I do not know of anyone with a shorter family name than the current executive secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. I am referring to dr. Ng, who, as is the tradition, poured a flood of statistical data over the delegates to the Autumn Council who have held there annual meetings in the past few days.
On the same day that I was looking at the data dr. Ng. provided, I happened to read a few chapters in the fascinating book that Amazon delivered to my door a week or so ago: From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church. The book is written by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who served for a number of years in a leading position in the Reformed Church in the US, but also had a distinguished career in the world of ecumenism.
It was remarkable to see the striking similarities between the picture that was painted by dr. Ng and what Granberg-Michaelson wrote about Christianity in general. His book explains to the reader how the center of Christianity continues to shift from the North to the South. An ever larger percentage of the Christians no longer lives in the Western world (the “North”), but is now found in the developing world (the “South”). The turning point was around 1980. Since that year the Christians in the South are more numerous than their brethren en sisters in the North. One hundred years ago 80 percent of all Christians lived in Europe and North-America. Today the percentage is only 40 percent. At the same time we note another trend: More than half of all migrants in the world is Christian! This causes the percentage of Christians in the Western world to decrease much more slowly than would have been the case if there were no large scale migration.
There was a time when almost all Seventh-day Adventists lived in the ‘North’. However, that changed a long time ago. Of the 18 million Adventists of today only about 1,2 million members live in North-America, less than half a million in Europe and only some 70.000 in Australia and New Zealand. Ng presented a list of countries where the Adventist Church is growing. These are almost all in the ‘South’. Where the church grows in the ‘North’ .or maintains its numbers, this is owed to a significant influx of Adventist immigrants.
It is not difficult to see the parallel between what happens to global Christianity and what the Adventist Church experiences. This applies, in particular, to aspects of governance. Though a major part of the ecclesiastical funds is still generated in the ‘North’, the agenda of the church is more and more determined by the ‘South’. This has significant consequences. The church is changing—in many respects in a more conservative direction. This will raise the question in the minds of many: Will the church of the future be a church where I, as someone from the ‘North’, will still feel at home?
The book by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson also made me think about another issue. It points out that only a relatively small part of global Christianityis involved in the ecumenical dialogue. One striking example: 349 (large and small) denominations are members of the World Council of Churches. But how many denominations are there in the world? Experts tell us the number is between 41.000 and 43.000. And these are certainly not all one-man operations, but some of these (of which we may never have heard the names) have many millions of members. Many of these denominations claim that they are the only true church. Seventh-day Adventists have also often claimed a unique position for themselves, and many individual Adventists today still believe their church is the only true church. I am a Seventh-day Adventists because I recognize in my church a number of important insights and activities. But to claim that my church is in all respects the only true church. . . ? After digesting the data provided by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson I will be even more hesitant with such a claim than before!