Academic journal article International Review of Mission

A Case for Christianizing the Christian Church

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

A Case for Christianizing the Christian Church

Article excerpt


In this article I argue that the work of evangelism must take place both within the church and outside the church. The evidence of decline in the church--particularly in the West--is not matched by the vibrancy of the church in the global South. In both regions however there is a demonstrable lack of depth in the quality of Christian discipleship. It was this issue which I sought to address in my work in the Uniting Church in Australia by addressing the need for catechetical programmes targeting young people in the "migrant" churches of our denomination. Before long it became clear that there was a desire from the whole church - both adults and young people - to explore their faith and practice more deeply. The task is to "evangelise the baptised" (Arias), which prioritises evangelisation and catechesis. Evangelism is how the church with its good news of God's reign attracts people out there in the society by word and example. Evangelization takes place within the church and is the initial stage by which persons are led step by step to a first commitment to the Christian life of faith.


The language of church decline, particularly in Western churches and societies, has been around for several decades now. Moreover, visible evidence for church decline is indisputable, especially if one subscribes to a common understanding of such decline as something to do with membership numbers. In the meantime, the language of decline is not yet commonly used in regards to churches in the global South, as it is now widely accepted that the centre of gravity of Christianity has shifted to that part of the globe. (1)

There are those who argue that decline is not to be determined by quantity but by quality. That is to say that while there are undoubtedly dwindling numbers in most of the mainline Western churches, this is not to be an indicator of the quality of faith and spirituality that exists in those places. In regards to churches in the global South, there is room for analysis to better understand the dynamics of numerical growth as opposed to faith growth.

Regardless of one's thoughts on the issue of decline, the fact remains that Christianity in the 21st century is characterized by "radically changing ecclesial landscapes." (2) More to the point of this paper, John Westerhoff graphically sketches the current Christian landscape thus:

(i) After almost two thousand years of proclaiming the gospel, there are still millions of people who have not accepted the gospel;

(ii) After baptizing persons for the same length of time, the lives of those baptized are rarely significantly different from the lives of the unbaptized. (3)

It is with Westerhoff's second point that this paper is concerned.

For years I have attributed the root causes of the diminishing presence of Christianity today, in the West specifically, and in the world generally, to the European enlightenment and the processes of secularization. Now I am questioning this notion. The 2015 WCC Evangelism in the City exploration in Sydney, co-organized with the Council for World Mission (CWM), and organized locally by my husband and me, gave me occasion to articulate more coherently the questions I had been wrestling with.

My presentation at that workshop focused on my ministry in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) Synod of New South Wales (NSW) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Within the first 12 months of commencing my role as multicultural consultant, I realized that equipping the membership for multicultural ministry and mission is one thing. But in the absence of any form of Christian catechism, equipping members with basic and sound tools for mission and ministry seemed a more urgent prerequisite.

The UCA is a self-professed multicultural church where it is widely recognized that vibrant faith and growth is to be found in migrant churches. …

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