Updated: Jun 29, 2021
I recently attended a webinar on the state of Global Christianity based on the latest World Christian Encyclopedia. I captured some highlights and gathered data from the latest research by Dr. Todd M. Johnson. It points to answer questions like,
Where is the gospel spreading the most?
What trends do we see in global Christianity?
How do we expand our understanding as part of a global Church?
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, the global Christian population totals 2.5 billion people. To help us put that number in perspective, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity has condensed it into this graphic as if 100 Christians represented all of global Christianity.
A big shift from North to South
Christians in the Global South:
Evangelical Christians in the Global South:
Here are the countries with the most Christians from 1900 to today. Except for the United States from the Global North, Christianity move down to countries like Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and India. For data visualization of countries with the most Christians, 1900–2050, click the link: (https://www.gordonconwell.edu/blog/north-and-south-up-and-down/)
Christianity in Europe
Major trends for the decline:
- Agnostics and atheists: From 0.4% in 1900 to more than 15% of Europe’s population in 2020.
- Muslims: From 9 million members in 1900 to more than 53 million in 2020, largely through migration from Northern Africa and Western Asia.
Trends that will shape the future of Christianity in Europe:
- Ethnic churches: As a result of the immigration impact on Christian communities, some of Europe's largest congregations are ethnic minority churches.
- Despite the declining presence of Christians in Europe, the continent is the home of “headquarters” of major Christian families such as Catholics (Rome), Anglicans (Canterbury), Russian Orthodox (Moscow), Lutherans (Geneva) and several others.
Christianity in North America
Main trends for the decline:
- Increased number of nones and dones (atheists and agnostics) on the continent. From just over one million in 1900 to more than 75 million in 2020. Canada was hit the hardest by this trend, with its Christian percentage dropping more than 30 percentage points in 120 years (from 98% to 62.5%).
- Impact of immigration. Large numbers of Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus moved to Northern America, especially in the latter half of the 20th century. Muslims grew to over six million, Buddhists to five million and Hindus to 2.1 million.
Today, North America is a very diverse continent than ever before. For example, in Canada, the number of Sikhs has increased steadily in the 21st century, now at half a million, and many are very prominent in Canadian society and politics.
Two trends that will shape the future of Christianity in Northern America:
- Christians from around the world are making their home in Northern America. We find Chinese Christians in Vancouver, Iraqi Christians in Detroit, and African Christians in Brooklyn. In each case, these Christians are interacting with long-standing Christian communities, some for the first time.
- People from other religions in increased numbers are also making their home in Northern America.
Christianity in Latin America
Even though there is no considerable change in the overall percentage of Christians in Latin America, the internal structure of Christianity has changed significantly.
Major trends in Latin America:
- Catholics remain the largest tradition, but Protestants and Independents have been rapidly increasing in the continent.
- The Charismatic movement within the Catholic Church continues to grow in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and other countries. Indeed, the Catholic Charismatic movement has grown significantly over the last half-century. In 2020 the world’s largest Catholic Charismatic community is in Brazil.
- Brazil is also the leading sending country in Latin America among the Protestants and Independents engaged in overseas Christian mission.
Christianity in the Middle East
Main factors for the decline:
Nine countries experienced significant declines in their Christian percentages of their populations between 1900 and 2020: Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey. Lebanon dropped a shocking 42 percentage points, largely due to three factors:
- Lower birth rates, a consequence of their comparatively higher economic status.
- Immigration to the United States, Australia and various European countries, especially during the wars from 1975 to 1990.
- Christians’ decreasing influence in national affairs. Losses in many Christian communities were already well underway by 1970, but in the case of the three largest Christian populations at the time – Egypt, Lebanon and Syria – their decline accelerated in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Trends that will shape the future of Christianity in the Middle East:
- Civil war has now forced millions of refugees, including a large number of Christians, to flee into neighbouring countries. What began as internal displacement has now evolved into international migration. While some of this might be temporary, it is likely that many Christians will never return.
- Six Middle Eastern countries have had massive influxes of Christians since 1970. These include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain and the UAE saw the greatest percentage increase, each over 12 percentage points. These Christians are mostly migrants from the Philippines, South Korea and other countries.
Christianity in Africa
Major trends for the increase:
- Africa’s general population grew tremendously in the 20th century, with the overall population expected to grow to over 2.5 billion by 2050.
- Thousands of denominations have grown from African soil, most of which are Independent – the most diverse and fastest-growing movement within Christianity.
- African Christians are increasingly providing leadership in global Christian forums both within and across churches and Christian organizations in Africa and the West.
Trends that will shape the future of Christianity in Africa:
- It is estimated that by 2050, Africa will be home to more than a billion Christians, by far the largest concentration on the planet.
- By 2050, a list of the 10 countries worldwide with the largest Christian populations will include several African members, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, the DRC, and Uganda. Between 1900 and 2050, the African share of the global Christian population will have grown from barely 2 percent to more than 33 percent.
- As the century proceeds, Christianity will become ever more significantly a religion of Africa and the African diaspora.
Christianity in Asia
Major religious trends in Asia:
- Chinese folk-religionists and Buddhists, who made up over 50% of Asia’s population in 1900, fell to under 23% by 2020.
- Muslims grew to replace Chinese folk-religionists as the continent’s largest religion, with 27.4% of the population in 2020.
- In 1900, the nonreligious were fewer than 55,000, but by 2020, more than 640 million, just under 14% of Asia’s population.
- The majority of Christians in 1900 were Catholic and Orthodox, mainly in Western Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines. By 2020 the balance had shifted to Independent churches, especially house churches in China.
- Mongolia and Nepal are notable for significant Christian growth since 1990 and represent some of the newest expressions of Christianity in the world.
For more updates on Global Christianity, please visit:
Dr. Todd M. Johnson (Dec 8, 2020). The State of Global Christianity 2020 (Webinar). The Global Diaspora Institute.