Today, there are two times as many Catholics in Brazil as in Italy.
In Nigeria, there are two times the number of Protestants as Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant reformation.
These factoids and many more like it can be found in a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. The data-rich survey, released yesterday, includes valuable findings on the size and distribution of the world’s Christian population.
Key findings include:
- There are 2.18 billion Christians in more than 200 countries around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 6.9 billion 2010 global population. Christians are so geographically widespread that a single continent or region can't claim to be the center of global Christianity.
- In 1910, two-thirds of Christians lived in Europe. Today, only about a quarter of all Christians (26 percent) live in Europe. A plurality — more than a third (37 percent) — now reside in the Americas. About one in every four Christians (24 percent) lives in sub-Saharan Africa and about one-in-eight (13 percent) is found in Asia and the Pacific.
- In the last 100 years, the number of Christians has more than tripled, from about 600 million in 1910 to more than two billion today. But the world’s overall population has also risen rapidly. As a result, Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population in 2010 as they did a century ago.
- While Europe and the Americas are still home to a majority of the world's Christians (63 percent), that share is much lower than it was in 1910 (93 percent). Christianity is growing enormously in sub-Saharan Africa (from 9 percent in 1910 to 63 percent in 2010).
That last finding is key to understanding the ways the Western world is approaching missions these days, the Rev. Scott Parrish at Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church in Augusta said.
"We're entering an exciting new era," said Parrish, pastor of outreach and mission ministries. Even though Christian populations have skyrocketed in places like Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin American, "There's still a need for us in the U.S. to build connections to other parts of the world. We have historically done that with missionaries. We still are, but the approach has changed."
Missions today, he said, are less likely to buy into old, paternalistic models as non-Western churches have grown.
"It's more appropriate - and more effective - to approach missions as brother to brother, sister to sister, not as a parent to a child," Parrish said. "Fifteen or 20 years ago, we'd send a team one time and maybe build a church. Now, we tend to look for the long-term relationships. There's a deepening of life and faith on both sides."
How is your church partnering with Christians around the world? Has your church sent missionaries to a historically Christian region now experiencing decline? Tell me about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.