The shifting global church
Published 23 December 2011
A hundred years ago, the centre of Christianity was Europe. Today, Christianity is declining across its former heartland as the church rises in Africa, Asia and the Americas.
The latest report from the US-based Pew Forum puts the number of Christians in the world today at 2.18 billion – nearly a third of the global population.
The number of Christians has risen from 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion today, in accordance with a growth in the world’s general population from 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion.
The correlating rise in Christian and world populations means that Christians account for the same portion today (32%) as they did a century ago (35%).
Although the majority of Christians still live in the Americas and Europe (63%), they claim a smaller share of the total Christian population worldwide today than they did a hundred years ago, when they accounted for 93%.
In 1910, 66.3% of the world’s Christians were Europeans. Now, according to Pew, that figure is just 25.9%.
Conversely, sub-Saharan Africa was home to only 1.4% of the world’s Christians in 1910 but 23.6% today.
Christians in the Americas accounted for 27.1% in 1910 but for 36.8% today, in Asia-Pacific 4.5% in 1910 and 13.1% today.
In terms of the proportionality, the percentage of Europeans who are Christian has fallen in the last century from 95% to 76%, while the percentage of Christian Americans has dropped from 96% to 86%.
Nonetheless, the Americas have both the largest number and highest proportion of Christians.
According to the report, more than a third of Christians worldwide (37%) live in the Americas, where nine in ten people (86%) are Christian.
The Americas are home to the three countries with the largest Christian population - the US, Brazil and Mexico. Together, they account for nearly one in ever four Christians in the world.
As the church continues to experience decline in Europe, Christians are growing in number in sub-Saharan Africa, which has seen a jump from 9% of the region’s population a hundred years ago, to 63% today.
The report also reveals the diversity of the global church, with Catholics accounting for half of all Christians (50.1%), followed by Protestants (36.7%). Orthodox Christians are the third largest group (11.9%).
Despite the shift away from Europe, Pew concludes that Christians are now so geographically widespread that “no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the centre of global Christianity”.
“Christianity today – unlike a century ago – is truly a global faith,” the report states.
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