Why are we Christians unknown to so many of our non-Christian neighbors?
In the United States, 80 percent of the population self-identifies as Christian. Yet, an astounding 20 percent of non-Christians in North America do not “personally know” any Christians at all, according to new research published by the Center the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
An article in Christianity Today helps us understand what it means to say that 20 percent of non-Christians do not “personally know” any Christians. And it points out that removing the atheists and agnostics makes the numbers even more astounding!
That’s 13,447,000 people—about the population of metropolitan Los Angeles or Istanbul—most of them in the United States [rather than Canada and Mexico].
And that number includes atheists and agnostics, many of whom are former Christians themselves and more likely to have close Christian contacts. Without that group, 60 percent of the non-Christian population has no relationships with Christians.
Why are we Christians unknown to so many of our non-Christian neighbors? Missiologist Todd Johnson, who headed up the research project at Gordon-Conwell, has some answers. Here are a few of observations from his research that are given in the Christianity Today article.
The biggest factor in explaining why so many North American non-Christians don’t know Christians is immigration…. The U.S. attracts more Buddhist, atheist, and agnostic immigrants than any other country in the world. It ranks second for Hindu and Jewish immigrants, and seventh for Muslim immigrants. …
But immigrants are also keeping the percentage of those who don’t know a Christian from going higher. That’s because the U.S. also attracts more Christian immigrants than any other country. …
Migrants move into enclaves and don’t venture out. But even Christians who live close to Chinatowns and Little Italys don’t often venture in. …
Johnson thinks America is suffering from a serious deficit of hospitality. It’s contributing to isolated enclaves of believers and non-believers, he said, but it feeds on Christian attitudes that see interreligious friendships merely as a vehicle for soul-winning. …
Two other comments in the Christianity Today article are well worth noting.
[Todd Johnson’s] research associate Gina Bellofatto … notes that burgeoning movements have arisen to initiate purposeful interreligious dialogue and community service projects. They’re still rare compared to the apparent apathy among Christians about befriending non-Christians, especially if it means reaching across neighborhoods and towns into more ethnic enclaves. “I don’t know how many more million Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews need to come to this country before it becomes a priority,” she said.
Jeff Christopherson, vice president for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Missions Board, agrees. “We hide in our own evangelical ghetto,” he said. “We send our kids to Christian schools, we go to churches that would only be welcoming to people that think like us.” While NAMB focuses on church planting, he said fledgling churches best connect with immigrants who don’t know any Christians through community service programs.
From Christianity in its Global Context, one final and very sobering statistic showing the decline of Christianity between 1970 to 2010 ( p. 62).
The United States also saw a large decline in its Christian percentage, from 90.9% of the population in 1970 to 80.1% in 2010 (78.1% by 2020).
Information on the Gordon-Conwell Center for the Study of Global Christianity can be found here.
Christianity in its Global Context, 1970-2020 is available in its entirety online. The North America section starts on page 62, and an executive summary starts on page 5.
“The Craziest Statistic You’ll Read About North American Missions,” by Abby Stocker, is available at the Christianity Today website.