Christianity Around the World

How many Christians are there in the world today? If your answer was somewhere near 2.2 billion then you are right. These findings are from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Global Christianity report (December 2011).

Christian Denominations Worldwide

Now what about the different denominations: how many are Roman Catholics? Well, just over 50% are Roman Catholics. Protestants make up 37% and Orthodox (in various forms) are a touch under 12%. Remember that the definitions of denominations are general. These groupings are said to be sociological rather than theological (p. 7).

Despite an increase in the number of Christians, the proportion in the world population has not increased dramatically. We still make up the same proportion basically as we did a century ago.

Christianity Across the World

Which country has the largest number of Christians? Try the USA. Surprised?

The real geographic change that has occurred is that 100 years ago around two thirds of Christians were in Europe but now only around a quarter are found in Europe. Most Christians are found in the Americas (804 million), followed by Europe (566 million) but sub-Saharan Africa is close behind with 515 million.

Christians as Minorities

We are used to countries where Christianity is the main faith, and where there is freedom of religion but this is not the case throughout the world. Many countries have Christian minorities.

For instance, the number of Christians in some countries such as China is large but Christians still constitute only some 5% of the total Chinese population. China, India and Indonesia have the largest number of Christians living as minorities. Our nearest neighbour, Indonesia, has around 21 million Christians (p. 19).

Orthodox Christians in the World Today

What about Orthodox? The findings from the latest report indicated that there are about 260 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. We make up around one-eighth of the world's Christians.

But the definition of Orthodox that is used in this survey is general. It includes churches that are non-canonical. To be fair, the report noted: "We are attempting to count groups and individuals who selfidentify as Christian. This includes people who hold beliefs that may be viewed as unorthodox or heretical by other Christians. It also includes Christians who seldom pray or go to church" (p. 7).

In which country would you find the most Orthodox? You would be correct if you said Russia. It has about 40% of all Orthodox. For the most part the Orthodox Christian population is European-based.

Implications

The first implication is that Christians do not dominate the religious world. Christians continue to be a minority. Orthodox are a minority within this minority. Secondly, Catholics and Protestants dominate the Christian denominations. Their beliefs will affect the way they view the world. More importantly, their behaviour has affected the way the rest of the world will view Christianity.

Of course, there are concerns with these types of statistics. They only describe. They do not explain or predict. Moreover this numerical approach to worldwide faith seems to embody a consumer orientation. The emphasis on facts is like a type of market research. It is as though religion is some corporation surveying its customers. Statistics are most valuable when they address practical questions.

Source: The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (2011). Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population.

Dr Jim Athanasou
St Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College


This article first appeared in the Greek Australian Vema in October 2012