Study finds changes in locations of Christians

Population shifted away from West

12/23/2011
BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

WASHINGTON — A new study on global Christianity reports there are 2.18 billion Christians in the world, nearly a third of the estimated 6.9 billion people on Earth. The study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life also calls attention to a “momentous shift” in the distribution of Christians around the globe.

The total number of Christians has more than tripled in the last 100 years, climbing to nearly 2.2 billion from around 600 million.

But because the world’s general population also grew at a rapid rate, the percentage of Christians has remained relatively steady — 32 percent in 2010 compared to 35 percent in 1910, according to the study released on Monday.

The demographic shift noted by researchers shows that in 1910, 93 percent of the world’s Christians lived in Europe and the Americas — 66 percent in Europe and 27.1 percent in the Americas. Today, only 63 percent of the world’s Christians live in those two regions — 26 percent live in Europe and 37 percent in the Americas.

FINDINGS

Among the notable demographics reported by the Pew Forum:

Brazil has more than twice as many Catholics as Italy (134 million to 50 million).

Nigeria now has more than twice as many Protestants as Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation (59 million to 26 million).

Although Christians make up just under a third of the world's people, they form a majority of the population in 158 countries and territories.

Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, is home to more Christians (21 million) than all 20 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region combined.

Of the world's five major geographic regions, the Americas have both the largest number and the highest proportion of Christians.

A century ago, the Global North (North America, Europe, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand) contained more than four times as many Christians as the Global South (the rest of the world). Today, more than 1.3 billion Christians live in the Global South (61 percent), compared with about 860 million in the Global North (39 percent).

Taken as a whole, Christians are by far the world's largest religious group, with 32 percent of the global population. Muslims, the second-largest group, make up a little less than a quarter of the world's population.

In 1910, 95 percent of Europeans and 96 percent of Americans were Christians, while in 2010 those numbers were 76 percent and 86 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, Christianity has grown “enormously” in sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, both of which had relatively few Christians at the start of the 20th century, according to Pew Forum researchers.

There are 516 million Christians in sub-Saharan Africa today, up from 9 million in 1910. In the Asia-Pacific region the number of Christians has grown from 28 million in 1910 to 285 million in 2010, the study said. Combined, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region have a total of 800 million Christians in 2010, roughly the same number as in the Americas, according to the study.

The United States has the largest number of Christians, 247 million, representing 80 percent of the country’s population. The rest of the Top 5 countries for Christian populations, in descending order, are Brazil with 177 million, Mexico with 188 million, Russia with 105 million, and the Philippines with 87 million.

Based on theology, 50 percent of the world’s Christians are Catholic; 37 percent are broadly defined Protestant, and 12 percent are Orthodox Christians, according to the study. The remaining 1 percent are in the “other Christians” category that includes Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

There are 279 million pentecostal and 305 million charismatic Christians worldwide. In addition, 285 million Christians are classified as evangelicals because they either belong to churches affiliated with regional or global evangelical associations, or because they self-identify as evangelicals, the study said. Since many pentecostals and charismatics are also evangelicals, these categories are not mutually exclusive, according to Pew Forum researchers.

More information, the complete study, and a quiz are available online at pewforum.org.