Christianity has influenced the USA as much as any other nation. Evangelicals (28.9% of population) exist in all major ethnic groups and levels of society. The Pilgrim Fathers of America wanted a land with freedom to practise their Christian faith. This foundation supported the growth of one of the largest Christian movements in history. The USA has 17.6% of the world’s Protestants and 16.8% of the world’s evangelicals, and a large proportion of the world’s missionaries. More than 2,000 recognized institutions offer theological degrees in the USA and Canada. 30,000-50,000 students graduate each year with a desire to impact the world for Christ. America’s Christian values shaped modern democracy, human rights, and economic development. Generosity, evangelistic work, and big visions help the gospel progress. Pray that these may continue!
The American Church needs revival - not the slick mass evangelism and theatrics associated with the word, but true revival with conviction of sin, repentance and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. More often than not, the public face of Christianity turns people away from Jesus rather than drawing them to Him. The gospel is often little more than a self-help philosophy. Thank God for the pockets where revival is happening; pray that it may spread.
This generation of young people is both the most privileged and the most damaged. Humanistic and New Age philosophies, spiritual confusion, moral relativism, broken families, sexual permissiveness, drug and alcohol abuse, mindless violence, widespread acceptance of the occult and callous self-absorption combine to reap a bitter harvest. Most young people, even Christian ones, do not understand the meaning of following Christ. Two-thirds believe that all religions ultimately pray to the same God. Organizations such as OM, YWAM, Cru, Teen Challenge and others instill the truth into teens and make a great impact on the world. God is also raising a new generation of movements for this century - pray for YouthQuake Live, Teen Mania, The Call, International House of Prayer and others. Without a decisive work of God's Spirit, this generation could be America's most broken.
Student ministries continue to play a vital role. Movements such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IFES), Navigators, Cru, Campus Outreach, Chi Alpha, Campus America, Campus Church Net, SVM2 and others combine to generate effective outreach, discipleship and prayer on campuses. The large Urbana conferences of InterVarsity, The Traveling Team and other ministries challenge many students with the needs of a lost world. The ministries of Navigators and Cru have diversified into a wide range of activities in the USA and around the world. The Passion conferences profoundly impact the lives of many thousands of students every year. It is in their college years that the largest percentage of Christians fall away; yet, student movements have been at the heart of almost every revival and missions movement in America's history.
The 38-million-strong African-American community suffered immensely due to its origins in slavery and to subsequent racial discrimination. The civil rights movement and the election of the first black president have achieved great change in attitudes and awareness, but for many the cycle of unemployment, poverty, family instability and crime is unbroken.
Hispanics are now the US's largest minority. Predominantly from Mexico, they have immigrated in huge numbers, not always legally. Around 68% are Catholic, but 23% of Hispanics are Protestant or Independent, and this number is growing rapidly. Fully 40% of Hispanic evangelicals in the USA converted from Catholicism, largely due to evangelical services being oriented toward their language, culture and personal needs. Nearly half of Hispanic Catholics identify with the charismatic movement. All these factors combine to make Hispanics a powerful religious bloc with a living, dynamic faith. As immigrants, many struggle with poverty and the breakup of traditional family structures - 50% of Hispanic children are born out of wedlock. Pray for the effective discipleship of the nearly 50 million Hispanics in the USA; many of them eventually return to their homelands as highly effective missionaries.
Native Americans, also called American Indians, have suffered intensely through centuries of encounters with white people. Before European contact, Native Americans numbered at least 20 million; by 1890, only 250,000 remained - most perished through diseases brought by Europeans. Through ruthless colonization and a long string of treaties and promises made and broken by whites, the natives lost almost all their lands, identity, heritage, culture and self-respect. Forced resettlement onto arid, fruitless lands helped create a dependency on the federal government. Today, hopelessness, poverty, disease, alcoholism, suicide, abuse and unemployment are common. Indigenous culture is being revived and demands for reparation are meeting with success.
Ethnic minority churches are the growing edge of US evangelicalism today. This is predominantly an urban phenomenon, but 10% of US counties now have racial and ethnic minorities as the majority. Points for prayer:
- Asian Church growth is pronounced. Dynamic networks of congregations are springing up among the 7,000-plus Asian churches. Korean churches number 4,000. Chinese in the USA have over 1,000 churches and are experiencing rapid church growth. There are even more Filipino congregations (America's second-largest immigrant nationality after Mexico). There has also been church growth among Arabs, South Asians, Vietnamese and Iranians. Pray that such growth might continue - of any ethnicity, Asians in the USA retain the lowest rate of Christian affiliation.
- The cultural balance of these churches. The greatest challenge is finding a way to integrate first-generation immigrants with second- and third-generation younger people. The integrity of the original culture and the appeal of mainstream US culture often conflict, even in church life. Pray for the provision of wise and forward-looking leaders. Pray for the calling of many to Kingdom service; cultural pressures often make the choice for full-time ministry a very difficult one.
