Is it possible that North America, which is typically recognized as a missionary-sending continent, has become a mission field?
Consider this staggering statistic from Barna Research: If unchurched Americans were their own nation, they’d be the eighth largest on Earth with 156 million U.S. adults and children who are churchless.1
While those of us who live here may not see ourselves as a mission field, others do.
“Lots of people might think it’s strange for missionaries like us to leave our country and come to America,” Mojic Baldandorj said in an article published by Send Network. “But I think we need to shift [that] thinking. The mission field is here.”2
Mojic and his family left Mongolia to bring the hope of the gospel to Mongolian immigrants in Denver. “There are more than 2,000 Mongolians living in Denver. My family and I live here not because of the familiar, Mongolian landscape — but because of a call for help we received in 2014.”3
Mojic’s words ring powerfully true; we must shift our thinking. The mission field is here, and the sooner we wake up to that truth, the better.
What conditions are creating this mission field?
1. Rise of globalization
Globalization is defined by the World Health Organization as, “the increased interconnectedness and interdependence of peoples and countries.”4 This means that we are seeing an increasingly faster flow of people, goods, ideas and culture across international borders.
Mojic Baldandorj’s story above is just one example of how the North American church must shift it’s thinking in reaching this exponentially growing, diverse world around us.
And if we don’t? What about the churches and believers who don’t embrace this reality and the people it is bringing into our neighborhoods, boroughs, families and workplaces?
“… churches that are more ethnically diverse are less likely to decline than churches that are more a majority culture … churches that are 90%[+] . . . white are more likely to be shrinking than churches that are 50% white or 60% white,” according to Daniel Silliman in the Quick to Listen podcast.5
If our churches don’t look like the actual people in surrounding neighborhoods, boroughs, families and workplaces, we not only look out of touch, we will be out of touch.
2. Increased secularization
Our world is rapidly growing in its indifference to or rejection of religion and religious ideals. Younger generations are far more prone to reject or at least be highly skeptical to systems of faith. People around are moving further away from Biblical connection and gospel understanding.
Secularism means that the growing gap between Christians and the world around us will create even more challenges to genuinely engage the culture. There is tremendous mistrust of Christians and Christianity.
In the face of such skepticism and mistrust, what will it take to believe people of faith? A genuine reality of the beauty of our Savior must be reflected in who we are. It has never been more critical that we are people genuinely transformed by Christ with a notable demonstration of love.
This being said, there are seekers out there—people who recognize the depth of their unsatisfied souls. Spiritual conversations can be had, and we should intentionally pursue them.
3. Decline of Christianity
The undeniable evidence of decline is found in how we typically assess church health and church growth. These numbers are all in decline: conversions, baptisms, membership, participation, giving, biblical literacy, and impact on the culture.
Not only are our numbers in decline, but the weight of our influence and capacity for impact on the world around us is in decline.
These numbers from missiologist Alan J. Roxburgh clearly paint a stunning picture of our decline:
- “If you were born between 1925 and 1945, there is a 60 percent chance you are in church today.
- If you were born between 1946 and 1964, there is a 40 percent chance you are in church today.
- If you were born between 1965 and 1983, there is a 20 percent chance you are in church today.
- If you were born after 1984, there is less than a 10 percent chance, you are in church today.”6
According to these numbers, the church as we know it continues to decrease, and it will be shrinking as subsequent generations fail to connect.
Generationally, fewer and fewer people are considering the church as critical to their lives or their communities. They also have growing disregard for the value and practice of biblical Christianity.
4. Deficiency of cultural Christianity
A stunning reality, particularly for the American church, is described by the provocative title of pastor Dean Inserra’s book The Unsaved Christian. It is actually a spot-on assessment of people who claim to be Christians without actually being transformed by the gospel—the definition of cultural Christianity.
America Christianity has held a historic foothold in society and culture in the “Bible Belt.” Yet that foothold has slipped as many are playing the role of Christians without actually becoming one.
But now, many cultural Christians aren’t pretending any more.
Many are walking away from this benign, deficient form of faith. They no longer feel the need to appear Christian. The social benefit of being perceived as a believer is not what it once was.
“According to Pew Research Center, 82% of adults in the U.S. South identified as Christian in 2009. In their most recent study, 70% of Southerners said the same. … If the current trajectories continue, the religious demographics of the South in 10 years will look similar to the current West and Northeast.”7
What are we to do with this vast North American mission field as it actually exists?
Jesus’ words are entirely still true and applicable, “Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, because they are ready for harvest” (John 4:35, CSB).
We must open our eyes to see our mission field as it actually is. Longing nostalgically for bygone days, hand-wringing, and decrying the conditions won’t change a thing.
Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can do that.
Kathy Litton lives in Mobile, AL with her husband Dr. Ed Litton who is pastor of Redemption Church. Both had their lives take unexpected journeys as they lost their former spouses in car accidents. Kathy knows the sting of death, a journey of losses all against a backdrop of a loving Savior who proved to be faithful, good and ever present. Ed and Kathy share six grown children and ten grandchildren. She is the Director of Planter Spouse Development at the North American Mission Board.
1. “Do you really know why they’re avoiding church?,” Barna Group, accessed March 10, 2021, https://www.barna.com/churchless/.
2. “The Mission Field is America,” Send Network, The North American Mission Board, November 6, 2020, accessed March 10, 2021, https://www.namb.net/send-network/resource/the-mission-field-is-america/.
4. “Globalization,” World Health Organization, accessed March 10, 2021, https://www.who.int/topics/globalization/en/#:~:text=Globalization%2C%20or%20the%20increased%20interconnectedness,in%20institutions%20and%20policies%20at.
5. Daniel Silliman, “What to Understand about Christianity’s Decline in America,” Quick to Listen, November 27, 2019, accessed March 10, 2021. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/podcasts/quick-to-listen/future-of-christianity.html.
6. Alan J. Roxburgh, Joining God, Remaking Church, and Changing the World (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2015), 6.
7. Kristy Etheridge, Lifeway Research, February 3, 2021, accessed March 10, 2021, https://lifewayresearch.com/2021/02/03/the-vanishing-bible-belt-the-secrets-southern-churches-must-learn-to-stay-healthy/.