The Global Classroom

The students have become the teachers as the growth of the church in developing nations outstrips that of the West.
The largest church building in the world seats 50,400. It's in Lagos, Nigeria, and is surrounded by state-of-the-art support buildings, including an elementary school, junior high school, high school and 200 beautifully painted and impeccably maintained American school buses. Covenant University is on the neighboring property.

The hundreds of millions of dollars to build the church campus and university came entirely from the tithes and offerings of that local church. No Western money or loans were used to build these incredible campuses.

South Korea is home to the world's largest congregation and 24 of the world's 50 largest congregations. Yoido Full Gospel Church led by Pastor David Yonggi Cho, is the church home of more than 780,000 believers.

The massive church in Bogotá, Columbia, led by Pastor Cesar Castellanos, meets in a 75,000-seat stadium. The International Charismatic Mission, as the church is called, consists of some 28,000 small groups and includes a weekly youth service that gathers in a 20,000-seat stadium.

Fred Markert, Director of Strategic Frontiers, YWAM's 10/40 Window initiative, and renowned missiologist, recently wrote: "We are living in one of the most incredible seasons of spiritual history ever. ... Yet most Christians in the Western world are unaware of it."

Markert's researchers estimate that more than 178,000 people come to Christ every day. Among these are some 28,000 in Communist China alone. Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific Rim are all witnessing dramatic expansion of the kingdom's borders.

In his book, The Next Christendom, scholar Philip Jenkins reports "huge and growing" Christian populations in the global South. There are currently 480 million Christians in Africa, and 313 million in Asia, compared with 260 million in North America.

"The growth in Africa," Jenkins asserts, "has been relentless. In 1900 Africa had just 10 million Christians out of a continental population of 107 million--about 9 percent. Today the Christian total stands at 360 million out of 784 million, or 46 percent. And that percentage is likely to continue rising." Jenkins concludes that by the year 2025, "50 percent of the Christian population will be in Africa and Latin America, and another 17 percent will be in Asia."

America, meanwhile, has seen no net growth in the body of Christ in the last 40 years. We spend more money on evangelism, we write more books on church growth, and we travel to more conferences than the rest of the world combined, but it's not working.

Our nation's wealth and stability have made it easy for us to presume to be the world's teachers in a variety of subjects--and not without good reason. Our economy is the world's flagship free-market capitalistic system. Our free-society republic has lasted longer than any in history. Our constitutional democracy is the model for the free world.

It follows logically that on the subject of expanding the kingdom of God, we would presume to be the world's teacher as well. Yet on the matter of growing strong, vibrant, healthy churches, we might be wise to become pupils.

We Christian leaders must not assume that the world needs our training. In fact, some evidence indicates that leaders from other portions of the world do incredible work until they receive our training. Mounting evidence suggests that leaders in the North American church need to retool quickly, not unlike unionized steelworkers in Pennsylvania.

Even though our product has been good for decades, it's now outdated and inefficient. If we don't retrain, our endowments won't prevent the inevitable. Every one of us who leads in the body of Christ has a responsibility to learn how to do what we do from people who are doing it better than we are. The people who are doing church the best are Africans, Asians, Latin Americans and residents of other non-white, noneconomically dominant nations.

Simply put, we need to change our thinking. We must not presume to be teachers. Foreign Christian leaders most often don't need to come to our conferences and learn from us--we need to go to their churches and learn from them. If we have any hope of transforming American culture with the gospel, we've got to humble ourselves and set out to learn from thriving churches around the world--today.

Ted Haggard pastors New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the author of many books and is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

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