More than a 100 mission leaders concluded a four-day gathering Saturday to discuss the growing concern of how to assess the growth and impact of Christianity given that confession of faith does not necessarily result in a transformed life.
The second annual Global Learning Center’s Symposium “Counting Sheep” at the Michigan-based Cornerstone University’s Grand Rapids Theological Seminary attracted mostly “hands-on” mission leaders from the Detroit to Chicago-land region Jan. 24-27.
Mission leaders gathered in attempt to figure out a new way to measure Christianity’s growth, to redefine old mission models, and to debate the effectiveness of short-term mission trips, among other topics.
Dr. David Livermoore, executive director of the GLC, pointed to Rwanda as an example of why a new method to access mission effectiveness in the 21st century is necessary. Livermoore noted that Rwanda was said to be the most reached Christian nation in the world 15-20 years ago, but nonetheless suffered from the atrocities of the 1994 genocide when some 800,000 people were killed during a period of 100 days.
“So all of us asked what does it mean to be the most Christian nation in the world and to experience this?” questioned Livermoore on Thursday.
“All of this cause us to say maybe we have been counting the wrong thing if we are just counting decisions or counting the number of people who have seen the Jesus Film,” he added.
Another reason why “counting sheep” is not an effective measurement draws on the number of testimonies from missionaries of people who have come forward to accept Christ, but have lack the personal transformation expected of Christians.
“We are stepping back and asking, ‘We are not sure if the Gospel presence has been felt beyond a person saying a prayer,’” Livermoore noted.
Symposium participants also discussed the need for a “whole new paradigm” of missions that reflects the shift in Christianity where the southern, non-western churches have grown larger in size and in mission movements than western churches.
“The old categories of senders and receivers or mission field and home field don’t make any sense anymore,” the mission expert said . “Somehow we have to figure out what it means for us in the U.S. to see ourselves both as a sending and a receiving nation.”
The conference, which ended Saturday, spent its last day debating if short-term mission and its impact on youth is effective.