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To America With Love: Why U.S. Christianity’s Resurgence Will Come From Immigrants

This article is from the September/October 2023 issue of Outreach magazine.

As Ed Stetzer underscored in his May/June 2023 From the Editor column in Outreach magazine, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that “by 2030 immigration is projected to become the primary driver of population growth in the United States.” That means more people are predicted to be added to the population through net international migration than through new births minus deaths. Pew Research Center has put a number on a similar forecast: 82% of U.S. growth from 2005 to 2050 will come from new immigrants and their families.

This development has huge implications for your church’s outreach and growth. 

Why? The United States is currently home to more immigrants than any other country in the world—and as Christianity booms overseas, more Christians are migrating to the United States. Many of them are joining existing churches or starting new churches, which in turn are leading other immigrants to find faith in Jesus after they arrive. As scholar Timothy Tseng affirms in his chapter in The Future of Evangelicalism in America, “Since the mid-1960s, immigration has fundamentally altered the composition of American evangelicalism.”

This indicates that the next big surge in American Christianity will likely be seen in a wide range of ethnic congregations led by immigrants or the children of immigrants. Even mainstream publications are noticing the trend. A recent editorial in The New York Times was titled “The Global Transformation of Christianity Is Here,” and a recent CNN article was titled “Predictions about the Decline in Christianity in America May Be Premature”—premature because of growth through immigration.

A Harvest From Overseas

The most widespread expression lately of this growth is Hispanic. Latino evangelicals are the fastest growing segment of evangelicals in this country. One analysis in The New Yorker called Hispanic immigrants a “decisive force in American religion … a kind of rescue squad” for American Christianity, given their higher levels of religiosity with more frequent church attendance, prayer and Bible study than white Protestants.

As delightful as the vitality and growth of Hispanic faith is, an even bigger global trend is already impacting churches in the United States. It’s the growth—and movement—of Asian Christianity. For example:

* In South Korea, one third of the population claims the name of Jesus, but among Koreans in America, 4 out of 5 do.

* In India, at most 3% of the population claims the name of Jesus, but among the up to 5 million Indians in America, nearly 1 million do.

The following true story beautifully illustrates this trend. In 1813, Westerners sent one couple to Burma, now known as Myanmar, where no Protestant missionary had previously gone. Sadly, 38 years later, Adoniram Judson’s preaching had seen only one convert. But let’s fast-forward this story to today, where America recently received more than 100,000 Myanmarese refugees, and about 90% of them are Christians.

An Infusion of Faith

One of the most knowledgeable and articulate observers of these “diaspora” trends is Sam George, director of the Global Diaspora Institute at Wheaton College, who has lived and worked in many countries and retains multiple citizenships. He is convinced that migrants shaped and reshaped Christianity all along in our history, and are still doing so today.

“America is an immigrant nation, and every wave of immigration has brought distinctive groups of Christians from different shores of the world,” he says. “We are all either migrants or descendants of migrants. Most immigrants to the U.S. are Christians or become Christians soon after coming here. Migration is Christianizing America and globalizing American Christianity. The more global we are, the more globally connected, relevant and needed we will be. 

“More people are on the move than any time in human history and are reshaping societies, economies, nations and churches,” he adds, alluding to the more than 100 million people who will be forcibly displaced or stateless in 2023, according to the United Nations. “Embracing diaspora communities is critical to a robust theology and practice of missions today.” 

George recently wrote a three-volume Asian Diaspora Christianity series with a central message that the large-scale dispersion of Asians to far-flung corners of the globe over the last couple of centuries is transforming Christianity itself. It reveals that Asians make up the largest and most dispersed people of the world, and Christians make up an important portion of that demographic.

This means many uprooted Asians are either Christians already and carrying their faith with them, or they’re becoming Christians in their new homelands all over the world. For example, in the United Kingdom, almost 1 in 4 recent immigrants from Hong Kong are Christian, and many of the rest who are not Christians are open to Christianity, according to the recent research project “The Bible and the Chinese Community in Britain.”

“Just as the Jewish diaspora shaped the trajectory of Christianity in the first century, today’s diaspora is shaping the frontiers of the faith and has become a global missionary force,” George wrote. “Wherever Christianity grows, it pushes people out to new places.”

Welcoming Migrants

That “push” is also happening in the United States. By now, most American Christians have heard of the big switch that characterizes today’s era. The setup is that today’s growing mission force is no longer the United States, but the Global South. Meanwhile, one of the world’s biggest mission fields is now the United States, so the Global South is now planting and growing churches here. 

“They are here because we were there,” George emphasizes.

Here are some ways established Americans can help foster this new face of Christianity in their churches.

1. Share facilities. 

If you own a church building, go out of your way to prayerfully invite a church of a different language or ethnicity to meet there. Likewise, don’t approach this as simply a rental. Ask the congregation to forge partnerships and to help you learn how to reach and serve their network of connections.

2. Care for refugees. 

Forced migration is a highly disruptive process, and the needs of refugees are often acute. Get involved. From raising awareness to advocacy, demonstrate the love and gospel of Jesus.

3. Look for foreign students and employees. 

Diaspora groups are found both on university campuses and in corporations. These people usually know English, and would welcome your genuine interest about their countries. You’d be surprised how many would be open to an invitation for a meal over holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, which gives you a wonderful bridge to talk about your relationship with God.

“Christianity is now the most global and diverse that it has ever been in its entire history,” George says. “The mission is from everywhere to everywhere. Just as all missionaries are migrants, Christian migrants carry out a missionary function.

“In the first century, the Jewish diaspora became the trajectory of the growth and expansion of Christianity,” George says. “Christianity at its very core is a diaspora faith—God is a moving God, and his followers will follow him.” 

Thus, every time we read Jesus’ words, “Come follow me,” let’s view that as an ongoing call: God is on the move, he’s going places, so let’s take the gospel with us, and go.

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This article is from the September/October 2023 issue of Outreach magazine.