n November 15, 2022, the cry of a newborn baby somewhere on earth signaled the world population reaching 8 billion. Chances are that the baby was born in Africa. Experts say that by 2050, most of the world’s population growth will happen in just eight countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanzania, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Five on the continent of Africa. Five in the 10/40 Window.
Population data can be mind-boggling. Consider the island of Java. This relatively small Indonesian island has 145 million people. That’s more people than most countries of the world, including Russia, Canada, every country in Europe, and every country on the continent of Africa except Nigeria.
Or think about Uttar Pradesh, just 1 of 28 states in India. Known to most of us as the home of the Taj Mahal, if Uttar Pradesh were a country, it would be the fifth most populous in the world.
Researchers tell us that in 2009, the world’s demographic center of gravity changed forever. For the first time in history, more people were living in urban areas. By 2050, two-thirds of the world will live in them.
Cities cover only three percent of the earth’s surface. But their power and influence dominate. Consider, for example, the United States' Northeast megalopolis, which extends from Boston, Massachusetts, to Washington, DC. It’s a relatively small geographic area, but consider its impact:
- 1. Education. An education epicenter, the Northeast is home to hundreds of colleges and universities, including many Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and MIT. This is vitally important because what’s taught in university classrooms today radically influences popular culture and people’s lives tomorrow.
- 2. Economics. This area has the largest economic output of any megalopolis in the world. It’s the headquarters of major finance companies, including a third of the Fortune 500 Global Companies.
- 3. Information and entertainment. The American Northeast is home to the headquarters of major American TV networks and some of the world’s most influential media conglomerates and newspapers.
- 4. Politics. The southern part of this region is home to political powerhouses such as the White House, the Capitol, and the United Nations. Decisions by a few leaders here affect the lives of millions in all parts of the world.
Also, consider the influence of California’s urban entertainment hubs:
- Hollywood. Within the space of just a few square miles in Los Angeles are Universal Studios, Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures, and more. The TV programs and movies produced in this small urban area are watched all over the world, from massive Asian cities to small rural African villages.
- Silicon Valley. A few hundred miles north of Hollywood is Silicon Valley in San Francisco. This small urban space contains the headquarters of giant tech and social media companies such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, and Apple Inc. Can you imagine the power and influence emanating from this small urban space? Consider Facebook. If it were a country, it would be the most populous country in the world.
Against this demographic backdrop, we can see five key missiological trends:
- 1. Business as mission. There’s growing recognition of the untapped potential of urban centers of influence, tentmakers, and church members refocusing their businesses for mission. The United Nations has recommended the “15-minute city” concept for cities. The goal is for residents to be able to meet most of their daily needs within a 15-minute travel time by foot, bicycle, or public transport. What if Adventists committed to their own “15-minute city” concept? The goal would be to have a church, a church plant, an urban center of influence, or an Adventist-owned mission-focused business within a 15-minute travel time for anybody living in the world’s great cities.
2. Wholistic mission. Some parts of the Christian community are just beginning to focus on this, but it’s part of our foundation as Seventh-day Adventists. There should be no artificial separation of evangelism and care for people—they should be integrated into a wholistic mission, as demonstrated by Jesus. Of course, our care for people should have no strings attached and never be conditional on people accepting Jesus or becoming Seventh-day Adventists.
3. Indigenous mission workers. Increasingly, Adventists in various regions of the world are taking responsibility for mission in their own territories. Global Mission pioneers—local lay people—are planting churches among their own people groups. Indigenous leaders are taking ownership of mission. Although we still need hundreds more cross-cultural missionaries, their role should increasingly be to help empower local workers and reach “unreached” people groups.
4. Missionaries from the global South. The number of missionaries from the global South is steadily rising. Looking at the Adventist Church worldwide, you can see where our personnel strength lies. If the Seventh-day Adventist Church were a village of 100 people, 89 would come from Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. Those who have been blessed in the past by missionaries are now increasingly turning to bless others.
5. Growth in secular and post-Christian populations. On March 21, 2021, 46.2 percent of people ticked the box “Christian” in the British census. For the first time in history, less than half the population in Britain identified as Christian. Britain and Europe are a warning of what’s coming to the rest of the world. In America, for example, it’s expected that by 2050, if not before, the “Nones”—people who profess no religious belief—will outnumber Christians.
Jesus promised us that “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world” (Matthew 24:14). Not “hopefully” or “perhaps” or “maybe.” It shall be preached. And God has invited us to participate in His mission of sharing love, hope, and salvation with all the world.
As we look at the demographic and mission trends around us, may we be like the men of Issachar, who “understood the times” (1 Chronicles 12:32, NIV). And may the Holy Spirit guide us to see our mission priorities, adapt our methods, and use our resources accordingly.