The need to revive a vision for evangelical cooperation and mission throughout Oceania. Vast geographical distances and the lack of unity and shared identity - especially between the many Pacific islands and the dominant Australia/New Zealand - are challenges. Yet determination still exists to foster unity and prophetic vision: The Evangelical Fellowship of the South Pacific, the Deep Sea Canoe Movement and, perhaps most notably, the South Pacific Prayer Assembly serve to see God move in new and effective ways in the Pacific. Pray for rising levels of spiritual leadership and vision from the scattered islands of the vast Pacific.
The shape of Christianity in the Pacific is rapidly and radically changing. There are several contributing factors:
- Secularism and multiculturalism are rising; these undermine the strong Christian heritage of these nations and relegate Christianity to a mere place at the table of competing belief systems. The arrival of a more assertive atheism, Mormonism, Islamism, Baha'i-ism and Buddhism all rattle the religious status quo. Confidence in the veracity of the gospel cannot help but be threatened.
- The decline of traditional forms of Christianity. The denominations that had such a great impact in the Pacific Islands and the traditionally strong denominations in Australia and New Zealand are suffering in numbers and in vitality. Pentecostal and charismatic groups are mostly growing in their stead.
- The decaying interest to participate in organized Christianity. There is a prevalent indifference to spiritual things among the majority of unbelievers, and the Church is increasingly a marginal concern for the younger generation of Kiwis and Aussies, even for those who believe in and follow Jesus. Rather than inviting radical change, most churches seek to maintain a level of satisfaction among their middle class and middle-aged constituency, by whom they are currently steered.
- The rapidly changing ethnic and age composition of the Church. Immigration brings many young Pacific Islanders and other migrants into churches of the two dominant nations of the region. These changes have vast implications not just for the future of Christianity, but also for the future of these countries. The Church must retool itself in order to integrate and meet the needs of this growing component of the body of Christ. This will impact generational focus, church finance, church culture, worship and fellowship patterns, leadership styles and many other issues as well.
Disciple-making is the key to the Pacific, a region that remains majority Christian. It was critical to past failings and will be crucial to future challenges. The inability to move beyond Christianization, and into making mature believers, is a large part of the Church's decline in Australia and New Zealand and the reason for the vulnerability of the Church in the Pacific Islands. Pray for a mentality in the Church that places priority and focus rightly on shaping disciples.
The disparity in culture, class and income between most churches in New Zealand and Australia and most immigrant peoples is a barrier to effective ministry. If churches want to be relevant and have an impact on these burgeoning populations and on the future of the Pacific region, they must step out of their comfort zones and learn to minister cross-culturally and in contexts of economic need. For social and economic justice to truly be rooted in Pacific society, the Church must be at the heart of the process.
The Church has thus far failed to meet the mission challenge on its own soil. The mission opportunities afforded by immigration and a multicultural society - and the need to train church and mission leaders in effective evangelism, church planting and discipleship skills - remain largely unaddressed. Pray for an awakening in the Church and in training infrastructures that can meet the growing challenge.
The rapid growth of Mormonism in Polynesia, winning many nominal Protestants, is a rebuke to the traditional churches. Polynesia is rapidly becoming Mormon - especially Tonga and American Samoa, which are over 20% Mormon, and Samoa and French Polynesia, which are over 10% Mormon.
Completing the task of world evangelization in the Pacific.
- There are very few unevangelized tribal peoples; some exist in New Guinea's interior. Many more are only superficially evangelized and need more thorough ministry.
- The few evangelical believers in parts of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and on many of the nominally Christian island groups. Some areas need to be re-evangelized.
- The Indians of Fiji are the largest unreached people in the Pacific. Pray for effective evangelization of these Muslims and Hindus.
- The Chinese are increasing through immigration. In some islands, this is for trade or low-paid labour; in Australia and New Zealand, it is as professionals and students. Many remain unevangelized, despite notable responsiveness to appropriate outreach.
- International students are more concentrated in Australia and New Zealand than in just about anywhere else in the world. They are often very open to the gospel. Churches need to acquire a vision for this highly strategic group of future leaders in their homelands, which are usually very restrictive in terms of access for Christian mission.
- Other immigrant groups, especially to Australia and New Zealand. This includes Arabs, Iranians, Malays and Indonesians, Europeans, Somalis as well as East and Southeast Asian peoples. In most cases, they will have greater opportunity for exposure to the good news in their new lands than in their countries of origin.
- Translation of Scripture. There remain hundreds of languages without the Bible. Many of them may need translators.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.