Might Immigration Reverse the Decline of the North American Church?

By Executive Editor John Yoder

All of us are painfully aware of the stagnation of many North American churches, including the departure of our younger generations.  For some, the outgoing tide seems irreversible.  Could immigration help reverse the tide?

In The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Philip Jenkins discusses the rapid growth of the church in Africa, Latin America and Asia over the past century.  Believers from these cultures have common features typically lacking in Western cultures, and as they move to Western nations they bring these features with them.  These include:

·         Momentum.  Many Christian immigrants to North America come from countries where the church has experienced sustained growth.

·         Youth.  As younger Americans pull away from organized religion, many congregations are greying.  But when I worship with immigrant congregations, I’m typically welcomed by young families.

·         High birth rates.  Americans in general, including Christians, have reasonably low birth rates.  Latino and African Christians who emigrate to America typically have higher numbers of children who are being raised in the faith.

·         An unshakable belief that God’s supernatural power impacts our daily lives.  While some Western theologians question the reality of the resurrection and other Bible miracles, I’ve not yet met anyone in the immigrant community with such reservations.  Global Christians don’t believe in the supernatural because of the Bible schools they attended, but because they are convinced they’ve experienced it in their daily lives.

·         Theological and moral conservatism.  Denominations that are drifting to the left find little support among African, Asian and Latino pastors.  When I ask immigrant pastors what kind of churches they want to serve alongside, the most common request they make is to not partner them with churches holding a progressive stance on sexuality.

What is the impact of these immigrant believers on the American church?  Jenkins states, “While traditional Christianity is weakening in large sections of the North, it is indeed being reinforced forced and reinvigorated by Southern churches, by means of immigration and evangelization.”

When global Christians move to North America, they bring their spiritual leaders with them.  Where I live in metro Minneapolis, hundreds of immigrant congregations have spontaneously combusted with the arrival of communities of same-language Christians.  There is a meaningful role for American churches to come alongside these immigrant congregations to strengthen them. 

The arrival of millions of immigrants across America brings incredible opportunities to make disciples through teaching English, resettling refugees, providing legal services, welcoming international students, sharing Christ with Unreached People Groups and more.  Serving our new neighbors simultaneously brings newcomers into the Kingdom of God and creates a healthier future for the North American church.