- Effective strategies and cooperation between Anglo-American and ethnic-minority churches and agencies to ensure these minorities are discipled in what is a highly fragmented ministry. In 2005, nearly 60% of IMB church plants were among ethnic minorities; 35% of all AoG churches are among ethnic minorities; CMA, CoG (Cleveland) and many others, especially Pentecostal and charismatic groups, focus on reaching minority communities.
- Growth of missions vision is occurring most dramatically among Asian-American churches, Koreans in particular. Korean-Americans have the highest proportional sending rates of any ethnicity in the USA. The beginnings of similar mission movements are now seen among Chinese-Americans, Hispanics and African-Americans. One development with massive implications is mobilizing immigrant Christians as missionaries to their country and people of origin.
The less-reached. The sheer scale of outreach and the saturation of Christian media mean that very few are without ready access to the gospel, but many groups do need further specific attention for witness and intercession. Although the annual number of immigrants and refugees are fewer since 9/11, minority communities are still large in size and diversity.
- Immigrants are more numerous and diverse in the USA than anywhere else on earth. In the USA, 31 ethnicities have populations of over one million. Mexico, China, Philippines, India, Colombia, Haiti, Cuba and Vietnam top the list of US immigrants. Millions come from countries where missionary access is very limited and where the majority are unreached. Their presence in the USA is the perfect opportunity to impact these less-reached peoples with the love and power of Christ - pray that churches will wake up to and seize this opportunity.
- International students number nearly 700,000 and come from nearly every country in the world; well over half are from Asia. The largest numbers are from India (103,000), China (99,000), South Korea (75,000), Canada (30,000), Japan (30,000) and Taiwan (28,000). For many, this is their first opportunity to encounter the gospel. Most will return to leadership positions in their home nations after study. Their responsiveness to loving Christian ministry is remarkable, and is increasing with time. The Association of Christian Ministries to Internationals is an umbrella body linking ministries such as ISI (with 163 staff), InterVarsity(IFES), Cru, Navigators and others. Pray for conversions and for discipling ministries that will enable these students to be effective witnesses when they return home.
- The 5.2 million Jews are an influential minority, although proportionately in decline. Outside of Israel itself, the USA has the largest concentration of Jews in the world. In both Miami and New York, 9-10% of the population is estimated to be Jewish. Their growing receptivity and response to the gospel have been evident since 1970, and more Jews are being won to Christ in the USA than anywhere else since New Testament times. There are estimated to be up to 250,000 Messianic Jews. Many have integrated into Christian churches, but there are over 300 Messianic synagogues in the USA where Jewish customs and culture are preserved under Yeshua the Messiah. Nearly 50 agencies focus on reaching Jews with the good news; Jews for Jesus is one of the most dynamic of these.
- Muslim numbers have steadily increased through immigration and conversion of African-Americans (especially in large urban areas). Still, two-thirds of Muslims in the USA are foreign-born. Estimated populations range from 1.3-7 million, meeting in more than 1,200 mosques. Although many more integrate into mainstream US life than their co-religionists in Europe, Muslims in America are also vulnerable to indoctrination by Wahhabist and other extremist interpretations that tend to control and fund many of the mosques and Islamic centres.
- South Asians are one of the more affluent and well-educated ethnic communities in the USA. Most migrate for opportunities in business, technology, medicine or education. Nearly all are Muslim, Hindu or Sikh and come from sections of Indian society least exposed to the gospel; few are Christian. They number 5.5 million. Christian outreach to them is increasing.
- The cults pose a challenge. Most function under the guise of Christianity but are full of false and extra-biblical teaching. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are the most aggressive proselytizers of these, and the fastest growing. Scientology does not even purport to be Christian but wields great influence, especially among celebrities. The popularization of the occult and the supernatural among youth culture and the media leads many astray as well. In all of these cases, well-informed and specific engagement must occur in order to draw them to Jesus - who is the way, the truth and the life.
- The US prison population is very large, with 2.3 million in jail. It is the world's largest prison population and nearly the highest incarceration rate. One-third of the prison population are African-American. There are over 2 million drug-related arrests annually, with 500,000 in prison and another 1.5 million on probation or parole due to drug-related offences. Pray for ministries such as Prison Fellowship International that seek to minister to them, win them to Christ, care for their families and rehabilitate them back into society.
US Christians have pioneered and generously supported missions on a massive scale for more than a century. The number, variety and commitment of US missionaries and agencies have impacted every nation on earth. Major umbrella bodies for evangelical mission agencies are The Mission Exchange and CrossGlobal Link. The US Center for World Mission remains hugely influential through its publications, including the "Perspectives" course, Mission Frontiers magazine and the William Carey Library. Caleb Resources and ACMC (Advancing Churches in Missions Commitment), both now part of Pioneers, have acted as catalysts for missions mobilization since 1975. The largest denominational agencies: IMB, AoG, ABWE, BIM, CC/CC, BMM. The largest interdenominational agencies: YWAM, WBT, Cru, Pioneers, NTM, SIM.
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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.