The World is Flat; What About the Church?

A book by New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman is getting a lot of attention in the United States and perhaps other parts of the world. The book is titled The World is Flat and in it Friedman portrays the way that globalization is spreading in the world and how through new technologies, distance has been eliminated, and thus has caused a flattening of the world. He gives many stories of how, for instance, Bangalore India is doing much of the work and servicing of United States corporations. One story tells of how medical tests done in the US for patients needing “cat scans” or MRIs are interpreted and analyzed by physicians in India while the US doctors sleep. When the US doctors return to work their counterparts in India have suggested diagnostic treatment for patients they have never seen. Many of us have experienced calling our computer companies with technical questions only to have them answered and our computers repaired online by technicians in another part of the world.

According to Friedman, these are illustrations of a world becoming flatÌ¢‰â‰۝without distance. All of the stories from the book have to do with economic realities. We are seeing a rise in living standards in places where the rich West and the Majority World enter into such partnerships. Yes, the world is flattening as it applies to economies. However, we know that we do not have a flat world when it comes to politics. Washington D.C. does not create a constitution for Iraq, no matter how much some Americans wish that were so. The European Union does not broker and lead the peace process in the Middle East. Tehran does not indicate the laws of Denmark. No, it is not a flat world when it comes to politics.

While the Church in the North is diminishing in size it holds almost all of the wealth of Christendom. Missiology has been wrestling with this problem for decades. 

Neither economics nor politics are our field. But we can ask the question of religion and Christianity. As the largest institution on earth, the Christian Church should be experiencing the “world is flat” phenomena. Another book has caught the attention of the Church in the same way that Friedman’s has caught the economic community by storm. Phillip Jenkins published The Next Christendom a few years ago and in it he argues that the center of Christianity has shifted from the northern to southern hemisphere. Most readers of Lausanne World Pulse are familiar with Jenkins’ idea. It is true that the global South comprises most of the world’s Christians and is where the gospel is spreading rapidly and with great results. The global South is also where much of the world’s greatest poverty and therefore poorest churches reside. Christianity is experiencing “the world is flat” reality at some levels. More and more rich Northern Christian organizations are sharing education and strategy with the global South.

But there is one area where I see very little leveling or flattening, and that is in the area of money. While the Church of the North is diminishing in size it holds almost all of the wealth of Christendom. Missiology has been wrestling with this problem for decades. The truth remains that those in the Western-Northern world are “resource rich” while our brothers and sisters in the global South are “resource poor.”

It should not be this way. We must find ways to disperse our wealth to the kingdom Church of the Majority World. I do not know how to do it on the macro-level; I am not sure anyone does. But I can tell you where those in the over-resourced world should start, and that is in our own agencies. At the Billy Graham Center (where I am director) we are now asking these questions and not settling for the comforting answers of the past that yielded little result. We are seeking a Church where equity is the rule, where God’s promise of sufficient resources is fulfilled because those who have freely received, freely give. Help us Lord. We have so far to go.

Dr. Lon Allison is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He also serves as director for the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College. He is co-publisher of Lausanne World Pulse.