Do you remember your first exposure to global work? At the risk of dating myself, mine involved slideshows, prayer cards for your fridge, and talk about jungles, huts, canoes, and a Peace Child. In third grade, I told Mom I wanted to go to Japan as a missionary.
The great news? Along with our speed-of-light world, missions has changed, too. Missions trends reflect that as a Church, we’re learning from our mistakes (like missions that whiffs of colonialism or cultural appropriation; check out Does Christianity destroy culture?).
We know more and more of what works–and what harms. We’re applying creativity to bringing other cultures the hope that we have.
So it’s critical you, too, look for agencies and global work embodying smart missions. Because these aren’t just missions trends. They’re new principles added to missiology.
Remember the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.
In upcoming posts, we hope to highlight major missions trends to make you missions savvy–hopefully loving others better and better managing your energy as someone eager to bring Jesus to those whose hearts long for more.
As with beautiful feet we bring news of the Great Healer, here are missions trends for the better.
Missions Trends: Not Your Grandma’s Mission Field
Focus on unreached people groups (UPG’s); shifting away from “the west to the rest”
In his valuable post 7 Trends to Make You Missions Smart, Rob Haskins points out that “out of the global increase of affiliated Christians, 91% of them can be found in Africa, Asia, or Latin America.” Many of those are now mobilizing missionaries all over the world.
Today, the Joshua Project reports, 22% of Christians reside in the northern hemisphere; 78% live in the global south.
And remaining: 1.3 billion people considered unreached.
What do these missions trends mean for a wider strategy? Rather than continuing to channel missionaries and funds to nations trending to soon be more reached than our own, how can we mobilize harvesters to those who have no near people groups to reach them?
We recently reported a basic missiology principle–that near cultures can reach more effectively than distant cultures (barring issues like racism and tribalism). This means, for example, an Asian culture might more effectively reach others in Asia than, say, a Westerner would.
I don’t claim to be a missions expert! But could someone from North America might more effectually reach, say, the 23% unreached in Germany, or the 33% in France? Though many of these are Muslim, they live within Western culture–people who could eventually reach near people groups to their own.
Am I saying don’t go to Africa or Asia? By no means.
As a Church, we simply continue to strategize how to wisely steward our finances and our people toward regions that may otherwise never know of Christ’s love in their lifetime.
Cities around the world burgeon with their employment, entertainment, education, accessibility, modernization, and other opportunities.
As Marketplace & Development Enterprises’ (MDE) Mark Canada points out in this post,
Over half of the world’s population lives in cities now. And the percentage is rising.
That means the majority of people who haven’t heard of Jesus or know much about him live in urban areas.
Hearing the implications? We need more believers sharing the gospel in cities.
This means rather than living in a hut, you might live in a place with a microwave, Oreos, A/C (…and several migraines’ worth of traffic and petty theft).
In fact, cities can be a tremendous international hub to connect with refugees and/or businesspeople from unreached people groups.
Take, for example, people groups from the “two big elephants” in missions: India and China, where the majority of the unreached live–yet are largely closed.
Helping that Doesn’t Hurt.
Now, one of my favorite missions trends: Books like When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself empower the Church to assess what’s truly helpful for the impoverished. This keeps us from unwittingly cementing them in cycles of poverty.
Take for example that formerly, East Africa had a thriving textile industry. But in an act of “charity”, the West began exporting its used clothing–all that clothing thrift stores can’t sell.
This inexpensive, Western clothing undersold the textile market. And now, very few East African textile industries remain (hearsay tells me only one). But Africans walk around in Westerners’ family reunion t-shirts and holey clothing.*
While living in Uganda, I was told of a school’s boxes of unopened early-reader books from the West. The teachers weren’t instructed how to use them alongside their curriculum.
Later, I heard of rooms of untouched sewing machines. They’d proven too expensive for the organization to maintain, and the instructor had left.
A friend was gifted a grinder to make peanut butter–but lacked the business skills to understand she wasn’t making a cent of profit through her three days of labor to make a batch.
Helping without hurting takes extensive cultural knowledge, partnership with knowledgable locals, and the humility to wait on wise action rather than throwing money at problems.
Given cultural “icebergs”--realities we don’t understand, lying beneath the surface–not to mention a deep and wide understanding of poverty cycles over time, we need development that loves and helps intelligently.
grab Part 2 in our missions trends series here!
What missions trends are you seeing–and inspired by?
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills for Work-in-Progress Families, releases in 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.
*Katende-Magezi, Esther. “The Impact of Second Hand Clothes and Shoes in East Africa.” Geneva, Switzerland: Cuts International, Geneva (2017). http://www.cuts-geneva.org/pdf/PACT2-STUDY-The_Impact_of_Second_Hand_Clothes_and_Shoes_in_East_Africa.pdf