Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Missiometrics 2005: A Global Survey of World Mission

Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Missiometrics 2005: A Global Survey of World Mission

Article excerpt

Counting in the Christian tradition has a long and respectable history, stretching from its biblical roots "Take a census" (Numbers 1:2), to "Count the worshippers" (Revelation 11:1), to the massive annual surveying that today we call "the megacensus." This report continues in the missiometric tradition, bringing the reader up-to-date on the art and science of counting, on global documentation, on numbers of religionists and growth rates, on key trends related to Christian mission, and on the megacensus as a central ongoing phenomenon. In light of this collecting of statistics that occupies millions of Christian workers and costs over $1 billion annually, we hope to provide a reliable quantitative framework for understanding global Christianity.

Missiometrics is accounting, not bookkeeping

The annual collecting of statistics on church membership and religion can be compared to the bookkeeping aspect of accounting--simply recording financial transactions. Missiometrics, in contrast, is parallel to accounting in the financial world, defined as "the system of classifying, recording, and summarizing business and financial transactions in books of account and analyzing, verifying, and reporting the results" (Webster's Unabridged). The emphasis here is on analyzing large amounts of data that may or may not be comparable. In light of financial scandals around the world in both business and ecclesiastical arenas, it would be absurd to suggest that "accounting" is not needed. Missiometrics serves this function in the assessment of the quantitative status of global Christianity.

Challenges to the discipline

In recent times many forces have worked to diminish the significance of missiometrics. One of these is innumeracy or mathematical illiteracy, which continues to plague Christian agencies from all national backgrounds. Although numbers and mathematics are ubiquitous in the 21st century, most Christians do not see the need to become numerate. This results in an unhealthy dependence on the intuition of Christian leadership. Preferring not to wrestle with the numbers, many instead rely on off-the-cuff remarks from Christian leaders. Yet another force is found among academics and journalists who continue to assert that religious statistics are "notoriously unreliable" or "exaggerated."

Four trends reinforcing missiometrics

One can identify at least four significant trends in missiometrics that highlight its resilient nature in such a potentially hostile environment. First, new Christian research centers are sprouting up around the world. This fact reverses a recent trend when such centers were being closed down in rapid succession. In 1970 over 900 Christian research centers operated around the world, dropping precipitously to only 300 by mid-2000. The main reason for this decline appears to have been organizational fatigue over negative findings such as declining church membership. Today this trend is turning around. New research centers are emerging, not surprisingly, among Christians in the Southern Hemisphere, where Christianity is vibrant and growing most rapidly. The Center for the Study of Christianity in Asia, based at Trinity Theological College in Singapore, opened its doors in 2001. Recent initiatives in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Chiang Mai, Thailand, are focused on analyzing the growth of Christianity in China. …

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