A Historian’s Hunches: Eight Future Trends in Mission, #8

This is the ninth installment of a ten part series by Dr. Scott Sunquist on what trends in missiology we can expect in the coming years.

Trend #8: Mission from the South and the East
Scott W. Sunquist

Finally, it hardly needs to be mentioned that missionary work continues to grow outside of the western world. The missionary movement is growing from Asia (especially from East and Southeast Asia), from Africa and from Latin America. We can expect the number of African churches in Europe and North America to continue to grow, but we should also expect the number of Chinese evangelizing Asia, Europe, and Africa to continue to grow. Latin Americans will continue their outreach to the Americas, as well as to Europe, and the Muslim world. Most of these missionaries are less formed by Enlightenment assumptions and thus more willing to be guided by faith, and dependent upon the Holy Spirit.

Saint Paul delivering the Areopagus Sermon in Athens, by Raphael, 1515. Wikimedia Commons.
Saint Paul delivering the Areopagus Sermon in Athens, by Raphael, 1515. Wikimedia Commons.

This does not mean that missionaries will no longer be going from North America and from Europe, but when they do, they need to work closely with non-western missionaries. On the other hand non-western missionaries would do well to learn from western missionaries. We in the West have made enough errors in the past 300 years: it would be irresponsible not to pass on what we have learned. There have also been some remarkable missionaries and movements whom Asians, Africans and Latin Americans can learn from.[1]

Historically we can look at the movement of missionaries from the early church as moving out from Jerusalem in all direction. One of the strongest and most extensive movements in the first 700 years was from the west (Syria) to the east (China). Then we have the long period of Christianity mostly hemmed in by Islam until the 16th century. During this long period, from the mid 7th century through the 15th century European Christian mission atrophied. From the 16th century through the 20th century the movement was from the West to the rest; moving out from the center (Europe/North America). Today the missionary movement is mostly from the south to the north and from the east to the west. Any innovations in terms of strategy and investment must recognize that this is not a temporary shift. Mission will be from many centers and from the margins.


[1] In fact, it would be very helpful if western missionaries learned from their own heritage too. Far too many western missionaries go out in mission with little or no understanding of the western mission tradition.


Dr. Scott W. Sunquist is the dean of the School of Intercultural Studies and professor of World Christianity at Fuller Theological Seminary.

This blog post was taken from The State of Missiology Today by Charles E. Van Engen. Copyright (c) 2016 by Charles E. Van Engen. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426.www.ivpress.comPre-order the full book here (expected October 2016).

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