How can research about the church guide mission strategy?
Jesus said he would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. That does not mean that some church buildings do not close, but that the living church of his people would continue to grow larger and stronger and not be overcome by Satan. In 1973, 40 years ago, there were 1,600,000 congregations throughout the world. Today there are 4,600,000!
However, the impact of the church has lessened somewhat. Back in 1973, 33.2% of the world’s population claimed to be Christian adherents; today it is 33.0%. That shortfall should be seen against the number of Muslims—16% of the world’s population in 1973, but 23% today. So researching the church is crucial to world evangelism, to our understanding of what helps churches to grow, and to sustaining the life of individual believers.
Here are some key issues that need to be considered:
Forty years ago in the UK there were 38,000 ministers, 1% of whom were female. Today there are 37,000 ministers, 18% of whom are female. This is but one of the changes of recent years, but inevitably there will be many more ahead, especially as South America, Africa, India, and the Far East replace the West as the growing expression of the Christian faith.
Research about the church is continuing, through Lausanne publications, academia, books, and many private sources. The three key issues listed above are a priority, and large-scale research is currently being done or planned for the years ahead.