of those countries. Once again, Christianity has been saved for the world by its diffusion across cultural lines.
What are the implications of the Global South church’s amazing growth and output on the West? Unfortunately today in missions outreach, mobilization and strategy ignores the Global South totally. What is our role as we are on the verge of an entirely new mission paradigm? We have thought through five areas of how the shifting toward the Global South plays a part in our international mobilization strategy.
First, to understand that we are calling Western missionaries to join God in what He is doing in a worldwide movement of missions. This means when a white, western and wealthy college student arrives on the field to greet his team, there is a very strong possibility he will be in the minority among Filipinos, Koreans, Nigerians and others.
Second, to understand that the West still represents some of the best future frontier church planters available in the world. Western believers have an amazing history! We have learned many lessons that put us ahead in regards to understanding different cross-cultural aspects.
Third, because tomorrow’s theological leaders will come from the Global South we must stay connected and teachable to the writings coming from there. We need to help this generation become better students of theologians from the Global South in order to give them a broader understanding of what is going on.
Fourth, because of the Global South’s poor economic conditions, there will need to be a more holistic approach to meeting man’s spiritual and physical needs. We cannot fail to see the Great Commission as Jesus presented it to the disciples, and therefore reduce it to mere proclamation.
Fifth, short-term missions to the South must ask the question, “How can we help you fulfill your vision?” instead of going in with an agenda. This attitude almost presumes that the Spirit’s work begins with the team’s arrival. We will need to wrestle more and more with the idea of where we fit in light of the move of God.
The Traveling Team has seen tremendous success in mobilizing American college students to the field with the resources they have created. With a 10-year track record of moving students from interested to involved, and in light of the current trend of Christian expansion, the time is right to take these principles and ideas to Lafricasia.
Jenkins, Philip. The Next Christendom (Numbers above taken from here)
Jenkins, Philip. The New Face of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South
Johnson, Todd M. & Chung, Sun Young, Tracking Global Christianity Statistical Centre of Gravity, AD 33 to AD 2100, International Review of Mission, Vol. 93 No. 369, April 2004.
Sanneh, Lamin and Carpenter, Joel. The Changing Face of Christianity Taylor, Global Missiology for the 21st Century.
Walls, Andrew. The Missionary Movement in Christian History