Christians: Numbers, Growth, Demography

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As of 2020, Christianity has approximately 2.4 billion adherents according to the World Religion Database. This means that Christians make up about a third of the world's population, a position they the have held for at least the last 100 years. Christianity remains the dominant religion in the Western World, where 70 percent of the people there are Christians. The largest Christian denomination is the Roman Catholic Church, with 1.3 billion adherents, representing half of all Christians. [Source: Wikipedia, 2024]

A Pew Forum study in 2012 study estimated Christianity was the largest faith at 2.2 billion adherents or 31.5 percent of the world’s population, with Roman Catholics making up 48 percent of that total, Protestants — including Anglicans and non-denominational churches — at 37 percent and Orthodox at 12 percent. According to the Pew study, while two-thirds of Christians in 1910 were in Europe, they now are spread more widely throughout the world. [Source: AFP, December 20, 2011 =*=; Tom Heneghan, Reuters, December 18, 2012]

The United States, Brazil and Mexico are home to the largest number of Christians, with Russia, the Philippines and Nigeria having the biggest numbers in Europe, Asia-Pacific and Africa respectively. Nearly 37 percent of Christians live in North and South America, and 26 percent in Europe, while 23.6 percent are in sub-Saharan Africa and 13.1 percent in the Asia-Pacific. Only 0.6 percent live in the Middle East and North Africa. =*=

The Pew report findings were primarily based on a country-by-country analysis of about 2,400 data sources, including censuses and population surveys. In an report earlier report Pew estimated the world's Muslim population at 1.6 billion — a figure it said was projected to grow by about 35 percent to 2.2 billion by 2030. Another Pew study found that Christianity is the most evenly spread religion, present in all regions of the world, while Hinduism is the least global with 94 percent of its population in one country, India. The study, based on extensive data for the year 2010, also showed Islam and Hinduism are the faiths mostly likely to expand in the future while Jews have the weakest growth prospects. [Source: Tom Heneghan, Reuters, December 18, 2012]

Websites and Resources: Christianity BBC on Christianity ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Sacred Texts website ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers

Definition of a Christian

The term Christian is generally used to denote specific aspects of Christianity and its body of believers, who regard Christ as head of the religion and practice their religion in places called churches. A church is looked upon as spiritual place and usually refers to a building but can also describe a nationally or denominationally organized group such as the Roman Catholic Church or Baptist Church. [Source: Geoffrey Wigoder, “Encyclopaedia Judaica”, 1960s,]

Geoffrey Wigoder wrote in in the Encyclopaedia Judaica: The early followers of Jesus referred to themselves as "brethren" (Acts 1:16), "disciples" (Acts 11:26), and "believers" (Acts 2:44), and the Jews at first called them "Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5) – i.e., probably the followers of Jesus the Nazarene (cf. Matt. 2:23). The term "Christians" seems to have been applied to them at first by outsiders (Acts 11:26), but was soon adopted by them as a convenient term of identification. In 64 c.e., during the Neronian persecution, the term seems to have already become current in Rome (Tacitus, Annals 15:44).

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “The term "Christian" was first coined in Antioch probably some ten maybe even fifteen years after the death of Jesus. Now while this term Christian of course becomes the standard terminology for all later Christian traditions, and we think of it in much more lofty and positive terms, at the time that it was coined it was probably a slur. It was probably thrown at these early followers of Jesus as some derogatory designation of them. This is what we often see happening with new religious movements.... We often find in the sociology of sectarian groups that the group may have one self designation. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998]

“They may call themselves "the way" or "the true light" or something like that because that's their religious self conception, but outsiders will often label them by the name of the leader or the name of some catchy element in their message that sparks their interest. So when we hear at Antioch that they're called "Christians" we have to think of that in more in the vein of them being called "Messianists" or "Christies." People who follow a Messiah or just talk about the Messiah an awful lot and we're not actually sure who coined the term. Whether it's other Jews who didn't believe in the Messiah or pagans who heard these Jewish groups talking about messianic ideas. It's not entirely clear.

