Historical Christian Mission Movements


I rather liked the chart in Patrick Johnstone’s book “The Church is Bigger than you Think: The Unfinished Work of World Evangelization.” The chart shows the major mission movements from the beginning of the church age until the 21st century.

Historical Christian Mission Movements

Historical Christian Mission Movements

Curiously, I couldn’t find ANYTHING on the Internet that was remotely useful in this area. Ralph Winter’s 3 eras of the Modern Protestant Mission Movement is there… but it is limited to one major movement. The others are extremely limited… often only focusing on Protestant Missions or missions of the Western Church. To understand what God is doing (God works in both time and space so “is” doesn’t mean only in the 21st century) we need to see the broader movements. You will note some things.

  • First, Mission Movements were almost exclusively limited to the Eastern Church in the first Millenium. The second Millenium is mostly the Western church. The third Millenium APPEARS to be global (East and West).
  • Also note that these only include major mission movements… it doesn’t include all missions. For example, the Eastern church is quite active in Missions even today… but doesn’t necessarily fit the (very loose) definition of missionary movement. Protestants were involved in missions (at least on the small scale) from the beginning… but did not reach a level one might describe as a movement until the time of Baron von Zinzendorf.
  • One might describe missions today (Historically Christian missions) as existing in three movements. The Roman Catholic missions movement that began with the colonial powers Spain and Portugal continues strong. The Protestant missions movement, often described as initiating with William Carey in 1792, is still going fairly strong. Both of these could be described as the work of the “Western Church”.  In addition to this is the 2/3 world churches. These are churches and missionaries from countries that only a few years ago would be described as “missionary receiving.” Some of these churches and missionaries would be described as coming from Western traditions… but not all, as many have a strongly indigenous flavor.
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