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Christians have been transnational since Pentecost. But world events create new possibilities. Spanish missionaries followed closely on the heels of Columbus, and Danish and British missionaries capitalized on trade relations with India. Today, globalized economic and communications networks create new possibilities for American congregations, says Princeton University's Robert Wuthnow in his most recent book, Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches.

Since 2000, for instance, 12 percent of active churchgoers reported having gone overseas on a short-term mission while in their teen years. That is up from 5 percent in the 1990s, 4 percent in the 1980s, and only 2 percent before that. Currently, this represents about 100,000 congregations (or one-third of all congregations) every year sending teams that average about 18 members.

The rise in short-term missions accompanies a rise in giving to transnational ministry. U.S. church donations to both humanitarian and evangelistic transnational ministry now total about $4 billion annually. We see a similar rise in direct connections to congregations in the developing world, as modern travel and communications technology allow congregations to bypass denominational channels.

In an interview with CT Media Group editor in chief David Neff, sociologist Wuthnow doesn't see the new shape of congregational outreach as "a dramatic break from that past as some observers do." Churches that have been engaged in mission work are still doing it. But new technology, transportation, and markets mean they are able to do it better.

Your book seems designed to impress us with the scale of change in our transnational relationships.

I was surprised that as many indicators as are available ...

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In the Magazine

June 2009

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