Even if many U.S. churches are facing challenges, global Christianity is advancing in ways previous generations could have only imagined.
By Aaron Earls
Despite some recent encouraging trends, most U.S. churches are still recovering from the pandemic, with attendance remaining below what it was in early 2020. That could give a picture of a Christianity struggling to advance or even one barely surviving.
The latest statistics and projections from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (CSGC) paint a much different picture, however. The global church is advancing in ways previous generations could have only imagined.
Here are seven trends to encourage you about the status of Christianity around the world from the 2023 Status of Global Christianity Report.
1. The religious are growing 2.5 times as fast as the nonreligious
The global population is increasing at a 1.18% rate. The population of religious adherents has a 1.26% growth rate, while the nonreligious have a 0.56% growth rate. Four different religious groups are growing faster than the population as a whole, including the three largest—Christianity (1.18%), Islam (1.87%), and Hinduism (1.2%).
Nonreligious people make up slightly more than 11% of the global population today. By 2050, the CSGC projects that percentage to fall below 9%. Currently, less than 2% of people around the world are atheists. Fewer atheists are in the world today (149 million) than in 1970 (165 million).Currently, less than 2% of people around the world are atheists. Fewer atheists are in the world today (149 million) than in 1970 (165 million), according to the @CSGC. Click To Tweet
2. Christianity continues to grow
Growing at a 1.18% rate, Christianity continues to be the largest religion in the world, with an estimated 2.6 billion global adherents, up from slightly less than 2 billion in 2000. By 2050, the CSGC projects Christianity to top 3.3 billion.
3. Evangelicals and Pentecostals are growing fastest
Catholics (1.26 billion) are the largest group within Christianity but one of the slowest growing (0.93%). Evangelicals (1.79%) and Pentecostals (1.88%) are experiencing much faster growth, particularly Pentecostals.
In 1900, Pentecostals numbered fewer than 1 million. By 2000, they topped 440 million. Currently, they have almost 680 million and are projected to reach 1 billion before 2050.
4. Growth is most concentrated in Africa and Asia
The two fastest-growing continents are experiencing the fastest growth of Christianity—Asia (1.62%) and Africa (2.76%).
In 1900, fewer than 10 million Christians lived in Africa, ahead of only Oceania in terms of Christian population. Currently, however, more Christians live in Africa (718 million) than in any other region. The continent is home to more than 1 in 4 global Christians. The Christian population in Africa is expected to reach 1 billion before 2050.In 1900, fewer than 10 million Christians lived in Africa. Currently, however, more Christians live in Africa (718 million) than in any other global region, according to the @CSGC. Click To Tweet
While not growing as rapidly as Africa, Asia is also experiencing dramatic growth in Christianity. Currently, more than 400 million Christians call Asia home. By 2050, that number is projected to be near 600 million. The region will be home to more Christians than Europe and will trail only Africa and Latin America (678 million).
5. Non-Christians are more likely to know a Christian
In 1900, 95% of all Christians lived in a Christian-majority country. As a result, only 5.4% of all non-Christians knew a follower of Jesus. Today, 53.6% of Christians live in a Christian country, and 18.3% of non-Christians know a Christian.
By 2050, Christians will be evenly split between those who live in a majority-Christian country (50%) and those who live as a religious minority (50%). Additionally, more than 1 in 5 non-Christians (20.2%) will personally know a Christian.
6. Fewer people have never heard the gospel
While the number of people who have never heard someone share with them about Jesus continues to increase, they make up a shrinking percentage of the global population. In 1900, most of the world (54.3%) was unevangelized. By 2023, that has fallen to 28%.In 1900, most of the world (54.3%) was unevangelized. By 2023, that has fallen to 28%, according to the @CSGC. Click To Tweet
7. More Bibles for more readers
The world’s population is growing more literate. The percentage of adults who could read climbed from 27.6% in 1900 to 84.1% today and is expected to climb to 88% in 2050.
Those new readers will have more access to Bibles, as 95 million copies of God’s Word will be printed this year, up from 5 million in 1900. Combining the newly printed Bibles with those already in existence means around 1.78 billion copies of Scripture will be in circulation this year. By 2050, 120 million Bibles will be printed that year, with 2.3 billion copies in place.
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Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.