(updated June 2020)
We are well into the greatest harvest in history.
We are also approaching the great tipping point:
- At which the annual numerical increase of Jesus-believers and disciples
- will finally exceed the annual numerical increase of non-believers.
Biblical faith has historically reproduced believers at a higher growth rate than overall population growth rate—sometimes much higher. Yet the population of non-believers has (until now) always increased more numerically than believers.
In 2020, the global population was projected to increase by 90 million (M), with about:
– 25 M new believers and disciples, and
– 65 M new non-believers.
It has taken more than 2,000 years for the annual increase of believers to rise to just about a third of the annual increase of non-believers.
From the day of Pentecost until today, the ratio of non-believers to believers has been declining.
Yet with each passing year non-believers have still increased more in number than the corresponding increase of believers.
But that’s the beginning of the story—NOT the end.
Non-believers had a huge head start—with millions of non-believers for each of the disciples who were with Jesus on the Mount of Olives to receive the “Great Commission.”
Think of numerical increase as parallel to how fast a car is going.
And growth rate as parallel to how fast a car is accelerating.
When a speeder blows past a police car, the speeder is going faster.
But the police catches up by accelerating faster than the speeder.
How much longer will it take for believers to increase more numerically than non-believers?
The overlooked reality
Several translations of Isaiah 9:7 say, in effect (emphasis added):
Of the increase of [God’s] government and peace there will be no end.”
This is quietly unfolding behind the clash of religions in our world today, yet we may miss seeing it because:
- We are looking to the more easily measured physical reality,
- more than to the spiritual reality (which can only be estimated).
Why I’m diving into this here
In another optimistic blog post (updated in June 2020 from earlier appearances in my personal blog and then the Nov/Dec 2018 issue of Mission Frontiers), I make this audacious observation, which I attempt to support here:
We may be very near the point in history where, for the first time in history:
- the annual global increase of believers
(listening to Jesus, with a commitment to follow Him, and a contagious faith)
- will surpass the annual global increase of non-believers.
Shortly thereafter, the total number of non-believers may start dropping at an increasing rate.
At first glance this appears at odds with the widespread awareness that:
- non-Christians outnumber Christians two to one,
- non-Christians populations have similar birth and death rates as Christians, and thus
- non-Christians are increasing numerically at twice the rate of Christians.
Many are further aware that:
- Islam (1/4th of world population) is—on the whole—growing faster than Christianity.
- Christianity (1/3rd of world population) is basically stable as a percentage to world population.
- If this trend holds, in a few decades Islam and Christianity will each claim one third of the world.
Is God looking for more Christians? Or more Believers?
Merely identifying as a Christian—especially where Christianity is widely accepted—gives little indication of whether one has become the kind of worshipper God seeks.
Scripture tells us God is seeking those who:
- worship God in Spirit and truth (John 4:23–24),
- are born again of the Spirit (John 3:5–8), and
- are led and empowered by God’s Spirit (Romans 8:14).
The Bible refers to the kind of people described above as “believers” more than 50 times. It only uses the label “Christian” three times.
Distinguishing Spirit-led Believers from other Christians
If we could see the quiet but rapid multiplication of believers around the world as God does, what would we see?
Researchers seeking to count Christians work from government and denominational reports published with a wide variety of agendas. Counting self-identified Christians (including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses) is hard enough. Can we come to a reasonable estimate of how many believers there are, and how fast they are growing?
Researchers generally track observable identification with Christianity and evidences of Evangelical faith and association without attempting to assess the unseen spiritual reality.
Yet “best estimates” for important realities are far better than simply ignoring what can’t be counted.
So I’ll go out on this limb.
We must first to distinguish between:
- Spirit-led believers (motivated by an experiential “knowing” of Jesus to share their faith), and
- nominal Christians (who identify as Christian for a variety of other reasons).
The 2020 Annual Status of Global Christianity published by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity projects these global figures:
- 7.6 B (billion) total population growing at 1.2% (90 M—million—this year).
- 2.5 B Christians (32% of Total Pop) growing at 1.2% (30 M this year—of the 90 M).
- 1.9 B Muslims (25% of Total Pop) growing at 1.9% (37 M this year—of the 90 M).
Within global Christianity, this same report projects:
- .4 B Evangelicals (16% of Christians—5% of total) growing at 1.8% (7 M this year).
- .6 B Pentecostals/Charismatics (24% of C—8% of T) growing at 1.9% (12 M this year).
- 1.5 B nominal Christians (60% of C—20% of T) growing at .7% (11 M this year).
The combined Evangelicals and Charismatics/Pentecostals—13% of global population—is growing at 1.9%.
Estimate from this that 10% of the world (760 M) are believers—growing at 2% (15 M next year).
Of the 90 M increase in world population this year, that gives us:
- 15 M new believers.
- 75 M new non-believers.
To increase more than non-believers, believers would have to increase by 46 M of the 90 M this year.
The rapid multiplication of Acts-like movements is quickly tipping things in this direction.
The Startling Reality of Movement Disciples
On top of a steady 2% increase of believers, another steady trend came into focus near the end of 2017—multiplying movements of rapidly reproducing churches and disciples (see Astonishing Movement Multiplication).
Compare these growth rates:
- 1% growth of the general population (doubling in 70 years).
- 2% growth of believers (doubling in 35 years).
- 15–45% growth in Acts-like Jesus movements since the late 1990s (doubling every 2 to 5 years).
At the end of 2017, researchers confidently report at least 50 M new disciples in nearly 650 movements. At the end of 2019, these same researchers reported more than 1,000 movements, with more than 70 M new disciples. In June 2020 the latest report is more than 1,300 movements, with more than 77 M new disciples.
15% growth in 2020 among 70 M disciples would mean roughly an additional 10 M disciples in 2020:
- 25 million new believers.
- 65 million new non-believers.
So here are a couple of math problems:
How long will it take at 15% growth in movements for these new movement disciples, plus other new believers, to exceed the 46 million tipping point?
And what happens to this projection if the growth rate of these movements is increased to 45%
(if the doubling time is cut to two years)?
And here is the more important question:
What more can be done to:
– accelerate the development of new movements, and
– further reduce the doubling time of these movements?
Here’s a quick, downloadable slide show with an overview from August 2019.
To work with others on reducing the doubling time of movements, join the 24:14 Coalition at 2414Now.net