THE DECLINE OF CHRISTIANITY IN THE MIDDLE EAST
The Christian communities in the Middle East have a long history, predating Islam and going back to the book of Acts. Once large, relatively powerful and missionary minded, they have gradually dwindled due to devastating wars, massacres, conversion to Islam under long-term Muslim pressure, second rate status, expulsion, emigration, and ever lower birth rates compared to their Muslim neighbours. The trend since the 10th century has been to an ever smaller percentage of the total population, and this trend has accelerated in most countries in the 20th century, as shown by the accompanying graphs. Egypt is the only exception to this rule, as the Copts have resisted mass emigration whilst their birth rates approximate those of the Muslim majority.
Evangelicals, because of their good contacts to the West, have been in the forefront of emigration in this century. Whilst their numbers in the Middle East have been constantly replenished by conversion from the older churches, their emigration accelerated the general tendency to an ever smaller percentage of Christians in the total population.
The time can now be foreseen when the Christians in many of these states will almost vanish and be but a memory of history. Any missionary strategy must take this inexorable trend into account drawing two conclusuins:
1. The future growth of the church depends on the conversion of a large number of Muslims, and all resources must be targeted toward this goal.
2. In order not to alienate Muslim converts from their culture, causing them to emigrate as other Christians are doing, a new type of Muslim convert-church must be created that will not extract its members from their their social milieu, so they will not be seen as nominal Christians. This means selective contextualisation. If this is not done, then even if many Muslims are converted, they will eventually follow the Christian trend to emigrate to the West, leaving the Middle East virtually Christian-free...
Muslim converts can only be protected by a subtle, ambiguous, and variegated strategy of small-cell like groups, underground activities, Islamic-model fellowships, and non-confrontational attitudes.
Open Doors News Brief, February 1996
Nissan, M. Middle East Minorities
Hourani, A. Minorities In the Arab World, London, 1947
McLaurin, ed., Political Role Of Minority Groups In The Middle East 1979
Baer, G. Population And Society In The Middle East
Falaturi, A. ed., Der Islamische Orient, 1990