The headline captured my attention: Religion may become extinct in nine nations, study says. A paper read at the American Physical Society had used a mathematical model to explain the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives for remaining religious. The model looked at data over the past century, and it predicted the extinction of religion in Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Switzerland. A similar model had been proposed to deal with the decline of lesser-spoken world languages.
I particularly noted New Zealand and Australia because of our work with the South Pacific Bible College in Tauranga, New Zealand, but this is a serious matter for all of these countries. New Zealand and Australia are very secular societies. Church attendance for all religious groups is about 10% of the population. The study only confirms what we already in some sense know. These countries have great needs for evangelism and may be slow and difficult areas in which to work. Lest we congratulate ourselves on being more religious than they are, the trend in the United States is going down as well, although the U.S. is at 44%.
A mathematical model is a way of looking at data and making projections; it is not prophecy. It is not written in stone and unalterable. But it should still be taken to heart. If good people do nothing, the picture for these countries is dire. However, mathematical trends can be reversed.
What should we do? I’m struck by Jesus’ words as he sent out the seventy:
“And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. ” (Luke 10:2, ESV)
Jesus commands us to pray to God to send out laborers, and note that it is not just a command to pray, but a command to pray earnestly.
I’m convinced that those kinds of prayers are being offered, but the news story reminds me of how important those prayers are. For those who pray, often find that they are also the ones who send, support, and go. The prayer changes them as well as seeking God’s providence. In the midst of dire projections, pray to the Lord of the harvest.