RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–“May you live in interesting times,” goes the oft-quoted saying.
Is it a blessing or a curse? It depends on how you define “interesting.” Our tumultuous times are definitely interesting — in every sense of the word — and promise to get more so.
Forecasting International, a firm associated with the World Future Society, periodically offers predictions for the near- to medium-term future. A recent list, compiled by FI President Marvin Cetron and futurist Owen Davies, includes a number of items that affect the church and its world mission enterprise:
— Despite rising fuel costs, economic disruptions and terror threats, global travel (by air, land or sea) will become faster, cheaper and safer, Cetron and Davies predict. Chinese will spend $100 billion on international travel in 2008. By 2020, some 50 million Indians will travel abroad as tourists. Social and political upheaval might undercut this optimistic scenario. Consider what the events of a single day (9/11) did to the travel industry, or the chaos caused by the airplane bomb plot uncovered in London. But international economies depend on ever-increasing -– and dependable — global travel.
Implications for the church: More missionaries, short-term mission volunteers and Christians from many nations will be able to take the Good News farther and wider –- if they chose to do so — and many more people who have yet to hear the Gospel will be visiting us.
— Internet users worldwide will surpass 1.35 billion by 2007. “Cultural, political and social isolation (have) become almost impossible for countries interested in economic development,” say the forecasters. Psychological and spiritual borders still prevent the Gospel from entering new places, but fewer and fewer political borders do.
— International business growth and integration will act as a “stabilizing force” in the world, as interdependent nations “find that conflict is unacceptably hard on the bottom line.” That trend, if it proves accurate, will give unreached people groups in chaotic areas greater access not only to political peace but to the message of God’s peace.
— However, the ongoing fragmentation of the post-Cold War world has destabilized some regions, a trend that will continue. State-sponsored terrorism will decline, but terror groups motivated by “generalized, virulent hatred based on religion and culture” will increase their attacks.
Islamic extremism, in particular, will continue to undermine stability both in the Muslim world and beyond. “Though Islamic terrorists form only a tiny part of the Muslim community, they have a large potential for disruption throughout the region from Turkey to the Philippines” –- a swath of the globe that contains many unreached peoples. Mission agencies and workers, like international companies and their employees, have no choice but to increase training in risk management and security.
— People in the developed world are retiring later. By 2010, the average retirement age in the United States will reach into the 70s. Baby boomers and their children will “have not just two or three careers, but five or six, as dying industries are replaced by new opportunities.” Many of them will make career changes because they desire “to do something more fulfilling” –- like helping others. The phenomenon of second- and third-career Christians entering full-time ministry and mission service is already well under way and will increase as the U.S. population ages.
Global Research Director Jim Haney of the International Mission Board offers a caution, however: These late-blooming Christian workers need to be ready to “think outside their cultural box, a necessary step to making a difference cross-culturally. Baby boomers have a hard time talking to their own neighbors. (Many) Christians in our churches insulate their lives with other Christians.”
— Millennials and Gen Xers worldwide (people in their 20s and 30s) share more in common with each other than with their parents and will “tend to homogenize basic attitudes throughout the world.” They’re becoming major forces in the Communist Party of China and the business revolution of India. They are entrepreneurial, ambitious, materialistic and in a hurry. They’re throwing off old traditions that prevented their parents from hearing the Gospel. Whether they have the inclination –- or the time –- to listen to the call of God as they chase the “good life” is another matter.
— Nearly half the world’s population now lives in cities. That total will reach 60 percent by 2030. By 2015, the number of megacities with populations topping 10 million will reach 23. Beyond the massive physical and social challenges posed by such giants, Christians have yet to find effective strategies for evangelizing them.
Interesting days lie ahead, to be sure. Will the church muster the energy, creativity -– and above all, the obedience to God’s global call -– to respond to them?
Erich Bridges is a senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board whose column appears twice each month in Baptist Press.