Characteristics of Christians

Christians around the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1941

Christians believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and follow the way of life inaugurated by him. According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: “More than other major religions, Christianity centers on a person. Muslims do not claim the sort of relationship to Muhammad that Christians claim with Jesus, and the same holds true for Judaism, Confucianism, Taoism, and most forms of Buddhism with regard to their respective founders. The New Testament refers to the community of believers as "the body of Christ," which signifies an intimate bond between Jesus and the church. [Source: Michael J. McClymond, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Christians believe: 1) that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament; 2) that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; 3) that God sent his Son to earth to save humanity from the consequences of its sins. 4) One of the most important concepts in Christianity is that of Jesus giving his life on the Cross (the Crucifixion) and rising from the dead on the third day (the Resurrection). 5) Christians believe that there is only one God, but that there are three elements to this one God: A) God the Father; BI) God the Son; and C). The Holy Spirit.

Christians worship in churches. Their spiritual leaders are called priests or ministers. The Christian holy book is the Bible, and consists of the Old and New Testaments. Christian holy days such as Easter and Christmas are important milestones in the Western secular calendar. [Source: BBC]

Where Christians Live (By Country and Region)

According to Pew: Almost half (48 percent) of all Christians live in the 10 countries. with the largest share in the United States (11 percent), followed by Brazil (8 percent), Mexico (5 percent), Russia (5 percent), the Philippines (4 percent), Nigeria (4 percent), China (3 percent), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (3 percent), Germany (3 percent) and Ethiopia (2 percent). [Source: Pew Research Center, December 19, 2011]

Most Christians (87 percent) live in countries where Christians are in the majority. Although they comprise just under a third of the world’s people, they form a majority of the population in 158 countries and territories, about two-thirds of all the countries and territories in the world. About 90 percent of Christians live in countries where Christians are in the majority; only about 10 percent of Christians worldwide live as minorities. However, most of the Christian-majority countries have relatively small populations: about seven-in-ten have fewer Christians than the Christian-minority country of Vietnam (7 million Christians).

Three of the top 10 countries are in the Americas (the United States, Brazil and Mexico). Two are in Europe (Russia and Germany), two are in the Asia-Pacific region (the Philippines and China), and three are in sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia), reflecting Christianity’s global reach. Though Christianity began in the Middle East-North Africa, today that region has both the lowest concentration of Christians (about 4 percent of the region’s population) and the smallest number of Christians (about 13 million) of any major geographic region. Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, is home to more Christians 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. More than a third of Christians worldwide (37 percent) live in the Americas, where nearly nine-in-ten people (86 percent) are Christian. The United States, Brazil and Mexico alone account for nearly one in every four Christians in the world (24 percent), about the same proportion as the whole of Europe (26 percent) and all of sub-Saharan Africa (24 percent). Although Christians make up a smaller portion of the 2010 population in the Americas (86 percent) than they did in 1910 (96 percent), the Americas account for a higher share of the world’s Christians (37 percent, up from 27 percent in 1910).6

But Sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region now have a combined population of about 800 million Christians, roughly the same as the Americas. And five of the top 10 countries with the largest Christian populations are either in Africa (Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia) or Asia (Philippines and China).

Countries With the Most and Highest Percentage of Christians

Countries with the largest number of Christians
Rank — Country — Christians — percent Christian
1) — United States — 246,790,000 — 79.5 percent
2) — Brazil — 175,700,000 — 90.2 percent
3) — Mexico — 107,780,000 — 95 percent
4) — Russia — 105,220,000 — 73.6 percent
5) — Philippines — 86,790,000 — 93.1 percent
6) — Nigeria — 80,510,000 — 50.8 percent
7) — China — 67,070,000 — 5.0 percent
8) — Congo DR — 63,150,000 — 95.7 percent
9) — Germany — 58,240,000 — 70.8 percent
10)— South Africa — 52,886,000 — 85.3 percent
[Source: Pew Research Center in 2010]

Countries with the highest percentage of the population that is Christian
Rank — Country — percent Christian — Christians
1) — Vatican City — 100 percent — 800
2) — Romania — 99 percent — 21,490,000
3) — Papua New Guinea — 99 percent — 6,860,000
4) — Tonga — 99 percent — 100,000
5)— Timor-Leste — 99 percent — 1,120,000
6) — Armenia — 98.5 percent — 3,090,000
7) — Namibia — 97.6 percent — 2,280,000
8) — Marshall Islands — 97.5 percent — 50,000
9)— Moldova — 97.5 percent — 3,570,000
10)— Solomon Islands — 97.5 percent — 520,000
[Source: Pew Research Center in 2010]

