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Christianity by the numbers on the world stage

Sun appearing over the India Ocean Credit: Nasa/Flickr

Sun appearing over the India Ocean Credit: Nasa/Flickr/Creative Commons

When you look at the overall stats on the impact of Christianity in the world, it initially seems a bit concerning. Facts and Trends recently wrote an article on current trends in worldwide Christianity based on a report published by Gordon-Cromwell Theological Seminary’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity. With a growth rate of 1.27%, Christianity is the fourth fastest growing religion in the world behind Islam that is growing at a rate of 1.95%, Sikhs that are growing at a rate of 1.66% and Hindus at 1.30%.

Despite its fourth place position, Christianity is growing faster than the world population that is increasing by 1.2% a year and with 2.5 billion Christians, it is the largest religious group in the world. The earth’s population sits at nearly 8 billion.

But when you take a closer look at the stats other interesting trends start to surface. Christianity is of course divided. According to the report, in 2019 there are 45,000 church denominations in the world encompassing 5.5 million congregations.

But some larger historical denominations such as Anglican, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Methodist have gone Liberal and by that I mean to varying degrees they reject the Bible as authoritative and do not believe in the physical resurrection of Christ. In fact, in the name of diversity the United Church of Canada recently allowed an atheist to pastor one of its churches.

As a consequence, membership in these Liberal denominations is falling with some denominations closing churches at nearly one a week.

In 2011, the Episcopal Church had 1.925 million members and by 2015 that had shrunk to around 1.78 million. But don’t let those membership numbers fool you, actual attendance is much lower. Over the same period, church attendance shrunk from 660,000 in 2011 to about 570,000 in 2015. In 2015, the Episcopal church closed 43 congregations and reported a church attendance decline of 20,631 or a 3.4% drop over the previous year.

I have at times wondered if this liberal trend in historical denominations is part of the “falling away” the Apostle Paul referred to (2 Thessalonians 2:3), that would take place prior to the second coming of Christ.

Yet despite the dramatic reductions being recorded by historical denominations, overall Christianity continues to grow.

Why is that?

It is because of the rapid increase among Pentecostal and Evangelical churches. And this is where the numbers get interesting. Pentecostals are increasing by an annual rate of 2.26% followed by evangelicals who increased by 2.19%, making them the fastest growing religious groups in the world.

Not only are they increasing, but their rate of increase is also growing. Two years earlier, Pentecostals were growing at a rate of 2.22% and Evangelicals 2.12%. In 2019, both these groups are growing faster than they did in 2017.

Those groups holding to a firm belief in the Bible’s authority are growing while those that don’t are falling.

Now based on the noise, a person would believe that the number of atheists in the world must be rapidly increasing as well. We have a known atheist pastoring a church in Canada, and we routinely hear of atheist groups using the courts to challenge such things as prayer in a public space and trying to force the removal of crosses.

But the stats show that atheists are not getting bigger, they are just getting noisier. In 1970 there were 165 million atheists in the world and today the number sits at 138 million and despite a marginal growth in recent years, it is expected that the number of atheists in the world will have shrunk to 130 million by 2050.


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