It can be difficult to imagine areas where not only are there no churches, but there may not be a Christian. It’s more common than you think.
By Aaron Earls
For individuals raised in areas with a church on every corner, it can be difficult to imagine places where not only are there no churches, but there may not be a single Christian. Globally, however, it’s probably more common than you think.
According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, only 19% of those belonging to a non-Christian religion personally know a Christian. When considering the three largest religions other than Christianity—Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism—there adherents were even less likely to have personal contact with a Christian (14%).Globally, only 19% of those belonging to a non-Christian religion personally know a Christian, according to the @CSGC. Click To Tweet
In some countries, however, the percentage falls even lower. That is particularly true in nations that are overwhelmingly Muslim. Of the 10 nations with the lowest percentage of people who know a Christian, Muslims make up at least 98% of the population in each of them in all but one—North Korea.
According to the CSGC, the 10 countries with the lowest percentage of personal contact with a Christian all have a rate lower than 7.5%, meaning less than 8 in 100 non-Christian residents of each of these countries know a Christian.
1. Afghanistan (2.9% of non-Christians know a Christian)
From 1970 to 2020, the tiny Christian population in Afghanistan grew but remains less than half a percent of the total population. Currently, there are an estimated 10,000 Christians in the country, accounting for 0.45%. It is the only nation in the world where less than 5% of non-Christians know a believer.Afghanistan is the only nation in the world where less than 5% of non-Christians know a believer. Click To Tweet
In the most recent World Watch List from Open Doors, a Christian persecution awareness organization, Afghanistan ranks as the 2nd worst nation to be a follower of Jesus.
“In Afghanistan, living openly as a Christian is impossible,” the report states. “Christian converts face dire consequences if their new faith is discovered. Essentially, converts have two options: flee the country or risk being killed.”
2. Mayotte (5.7%)
Comprising two small islands between Madagascar and Mozambique in the Indian Ocean, Mayotte is an overseas department of France and is overwhelmingly Muslim.
Since 1970, the Christian population grew by close to 1,000 people, while the islands’ population has grown by close to 250,000, according to the CSGC. Today, only 1,300 followers of Christ call the area home, amounting to 0.5% of residents.
3. Mauritania (5.9%)
On the western coast of Africa, Mauritania has a shrinking percentage of Christians facing severe persecution. Both CSGC and Open Doors estimate the Christian population to be around 10,000. Among a nation of close to 4.3 million, only 0.2% identify as Christian.
The predominately Muslim country ranks 20th in Open Doors’ World Watch List, stating, “Mauritania’s restrictive government makes it impossible for Christians to gather openly.”
4. North Korea (6.1%)
The only non-Muslim nation on the list, the officially irreligious North Korea ruthlessly persecutes any Christian resident. CSGC estimates the Christian population to be slightly more than 200,000, while Open Doors suggests it is closer to 400,000. Still, less than 2% of the population identify as Christian.Between 50,000-70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned in North Korea, according to @OpenDoors. Click To Tweet
For the past 20 years, North Korea has topped Open Doors’ World Watch List. “Being discovered as a Christian is a death sentence in North Korea,” according to the report. “If you aren’t killed instantly, you will be taken to a labor camp as a political criminal.” The organization estimates between 50,000-70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned there.
5. Algeria (6.1%)
According to CSGC, there are fewer Christians in the northern African country of Algeria than there were in 1970 (101,000 down to 72,400). Open Doors estimates a slightly higher Christian population, but both place the percentage as less than 0.5% of residents.
Algeria ranks 24th in Open Doors’ World Watch List where persecution comes from family, local leaders, and government officials. The organization notes authorities have engaged in a “systematic campaign against EPA churches (Protestant Church of Algeria), which has seen 13 churches forcibly closed by authorities.”
6. Western Sahara (6.6%)
The disputed territory in northwest Africa, Western Sahara consists of Morocco and a self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The Christian population has been decimated in the area. In 1970, 41% of the people were Christian. Today, CSGC estimates Christians amount to 0.1%.In 1970, 41% of the people in Western Sahara were Christian. Today, @CSGC estimates Christians amount to 0.1% of the population. Click To Tweet
For the few Christians in the area, persecution remains high, as Morocco ranks 27th on the World Watch List. According to Open Doors, Christian converts from Islam can lose their inheritance rights or even custody of their children.
7. Somalia (6.7%)
Many places in eastern Africa have experienced significant Christian growth, where more than 90% are becoming Christians in some nations—not Somalia however. What was already a small Christian population 50 years ago has dwindled even further down. Christians don’t even account for 0.1% of the population today. Open Doors estimates their number to be in the “hundreds” in a nation of more than 16 million.
Somalia is ranked 3rd on Open Doors’ World Watch List. “Islam is considered a crucial part of Somali identity,” according to the report. “Just being suspected of converting to Christianity is a death warrant.”
8. Turkey (7.2%)
Already less than 1% of the Turkish population in 1970, Christians have not only decreased in terms of population percentage, but they have also decreased numerically. While Turkey’s population grew from 35 million to more than 80 million today, the number of Christians dropped from 290,000 to 178,000 or 0.2% of the current population.
Open Doors placed Turkey 25th on their persecution rankings, saying “religious nationalism is very strong and growing, placing enormous pressure on Christians.” The organization also notes that Turkey records individuals’ religious affiliation on an electronic chip in their identity cards, making it easier to discriminate against Christians.
9. Yemen (7.3%)
Christianity is growing in Yemen but still only amounts to 0.2% of the population, according to the CSGC. In 1970, 1,700 Christians called Yemen home. Today, that has grown to 52,300—under immense persecution.Despite immense persecution, the Christian population in Yemen has grown from 1,700 in 1970 to 52,300 today, according to @CSGC. Click To Tweet
Yemen ranks 7th on Open Doors’ list due to threats from the government as well as Islamic extremists and tribes who may kill anyone who converts to Christianity. “In Yemen, Christians usually keep their faith secret,” according to the report. “Leaving Islam is forbidden, and all Yemenis are considered Muslims by the state.”
10. Iran (7.3%)
The Christian population in Iran has barely grown in the past 50 years, amounting to slightly more than 300,000 in a nation of 81 million. Followers of Jesus make up less than 0.5% of country’s people.
“The Iranian government sees the conversion of Muslims to Christianity as an attempt by Western countries to undermine the Islamic rule of Iran,” according to Open Doors in its ranking of Iran as 8th on the World Watch List. “Christians jailed for their faith in Iran are often sent to Evin Prison, known as the country’s ‘torture factory.’”
Other difficult nations for Christians
Libya, a northern African nation, ranks 4th on the World Watch List. “Only an estimated 150 Christians in Libya are indigenous—the majority are expatriate and migrant workers,” according to Open Doors.
More than 4 million Christians live in Pakistan, but at 2% of the population, they are considered second-class citizens by the Islamic government. Pakistan ranks 5th on the World Watch List.
Despite Christians representing almost half of the population in Eritrea, an eastern African nation ranked 6th on the World Watch List, believers who are not a part of the Eritrean Orthodox Church—the only Christian denomination recognized by the government—endure significant persecution.More Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country, according to @OpenDoors. Click To Tweet
Christianity continues to grow in the western African nation of Nigeria, where almost half of the population confesses Christ. However, the nation ranks 9th on the World Watch List due to Islamic extremist groups like Boko Haram killing Christians. In fact, according to Open Doors, “More Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country.”
India is home to more than 67 million Christians, but that only amounts to 5% of the almost 1.4 billion total population of the country. Hindu nationalists target Christians with violence and financial boycotts, causing the nation to be ranked 10th on the World Watch List.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.