Are Believers Outpacing Non-Believers?

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.

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 waiting police car, the speeder is going faster.
But the police catches up by accelerating faster than the speeder.

Biblical faith has historically reproduced believers at a higher growth rate, and sometimes a much higher rate, than the population growth rate. Yet the population of non-believers has (until now) always increased more numerically than believers. In 2020, the global population is projected to increase by 90 million (M), with about 25 M being new believers and disciples, and thus 65 M being new non-believers.

Non-believers had a huge head start—with millions of non-believers for every disciple that was with Jesus on the Mount of Olives to receive the “Great Commission.”

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.

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.

How much longer will it take before believers 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.”

Is this quietly unfolding behind the clash of religions in our world today?
If so, we 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 January 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 will attempt to valitade below:

We appear to be very near the point in history where, for the first time ever:

  • the annual global increase of believers
    (listening to Jesus, with a commitment to follow Him, and a contagious faith)
  • will soon surpass the annual global increase of non-believers.
  • Shortly thereafter, the total number of non-believers will 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?

God doesn’t care who calls themself a Christian.
Merely identifying as a Christian—especially where Christianity is accepted—
gives no indication of whether a person is 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 only uses the label “Christian” three times while it refers to the kind of people described above more than 50 times as “believers.”

Distinguishing Spirit-led Believers from other Christians

If we could see—as God does—the quiet but rapid multiplication of believers around the world, what would we see?

Researchers seeking to count Christians must work from the reports of governments and denominations 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?

Historically researchers have focused on tracking self-identified labels rather than the unseen spiritual reality. Yet Ralph Winter taught those of us who worked with him closely that “best estimates” for important trends are far better than to simply ignoring what can’t be precisely measured.

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—more next year).
  • 2.5 B Christians (32% of Total Pop) growing at 1.2% (30 M next year—of the 90 M).
  • 1.9 B Muslims (25% of Total Pop) growing at 1.9% (37 M next 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 next year).
  • .6 B Pentecostals/Charismatics (24% of C—8% of T) growing at 1.9% (12 M next year).
  • 1.5 B nominal Christians (60% of C—20% of T) growing at .7% (11 M next year).

Implications:

The combined Evangelical and Charismatic/Pentecostal 13% of global population is growing at 1.9%.

Let’s estimate from this that 10% of the world (760 M) are believers—growing at 2% (15 M next year).

  • 15 million new believers.
  • 75 million new non-believers.

To increase more than non-believers, believers would have to increase by 46 M of the 90 M next year.

However something is shifting fundamentally through the rapid multiplication of Acts-like movements.

The Startling Development 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.

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 gospel 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.

Continued 15% growth would mean 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 can be done to 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

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