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Pew study shows Christianity counts as ‘truly a global faith’

A century ago, the geographic center of Christianity was in Europe and North America.

A new report on global Christianity reveals some interesting demographic shifts — including a decline in the predominance of Christianity in Europe and the Americas, and astounding growth of the faith in Africa and Asia. These changes make Christianity today what the report calls “truly a global faith.”

globalCurrently about 2.18 billion people around the world identify themselves as Christian, according to a new study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. That means nearly one-third of the world’s 6.9 billion people are Christian.

That’s about the same proportion as would have been found a century ago, but both the number of Christians and the overall population have increased significantly since then. The next-largest religious group, Muslims, accounts for a little less than a quarter of the world’s population.

Geographically, there have been huge shifts, according to Pew’s analysis of demographic information from more than 200 countries. In 1910, about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe. Now, only 26 percent do, with the rest dispersed in so many places that there’s no single geographic center for the religion.

A quarter of the world’s Christians (24 percent) live in sub-Saharan Africa. More than one-third (37 percent) live in the Americas. And 13 percent are in Asia and the Pacific.

The fastest growth in Christianity over the last century has been in sub-Saharan Africa — roughly a 60-fold increase, from fewer than 9 million Christians in 1910 to more than 516 million in 2010. The Asia-Pacific region has seen a 10-fold increase, from about 28 million Christians a century ago to more than 285 million today.

The Pew report is based on a country-by-country analysis of about 2,400 data sources, including census reports and national population surveys.

Here are some of the report’s highlights.

Geographic shift. The Pew report describes a “momentous shift” in the century from 1910 to 2010. While most Christians today still live in Europe and the Americas (63 percent), that portion is significantly smaller than it was 100 years ago (93 percent). The proportion of Europeans and Americans who are Christians has dropped too over that century — from 95 percent to 76 percent among Europeans, and from 96 to 86 percent in the Americas. During that same period, Christianity grew tremendously in sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific region.

Theological diversity. About half the world’s Christians are Catholics, about 37 percent Protestant (broadly defined, including Anglicans and independent Christians) and 12 percent Orthodox Christians. There are geographic changes within those subgroups as well. Brazil now has more than twice as many Catholics as Italy, France and Spain combined, for example. Nigeria has twice as many Protestants as Germany, where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimates there are about 279 million Pentecostal Christians and 305 million charismatic Christians worldwide.

Distribution. Just under half of the world’s Christians (48 percent) live in the 10 countries with the greatest numbers of Christians. Three of those nations are in the Americas (the United States, Brazil and Mexico); two in Europe (Russia and Germany); two in Asia (the Philippines and China); and three in Africa (Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia).

Although only about 10 percent of Christians live as minorities in their countries, that amounts to nearly 208 million people — with the biggest number living in China, which the report states probably has more Christians than any country in Europe except for Russia.

Christians make up the majority of the population in 158 territories and countries — about two-thirds of all the territories and countries in the world. Roughly nine in 10 Christians live in countries in which Christians are the majority. The lowest concentration of Christians is in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, where only about 4 percent of the people today are Christian.