The United Methodist Church has approximately 12.5 million members. Some seven million of its 12.5 million members are in the United States; while 5.2 million reside in Africa.
While the African church continues to swell in membership, some estimate she will continue to grow by 200,000 members a year. Thus, the African church is projected to grow by another two million members over the next decade. As these trends continue, North American United Methodism will have lost over one million members during this same time, making African United Methodism larger than North American United Methodism by over a million people.
While this will continue to have great impact on the future of General Conference votes, allocation of bishops, our United Methodist seminaries, and United Methodism in general, the greater impact is far deeper and far more significant. If we only measure the political impact of the African Church on mainline Methodism, we set the bar too low. The emergence of the African church and her influence is resetting the very expression of Christianity in North America, and that influence will continue to increase dramatically in the years to come.
As we’ve already seen in Part 1 and Part 3, the very nature of Christian expression in the U.S. is changing; and these changes will have a deep affect on the future of Methodism. As the perfect storm rages, the future of North America is not Caucasian. As emerging generations of Caucasian mainliners walk away from church, the Global South is already filling the void and fueling the expression of Christianity’s future on North American shores. What’s ahead is far more diverse, and because mainline United Methodism is not, a major reset is in store. Once again, we are not in Kansas anymore as we are enveloped
in the perfect storm.
Open your eyes and behold the shift in the missional landscape all around us. Journey into New York or Chicago or any metro area of a half million or more and witness the vibrant indigenous churches planted by Christians from all over Africa and the Global South.
There are Kenyan churches, Liberian churches, and Nigerian churches. There are Chinese churches, Indian churches, and Korean churches. Even a quick Google search confirms this new reality. We could go on and on. These churches are proliferating, and as they do, they are not isolated expressions. They are part of a great shift in the demonstration of Christianity in North America.
Many mainline United Methodists in North America identify the African church through a political lens based on the votes the African church cast at General Conference. The African church, on the other hand, finds its identity elsewhere. The primary focus of the African church is not based on political influence but on primal influence. What do we mean by the term, primal? The word primal is a reference to what we would call, primal Christianity: A Christianity rooted deeply in its originating impulses. The effects of primal Christianity are already ushering us into a new era.
Cene Abrams is an African-American university administrator in Austin, Texas. He grew up in the United Methodist Church but now attends one of the churches planted by Africans in the United States. Abrams states:
“It wasn’t the African culture necessarily that interested me, it may have been
intriguing in the beginning. But it’s because they preach the word of God.”
Cene Abrams is identifying a unique characteristic of African Christians. Their
expression of Christianity carries primal characteristics. Primal Christianity is deeply prayerful. Primal Christianity believes in a God who is present and fully capable of manifesting power in present circumstances. Primal Christianity holds to the Scriptures as the very words of God. Primal Christianity reproduces, because she is deeply tethered to the classic gospel message of salvation through Christ. Primal Christianity makes new disciples and rapidly plants new churches. Because many ignore these realities, many are underestimating the influence of primal expressions of Christianity and the African Church.
As the country morphs into greater degrees of multi-ethnicity, the African church and the Global South are already sending church-planters into North American cities. These missionary/church-planters are prayerful, plentiful and intentional. There are robust denominations out of Africa that have already planted over 700 new churches in North America in the last 10 years, and are planting as many as 100 churches a year worldwide, with the goal of planting over 1,000 per year.
The problem for mainline expressions of Christianity is her rejection of primal pulses. She covets the primal growth of Christianity while rejecting the primal convictions of Christianity. As we move into a new, post-Christian America, the mainline will discover that without the former and the latter, she will experience neither.
Primal pulses are the originating impulses of Christianity that empowered the reaching of polytheistic and pagan cultures in the first century. As we engage an increasingly diverse western culture, our reengagement of the primal pulses of Christianity is essential.
The African church and the Global South have a message for us: The primal pulses of Christianity are alive and well, and they are fueling the rapid growth of the church on the African continent and in many parts of the world. And whether we realize it or not, the primal pulses of the African Church and the Global South are already influencing the future expression of Christianity in North America.
As we look to the future, there are new movements springing up around us that seem to perceive the emergence of something new. Either knowingly or unknowingly, they are preparing the Methodist movement of today for what is needed for a vibrant Methodism in the years to come. We will examine these movements in Part 5 of our series as we look to The Influence of the Pocket Fires of Renewal in Methodism.
Paul Lawler is the Lead Pastor of Christ Church UMC. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman Patrick Lawler, founded two Patricia B. Hammonds Homes for orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The homes are operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the boards of The Wellhouse, New Water Farms, and the East Lake Initiative. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111.