Scholars claim the biggest change in the history of Christianity is underway amid the religion's move to Africa, Latin America and Asia - writes Kim Cain.
"The story of Christianity as a worldwide faith is being written before our eyes," declared Dr Dana Robert of Boston University School of Theology, as she addressed a group of world church leaders at the Global Christian Forum (GCF) in Manado, Indonesia.
The gathering has brought together leaders from major church traditions, theological perspectives, and world communions, including the Anglican Communion, the World Council of Churches, the World Evangelical Alliance, the Pentecostal World Fellowship, and the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
According to Peter Crossing of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, in 1910 about 66 per cent of the world's Christians lived in Europe; a century later it was only 26 per cent.
Crossing, a researcher for the Atlas of Global Christianity, said the overall percentage of Christians had remained fairly constant over the last century, but there had been a "dramatic change in the centre of gravity of global Christianity."
One hundred years ago, this would have been near Madrid, but by 2010 it had shifted somewhere just south of Timbuktu in Mali, according to Crossing. He added that Christians in the northern hemisphere still dominate financially; 60 per cent of the world's Christians live in the southern hemisphere, but they generate only 17 per cent of Christian income.
Dr Sang-Bok David Kim of the World Evangelical Alliance told the GCF that huge changes in the church internationally meant "Christianity is no longer a 'white man's' religion. Christians are now everywhere."
The global reconfiguration raises critical questions for all churches, said Dr Robert. "Contemporary Christians are focusing on mission for multiple purposes - both to recover tradition and to recover from tradition."
"Conversations about mission and witness have become an urgent agenda for declining mainline Christians…as they struggle to reframe their identity in a global marketplace. At the same time, adherents of new ministries often see their witness as a recovery of primitive Christianity that challenges the older denominations," she said.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]