Few people would debate that North America's "lostness" is deepening. Millions of people — in the United States, its territories, and Canada — still desperately need Christ. They need the gospel presented in ways they can understand. And they need churches to which they can relate.
Though we in the United States have a profound Christian heritage, and though the tragedies of recent days have rekindled a new sense of patriotism, we cannot ignore the reality that the influence of biblical Christianity on the culture and character of our nation has weakened dramatically, even in the past generation.
North America's population is now slightly over 316 million, and it is estimated that as many as 224 million of those people do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. While the U.S. population has grown 13 percent in the past ten years, the number of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches here grew only nine percent and the number of resident members in SBC churches grew less than eight percent. Today, 80 percent of our churches are in the South, and 70 percent of the net gain in our churches in 2001 was in the South.
North America is growing faster than our mission force, faster than our number of churches, and it is growing in many places where our churches are few and small. And as North America grows, it is becoming increasingly pluralistic, increasingly secular, and increasingly permissive in the name of "freedom" and "tolerance."
Other factors illustrate our changing continent:
• Our media, politicians, schools, and entertainment industry increasingly make clear their view that personal faith in Christ — a view more than two-thirds of the people have not chosen — is at best "one option" to be "tolerated."
• North America is also becoming increasingly urban. Almost 60 percent of our population now lives in our fifty largest metropolitan areas.
• North America is becoming increasingly ethnic and multicultural. God is literally bringing the world to our doorstep. One of ten (11.2 percent) residents of the United States today was born in another country, while three decades ago it was one in twenty. Last year 1.9 million people emigrated from Mexico alone, along with hundreds of thousands from the Philippines, Russia, the Dominican Republic, and India. In certain regions of our continent we may soon be hard pressed to differentiate our "Samaria" from the "ends of the earth."
• With approximately 150 Southern Baptist churches in Canada, we are seeking to take the gospel to over 30 million people. There are more Christians in China than in Canada. According to the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists, there are thirty-one cities in Canada with 10,000 people or more that have no evangelical witness at all.
Any discussion of changes in the North American mission field must include the effects of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 — changes in our culture, our people, our travel habits, our economy, and people's questions about God and religion.
These are changes that bring challenges to North American missions, ranging from more expensive and cautious travel for mission groups to a need for greater readiness to minister effectively in the wake of terror.
Southern Baptist ministries at the Pentagon and New York City revealed a microcosm of North American missions. Disaster Relief, chaplaincy, evangelism, church planting, World Changers, short-term mission groups, ministry centers, strategic city strategies, and state conventions and local associations — all worked in concert. The difference is that these ministries were mobilized and coordinated not over a matter of months but over a matter of hours and days. Why? Because we as Southern Baptists have in place the infrastructure, ministries, and networks of cooperation that allow us to mobilize when tragedy strikes.
Sources for statistical information include U.S. News and World Report, U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000.