When interacting with Christians from the West and Christians from countries like China or Iran, I often notice a big difference in what people expect of the future of Christianity.
In the West, when we talk about the church, we often use the word “still.” We ask things like “do your children still go to church?” or we comment “that church still has some young families.” Without saying it explicitly, we communicate the expectation that this is something unusual and it probably won’t last.
This is quite a contrast with the way I hear people from many Asian countries speak. They will tell you that some of their family members are not believers yet, or that there is no church yet in a certain area. The unspoken assumption is that this is not what it should be and the expectation is that it will change.
And it is not just an expectation. There is often a real sense of urgency to pray for those family members who are not believers YET and to pray for areas not YET reached with the gospel – and to do something about it.
It was the missionary William Carey, the ‘Father of the modern mission movement’, who said “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” You would assume that when you live under a cloud of oppression and persecution, this is a hard thing to put into practice. However, in reality it seems that it is harder for Christians in the free and secular West to expect God will do great things.
It seems that for many Western Christians the future vision of the church is a shrinking, marginalised minority that hangs on by a thread until they are mercifully raptured away. Whereas the future vision of the church as expressed for example by many Chinese Christians, is a large gathering in of souls freed from the bondage of darkness and filling the earth with the praises of God.
“Not yet,” the Iranian brother reminded his European friend, when he told him his relative wasn’t a believer.
Yes, the reality of the church in the West overall is decline, but it is not inevitable that this decline will last until the end of the age, or that God cannot surprise us with his powerful work in our midst. God is the same in China, Iran, India, Brazil, Poland, and the US. He can break the strongholds of secularism and cultural Christianity like he can break the strongholds of Islam and atheism.
We may or may not see another great revival in Europe or America, but the present decline is no reason to stop praying that God will once again fill our churches with life. May Europe and America too be filled with the praises of God.