Global Trends in the Changing Context of Mission: Reflections on the 6th Lausanne Researchers Conference, Sao Paulo

Early in April 2011 about 40 church and mission researchers met in the 6th Lausanne Researchers Conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Among those who joined us were ten Brazilian church leaders and researchers. As with previous conferences, it was a good opportunity to share our own research and to find out what others were doing in various parts of the globe.

As the ‘Global South’ becomes the centre of the Christian faith, the economic power supported by huge populations in China, India and Brazil, increasingly drives the global economy. The political situation is in flux in many parts of the world, most vividly in North Africa and the Middle East. There are also changes in the basic assumptions people are making about life, community, and faith, particularly in the Western world. In many ways, the mission patterns of the past have become irrelevant.

Most of the world’s large cities are now highly multicultural. This was evident in Sao Paulo itself where approximately 6 million people are of Italian descent, 3 million of Portuguese descent, 1.7 million of African descent and 1 million of Arabic background. Sao Paulo is also said to be the largest Japanese city outside of Japan with 665,000 people of Japanese descent.

Benita Hewitt (2011) of Christian Research (UK) spoke of the diversity among Evangelical Christians in the United Kingdom, a group often treated by the media as highly homogeneous. The study involved surveys of 17,000 people who attended Christian festivals throughout the United Kingdom. The survey confirmed some expectations: that evangelicals prayed more frequently, had stronger views on right and wrong, and placed more emphasis on evangelism and on the authority of the Bible than non-evangelicals. However, the survey also found that there were many areas in which there was not a strong consensus, such as on the issues of abortion, assisted suicide and homosexuality. It also found that there were widely differing views among evangelicals of women in leadership and the compatibility of evolution and the Christian faith. There was a lot of uncertainty about hell. The study noted that the African evangelicals who have become a significant sector of evangelicalism in the UK were significantly different in some respects from other evangelicals.

In some countries, the decline in religion is partially offset by an increase in spirituality. Many young people see themselves as spiritual, rather than religious. In 19 out of the 40 countries surveyed in the ISSP, more young people than older people saw themselves as spiritual. In the other 21 countries, more older people than younger people saw themselves as spiritual (fig.2 ) It seems likely that ‘spirituality’ means different things in different countries.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 2, Pages 1-5

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