Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christianity: 100 Years of Boom & Bust

What are the most important changes that occurred in the Christian world over the past 100 years?

In 1910, Christianity was far and away the largest faith on the planet and it was the faith of the wealthy Global North. 34.8% of the human race was Christian. The next largest group of believers were Chinese folk religionists. Hinduism was a distant 3rd with 12.7% and Islam was right behind it at 12.6%.

No one could have foreseen what was about to happen. Although the percentage of the world's population that was Christian held basically steady (in 2010, Christians make up 33.2% of the world), where they lived shifted in a dramatic way.

1. Shift to the Global South. In 1910, roughly 82% of all Christians lived in the "west" or global north: Europe and North America. A century later, 60% of all Christians would live in the global south: Africa, Asia, Latin America. The graph below shows the proportion of Christians in the north and south over the centuries. Notice that the Reformation and the Council of Trent occurred at the one point in history where about 92% of all Christians lived in Europe. The bump you see after that is the spread of the faith to the Americas and the Catholic missionary movement in Asia. But when we get to the 20th century, things really begin to take off. Christianity became majority southern in 1981 - within the lifetimes of most of us reading these words.


2. Christianization of Africa. Africa had 11.7 million Christians and 40 million Muslims in 1910. Who would have guessed that African Christianity would multiply 40 times in a century to almost 500 million and would include 48% of the African people in 2010? By 2050, the AGC predicts that Christians will form a majority (52%) in Africa.

3. Growth of the Church in East Asia. Christianity is growing all over Asia - Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, etc. But the explosion of Christianity in China and South Korea has seen the Christian population in east Asia grow from 2.3 million to 140 million (9%) since 1910. Christianity grew 4 times faster than the population and there is no end in sight. In 40 years, Christians will likely comprise almost 16% of the east Asian population and Christians in Asia will outnumber Buddhists.

4. Decline in the West.

The boom in the south has unfortunately been offset by a marked decline of Christian practice in the part of the world that has been the center of Christianity for the past 1000 years. In 1910, Europe was nearly 95% Christian and contained 66% of all Christians in the world, A century later, only 80% of Europe's population was Christian and only 25.6% of the world's Christians lived there.

The predictions for 2050 show the basic pattern of European decline continuing: Only 76.6% of Europeans are expected to be Christian 40 years from now and only 15.8% of all Christians will live in Europe. (I'll deal with this complicated issue in a separate post.)

5. Emergence of Independent Christianity. 2010: 369 million. 16.1% of Christians. The Atlas of Global Christianity defines "independents" as "believers who do not identify with the major Christian traditions (Anglican, Orthodox, Protestant, Roman Catholic) They are independent of historic, organized, institutionalized, and denominational Christianity."

In 1910, independent Christians were found largely in Polynesia and the US. In 2010, Independents number 369 million, make up 16.1% of Christians, and are spread all over the world. The largest independent group of Christians are Chinese charismatics (77 million). Africa has the largest number of independent congregations today and is one of the major centers of Independent Christianity along with China and the US. What is surprising is that the 100 year Independent growth rate in Europe was 10 times faster than population growth. One reason is the number of large African Independent congregations in major European cities but there are also an increasing number of white-led Independent groups across the continent. Northern Europe has the highest percentage of Independent Christians in Europe.

6. Worldwide Spread of Pentecostal Christianity ("Renewalists"). 1910: 1 million. 2010: 614 million. 26.7% of all Christians.

Renewalist is a short hand term for Pentecostal/charismatic/neocharismatic renewal which has grown almost 5 times faster than global Christianity over the past 100 years. It would include members of classic Pentecostal denominations, charismatic Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox, and a majority of Independent Christians. Renewalists now make up over 50% of Christians in 18 countries, including North Korea (88.3%), Nepal (86.9%), and China (81.1%). 22.7% of North Americans are renewalists. The largest renewalist group in the world is made up of charismatic Latin Rite Catholics (133 million).

Source: Catherine of Siena Institute

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