*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 8th of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Mailtime! I received an email from Tim in Peoria, Illinois (the home of long-time Clipper broadcaster Ralph Lawler!)
I edited down the longer paragraph sized question into this:
How Christian is the world today, and is it more or less than in the past?
I love this question- and you mentioned in your email some of your reasons for asking this- especially the theological issue of what it means for the Great Commission.
Now- this question can get us into end-times discussions. If you remember Millennium-based end times theories a “pre-millennial” person might be more pessimistic. After all, the world is getting worse and worse. And if you are “Post-millennial” you expect things to get better and better and possibly “more” Christian.
Another question that this question raises is how we can know who is Christian and who is not Christian. And you can probably see the theological implications for answering this question. If you belong to a small sect that doesn’t recognize the validity of another body your number will be smaller. We’re doing sociology with this question as much as we are theology.
Also- national churches are a problem. In some places, you are put on the roster when you are born. The church receives money based on the number of members and so no one gets removed from the rolls unless specifically ask.
The first part of the question that needs to be addressed is what we mean by “before”. The farther back we go the more variables we have to account for. The Pew Research Center Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted a study that looked at this question among others between 1910 and 2010.
The first finding is that the percentage of Christians has remained relatively static. The number of Christians has gone from 600 Million in 1910 to over 200 billion today. But the population grew too, from 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%) as they did a century ago (35%)”
The story of Christianity in the past century or so isn’t necessarily growth relative to population but rather its spread. In 1910 66 percent of the world’s Christians lived in Europe. Today Europe accounts for about 26 percent of the world Christians, just a click up from Sub-Saharan Africa which today has about 24% of the world's population. That’s wild especially given the fact that in 1910 Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for about 1%. The Americas and Asia have both grown slightly but the Middle East and North Africa have remained static at less than 1%!
Here are some more findings from Pew and the Center for the Study of Global Christianity
About half are Catholic. Protestants, broadly defined, makeup 37%. Orthodox Christians comprise 12% of Christians worldwide.
“Though Christianity began in Middle East-North Africa, today that region has both the lowest concentration of Christians (about 4% of the region’s population) and the smallest number of Christians (about 13 million) of any major geographic region.”
(Perhaps there is something here about a prophet in his hometown)
“Nigeria now has more than twice as many Protestants (broadly defined to include Anglicans and independent churches) as Germany”
“Brazil has more than twice as many Catholics as Italy"
In terms of a stat that shows the shift in the location of the church- check this one out.
In 1910 the Global North had 82% of the world’s Christians. By 2010 that number dropped to 39%. The Global South went from 18% to 60%!
And I think this gets us to the most important finding- the church is spreading and growing multi-polar. There is no one central location for Christians. But the emphasis on growth has been in places like Africa and South America.
The study is more sociological than theological- but it gives us a general picture of a church that is slightly growing, but more importantly spreading. Even to the ends of the earth.
Thanks, Tim for your question
The last word for today comes from Matthew 28:
Jesus came near and spoke to [the disciples], “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who does indeed “play in Peoria” He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who doesn’t like to explain Christopher's nicknames, but “playing in Peoria” is a colloquialism… nevermind. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.