Growth of Christianity in the Past and the Future

According to Pew, the number of Christians around the world has nearly quadrupled in a 100 years, from about 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion in 2010. During the same time the world’s overall population grew at about the same rate from an estimated 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion in 2010. Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population today (32 percent) as they did a century ago (35 percent). The fastest growth in the number of Christians over the past century has been in sub-Saharan Africa (a roughly 60-fold increase, from fewer than 9 million in 1910 to more than 516 million in 2010) and in the Asia-Pacific region (a roughly 10-fold increase, from about 28 million in 1910 to more than 285 million in 2010). [Source: Pew Research Center, December 19, 2011]

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: During the 1900s, the two world wars in Europe, the spread of communism, and the growth of secularism in Europe brought an effective end to the perceived link between Christianity and Western culture. Following World War II, there has been an astonishing expansion of Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. China, with only a million Christians in 1949, somewhere between 50 and 100 million Christians, and about 10,000 new converts every day. In Africa during the 1900s, the Christian population mushroomed from 9 to 335 million Christians. In Latin America, Pentecostalism has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the dominant faith in many regions. During the last decade, millions of Dalits in India (formerly known as "untouchables") have converted to Christianity.[Source: Michael J. McClymond, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

While the churches of Europe are losing members, and those of North America are statistically stagnant, the situation in the developing world is different. Until the 1960s African Christianity was tied to colonialism, yet the expansion of Christianity occurred through Bible translations, village schools, and traveling African catechists (religious instructors) as much as through the activities of missionaries. The intense prayer, evangelistic fervor, and openness to the miraculous that characterize the Pentecostal movement—now numbering 524 million adherents—could set the future direction for world Christianity. Today Korean, Brazilian, and Chinese missionaries are being sent out to evangelize Muslims, and some are going as missionaries to secular Europeans, a trend that Philip Jenkins has dubbed "the empire strikes back."

According the 2012 Pew Research Center survey Christianity will remain the world's largest religion at least unto around 2050 and probably well beyond that. In 2050, the Christian population is projected to exceed 3 billion. While Muslims have an average of 3.1 children per woman—the highest rate of all religious groups—Christians are second, with 2.7 children per woman. High birth rates and conversion have been cited as the main reason for Christian population growth. A 2015 study found that approximately 10.2 million Muslims converted to Christianity.

Global Shifts in the World’s Christian Population

In the past century there have been great regional shifts in where Christians live. Christianity is growing in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Muslim world, and Oceania but has remained relatively static, percentage-wise, in Europe and the U.S. and North America.

According to Pew Christianity has grown enormously in sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, where there were relatively few Christians at the beginning of the 20th century. The share of the population that is Christian in sub-Saharan Africa soared from 9 percent in 1910 to 63 percent in 2010, while in the Asia-Pacific region it rose from 3 percent to 7 percent. Christianity now – unlike a century ago – is truly a global faith.

In 1910, about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe, where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium, according to historical estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Today, only about a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (26 percent). A plurality – more than a third – now are in the Americas (37 percent). About one in every four Christians lives in sub-Saharan Africa (24 percent), and about one-in-eight is found in Asia and the Pacific (13 percent).

Christian Numbers in the Holy Land Shrinking

Today, Christians make up just 1 percent of the mainly Muslim population of the Palestinian territories. In 1920, they were a tenth of the population of Palestine — which included Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Manfred Ernst wrote: Christians has traditionally regarded itself as the successor and legitimate heir of Biblical Israel. Even in recent decades Christians in once large, healthy and vibrant communities of the Holy Land and the Middle East has been forced to flee the places of their birth. According to the World Council of Churches, the number of Christians in the Middle East had declined from 12 million in the late 1990s to 2 million in the late 2000s. For a long time the majority population of Lebanon was Christian — the only country in the Middle East in which that was the case. No longer. Now Muslims make to two thirds of the population, The proportion of Christians in Bethlehem has shrunk from 85 percent to 20 percent . In Egypt the number of Coptic Christian has shrunk from 10 percent to 6 percent . In recent years Christians in Iraq have been forced to flee Iraq at the risk of being killed if they didn’t. Many have been killed. [Source: Manfred Ernst, La transformación del Cristianismo en Oceanía: un panorama regional Christianismes en Océanie : un panorama régional, p. 29-45, 2012]

