It’s simple really. Look at these global figures 1
Annual rate of growth of Christians: 1.8% (roughly the same as population growth)
Annual rate of growth of worship centres: 2.4% (mostly because of the continuing rise of independent churches)
Every year, therefore, the number of worship centres increases faster than the number of Christians does. And–to a first approximation–every worship centre is an accounting unit. Each one needs a treasurer. So the demand for church treasurers is rising at 2.4% p.a. while the supply of church treasurers is only growing at 1.8% p.a.
This is what we journalists like to call a Looming Shortage. Don’t say I didn’t sound the trumpet.
‘The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs‘.
Bible paraphraser J B Philips wrote this in 1961. ‘While their experience of life has grown in a score of directions, and their mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and by scientific discoveries, their ideas of God have remained largely static.‘
He went on to describe the dangers of not letting your understanding of God grow along with everything else:
‘It is obviously impossible for an adult to worship the conception of God that exists in the mind of a child of Sunday School age, unless he is prepared to deny his own experience of life. If, by great effort of will, he does this, he will always be secretly afraid lest some new truth may expose the juvenility of his faith. And it will always be by such an effort that he either worships or serves a God who is really too small to command his adult loyalty and cooperation.‘
(J B Philips Your God is Too Small, (Collier/Macmillan 1961) p 7).
The most important ingredient in a successful 21st century democracy? Nineteenth century Protestant missionaries.
Sociology scholar Robert Woodberry wrote this:
’Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.’
This remains true (on Woodberry’s analysis) after correcting for every other explanation you can think of, and he’s done work too to look at whether causation is involved (the one caused the other) or merely correlation.
Robert Woodberry is one of the depressingly-increasing numbers of people of whom I can say, ‘I knew his father’. (Prof Dudley Woodberry at Fuller Seminary taught me Islamics).
Woodberry fils has devoted years to careful data-gathering and analysis and has established a strong correlation between ‘conversionary’ Protestant missionaries and nations’ subsequent trajectories in literacy, poverty, women’s rights, and social capital.
Woodberry’s landmark paper, ‘The missionary roots of liberal democracy’ has won awards and intrigued sceptics:
“[Woodberry] presents a grand and quite ambitious theory of how conversionary Protestants’ contributed to building democratic societies,” says Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history at Baylor University. “Try as I might to pick holes in it, the theory holds up. [It has] major implications for the global study of Christianity.”
It’s fascinating. Compare Ghana with next-door Togo; Canada with Argentina; and Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary with Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia. You have to read the paper for all the nuances. But still.
These quotes are all taken from Andrea Palpant Dilley’s cover story in Christianity Today, January 8 2014. Robert Woodberry has recently made the paper free as a pdf download and you find it here. For a less-gushy perspective on Woodberry see this thoughtful piece.