While we all have concerns about the church (meaning the universal church rather than a local congregation) and about its future, I want to assure you that I am confident about the future of the church. My confidence has little to do with me or with the church but everything to do with the Lord of the church.
Yesterday, I wrote about the growth of the church worldwide. It is an amazing story. Today, one in three inhabitants of the earth call themselves Christian. In many cases, this has come against overwhelming odds. For example, who could dare guess that Iran is the place in the world with the fastest rate of growth of the church? While we don’t always have the best information, a study in 2014 showed that Iran is indeed the country where Christianity is growing faster than anywhere else, at about 20 percent increase each year.
In spite of stern opposition, the Protestant churches in China have grown amazingly. In 1949, China had 1 million Protestants. In 2010, there were 58 million–and growing still.
What has caused this growth?
First, the explosive growth of missions. The twentieth century was a century of Christian advance. Today there are over 400,000 missionaries spreading the gospel of Christ in almost every nation and to ever larger numbers of people groups.
Second, the propensity of the gospel to grow in the hardest places. This would help explain the growth in China, Africa, and the Middle East. I expect when Cuba and North Korea are opened to examination, we will find a strong church in both countries and a fertile ground for the future message of the gospel.
Third, the promise of God. Jesus told us to go into all the world and that He would be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20). He promised that we would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). He promised us that not even the gates of hell would stand against the work of the church (Matthew 16:18).
God wants to do great work in our local churches and to the ends of the earth. We simply must be open and obedient to what He wants us to do.