Current Christian Trends


The “look and feel” of the world Christian movement are constantly changing. We are influenced by:

Church life, governance structures, affiliations and even doctrinal distinctives vary from one place and time to another. This course examines some of the main current trends, to enable participants to understand more fully the context in we are all functioning and need to remain relevant in a dynamic world.

Where is the Christian church headed, in terms of its day to day expression?

What is our real level of influence in the world? Which world?

Is the church an institution or a change agent?

In order to answer these questions meaningfully it is important to understand where we have recently come from and how events that are unfolding in the world around us will impact our identity and witness for Christ.

We will start by looking at some “big picture” trends influencing the 20th/21st Century church (noting that “the church” is not monolithic). As we move through the course we will look more closely at cultural issues, corporate and leadership styles, doctrinal emphases and the work of the Holy Spirit in fulfilling God’s plan through the Body of Christ in our time. We will take account of competing world views and their implications for global evangelism and discipleship. We will see where we “fit” (as individuals and as movements) and prayerfully consider how our lives can contribute to building the Kingdom of God in our era.


Post Industrial, Post Modern

A little over one hundred years ago:

In Australia, a newly independent and unified country, the economy was growing (having survived the depression of the 1890s). A new political movement, the Labor Party, was challenging conventional power structures. Roman Catholic and Protestant interests were at ideological loggerheads (manifest in the political divide, partly because of the mixed origins of European settlement and the make-up of the workforce), but Australia was generally regarded as a “Christian country”. The commitment to Empire was almost absolute (Australian citizenship, as such, did not come into being until 1949).

Since then, there have been:

The majority of scientists in history are alive today, leading to pronounced intersections between science and the Gospel. Islam has re-emerged as a force in the global political economy. The clout of the United States has waxed … and waned. The world has become a global village. HIV AIDS has become an enduring but deadly part of the landscape (not to mention pandemics such as the H1Ni virus). God has variously been declared “dead”, female and “part of every one of us”. Western countries have become much more pluralistic in make-up. The planet has become warmer and the polar regions are melting – “green” has gone from being trendy to a (arguably) matter of human survival.

The church around the world has also undergone significant change. Christians with European backgrounds are now in the minority, but continue to have (disproportionate) access to resources. While there is an emphasis on church growth and the emergence of mega-churches, mass evangelism has largely shifted to the developing world. Rapidly changing means of communication have revolutionised the way the message is promulgated. The growth of denominations has been exponential.

Let’s look at how trends over recent years will put the elements of the course into a clear context.

The Changing External Shape of Missions

The history of missions is characterised by great successes, frustrations and failures, running in part in parallel with the scramble for colonial influence, decolonisation and the emergence of national or culturally aligned churches and more sophisticated tools, but the need for global witness has not diminished.

Charismatic Movements

The early twentieth century was marked by the beginning of the charismatic, or Pentecostal, movement.

Growth of Cults

The late 19th/early 20th century era saw the emergence of a range of cults, largely driven by millennial emphases (given concerns about international conflicts and the end of the world), disillusionment with the inability of older denominations to cope with social change and new thinking, or striving to meet peoples’ experiential spiritual needs.

Some cults are linked to mainstream forms of expression. For example, in Nigeria, anti-witch churches with histories of torture, infanticide and extortion are associated with errant Pentecostal movements. In Uganda the so-called “Lord’s Resistance Army” asserts the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and has waged an ongoing war against the government, claiming divine protection against bullets while committing atrocities. The Church of the Lamb of God, a polygamous sect in the Latter Day Saint movement that was founded by Ervil LeBaron, has been associated with murder for and racketeering in the cause of the Kingdom of God. In the West, extremist forms of Pentecostal worship embrace non-Biblical (sometimes blasphemous) teachings and patterns, in order to reach unbelievers.


In Eastern Europe and the USSR (and their satellites, eg Latin America and Africa), particularly during the Cold War, Christians were persecuted by communist dictatorships, starting with the 1905 and 1917 revolutions and the USSR’s and China’s spheres of influence after World War II.

Contemporary Christianity in the West

The shape, size and influence of Christianity in the West have changed dramatically during the past 30-50 years.

The Church in the Developing World

In the so-called “Third World” the number of Christians is growing exponentially.


The level of persecution and martyrdom of Christians has been higher during the past hundred years than at any other time in history.


There has been a growing interest in ecumenism within many mainstream denominations in the later half of the century.


Within the Protestant denominations there are growing gaps between “liberal” and conservative biblical beliefs.

Vatican II

In 1962, Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council.

Social Justice Issues

As Christians in the modern era, we are “salt” and “light” in our world. The church has a defining role in approaching the major social justice issues of the age.

Moral and Leadership Issues

Protestant denominations are divided on numerous social issues.

New Leadership Styles

21st Century Christian leadership is going to be very different (but similar to) older models.

Technological Revolutions

The past hundred years have witnessed exponential growth and change in communication tools and costs and have effectively “shrunk the world”. We are living in the Information Age.

- see separate paper Sustained World Mission in a Technological Age

The Resurgence of Islam

The 20th Century saw the resurgence, radicalisation and geographical expansion of Islam.


As we explore the raft of issues associated with trends in the global Christian movement, look for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in paradigm shifts that are taking place.

Use the designated research projects to find out for yourself what trends are evident/emerging.

Jesus Christ will build His church; the form it takes and the extent to which we can be involved need to be both Biblically sound and flexible in expression.

We need to be self-aware and highly strategic in our thinking, while walking in obedience to/reliance on the Holy Spirit and in partnership with the rest of the Body of Christ.

Ps Allan Davis


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