Tom Perry of Reuters wrote: “In the land where Jesus lived, Christians say their dwindling numbers are turning churches from places of worship into museums. And when Christian pilgrims come from all over the world to visit the places of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, they find them divided by a concrete wall. [Source: Tom Perry, Reuters, October 21, 2010 ]

“Members of the Abu al-Zulaf family, Palestinian Christians, have left the hills and olive groves of their village near Bethlehem for Sweden and the United States, seeking a better life than that on offer in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Pope Benedict, worried about the shrinking Christian presence in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, has called a synod of bishops this month to discuss how to preserve Christianity’s oldest communities in the Middle East. Ayman Abu al-Zulaf, 41, moved to France in 1998. But he returned to Beit Sahour, the village where he was born, a year later. “I needed to be here, not in France,” he said. “Without Christians, the Holy Land, the land of Jesus, has no value.”

“Decades of conflict, shifting borders and occupation are the root causes of the poor economic situation that is forcing Christians to seek better lives abroad, Eissa said. In Bethlehem alone, the Christian population has slumped to 7,500 from 20,000 in 1995. Then, the Middle East peace process had created hope that a Palestinian state would emerge alongside Israel. Some Christians who had left came back.”

Christian Denominations and Diversity

As we said before about 48 percent of Christians are Catholics and 37 percent are Protestant, broadly defined to include Anglicans as well as independent and nondenominational churches. Orthodox Christians, which members of Greek and Russian Orthodox church,, make up 12 percent of Christians. People who belong to other traditions that view themselves as Christian (including Christian Scientists, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses) make up about 1 percent of the global Christian population. [Source: Pew Research Center, December 18, 2012; Pew Research Center, December 19, 2011]

Nigeria now has more than twice as many Protestants as Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. Brazil has more than twice as many Catholics as Italy, where the Vatican, the seat of Catholicism, is..

According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, there are about 279 million Pentecostal Christians and 305 million charismatic Christians worldwide. (Charismatic Christians belong to non-Pentecostal denominations yet engage in spiritual practices associated with pentecostalism, such as speaking in tongues and divine healing). In addition, more than 285 million Christians can be classified as evangelicals because they either belong to churches affiliated with regional or global evangelical associations, or because they identify as evangelicals. Since many pentecostals and charismatics are also evangelicals, these categories are not mutually exclusive.

According to Pew, In many cases however, censuses and surveys do not contain detailed information on denominational and religious movement affiliations. Christian organizations remain in many cases the only source of information on the size of global movements within Christianity (such as evangelicalism and pentecostalism) and on Protestant denominational families (such as Baptists and Methodists). The figures in this report on pentecostal, charismatic and evangelical Christians and on Protestant denominational families were commissioned by the Pew Forum from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., whose researchers generated estimates based in large part on figures provided by Christian organizations around the world. Readers should bear in mind that these breakdowns were derived differently from the overall Christian population estimates.

Christian Demography

As a whole, Christians are older (median age of 30) than the overall global population (median age of 28). Among the six regions analyzed in this study, Christians are youngest in sub- Saharan Africa (median age of 19), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (27), Asia and the Pacific (28), the Middle East and North Africa (29) and North America (39). Europe has the oldest Christian population (42). [Source: Pew Research Center, December 18, 2012]

Christians are older than the general population in four regions: the Middle East and North Africa (where the Christian median is 29 years and the general population median is 24 years), North America (39 vs. 37), Europe (42 vs. 40), and sub-Saharan Africa (19 vs. 18). Christians have the same median age as the general population in Latin America and the Caribbean (27). Christians are younger than the general population in the Asia-Pacific region (28 vs. 29).

Michael J. McClymond wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”:The twentieth century brought massive changes in world Christianity. In 1900 nearly 80 percent of all Christians were white, and the demographic center of Christianity lay in Europe and North America. By 2000 only 45 percent of the world's Christians were white, and the most dynamic and rapidly growing Christian communities were located in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The cultural impact of Bible translations, the first written texts in most African languages, is hard to overestimate. The translations helped to preserve indigenous languages and, with them, many oral traditions. Today African Christianity is phenomenally diverse, with thousands of groups and movements. Some African Initiated Churches (AICs) hold to customs, such as polygamy and ancestor veneration, that were forbidden by European colonists and missionaries. [Source: Michael J. McClymond, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Pew Research Center

Text Sources: Pew Research Center, Wikipedia Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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