A new study states that Christianity is the world’s largest religion with just over a third of the global population identifying themselves as Christian.
The study was conducted by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and was titled “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population.”
The research was a comprehensive demographic study that looked at over 200 countries and their respective Christian populations. Researchers then compared those rates with rates of Christianity that were recorded nearly a century ago.
Conrad Hackett, Demographer at the Pew Forum and lead researcher for the Global Christianity report, told The Christian Post: “We set out to provide data on the number of Christians around the world as part of a series of reports…focusing on the global populations of major religious groups.”
Hackett went on to explain the studies lay the foundation for further surveys that will measure attitudes and behaviors of people around the world.
The study found that globally there are 2.18 billion people who identify themselves as Christian. Comprising nearly a third of the world’s seven billion inhabitants located throughout the world.
“As we note in the report, there is no single region or continent that is indisputably the center of global Christianity anymore,” Hackett said.
In 1910 the largest concentration of Christians were found in Europe, where they had been the largest and most influential religious group for nearly one thousand years, according to historical estimates of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.
Currently, only about a quarter of the Christian population lives in Europe, while just over a third of Christians are found in the Americas and one-in-every-four Christians now live in sub-Saharan Africa.
So what would cause the Christian population to nearly quadruple and grow so profoundly over the last century? One reason the report cites is the rapid growth of global population. While the actual figure representing global Christian population has remained quite steady at around 33 percent, the exponential growth globally has attributed to the rise in the Christian population.
In 1910, there were approximately 1.8 billion people on earth. The most recent figures today have the global population around 6.8 billion.
The continents with the largest global share of Christians remain Europe and the Americas with present calculations stating that 63 percent of Christians reside on these two continents. This figure in 1910 was 93 percent. This change does underscore an unprecedented shift in global Christian populations, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa.
The report states areas with the largest gain in Christian populations are sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. During the early 20th century only about six percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa was Christian. Today the percent of the population that lives in sub-Saharan Africa which is identifiable as Christian is 63 percent.
The reason for this shift is due to the rate of population growth in this particular region as compared with other areas globally. In 1910, 9 million Christians were living in sub-Saharan Africa as compared to current day figures that have the Christian population at 516 million. The Democratic Republic of the Congo ranks eighth among countries with the highest Christian population with just over 63 million.
The same can be said for the Asia-Pacific region yet not on such an extreme scale as was found in sub-Saharan Africa. The percent of the population that were identified as Christian in 1910 was 27 million. That figure grew to 285 million in 2010.
Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, is home to more Christians than all 20 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region combined. Although Christianity began in the Middle East-North Africa, today that region has both the lowest concentration of Christians, about four percent, and the smallest number of Christians, about 13 million, of any major geographic region.
While about 90 percent of Christians live in countries where Christians are in the majority, 10 percent of Christians worldwide live as minorities, according to the report. In these minority regions Christians are subject to a disproportionate number of religious attacks and harassment than other regions around the globe.
So what could cause these dramatic shifts in global Christian populations? Hackett explained that individuals in Europe and the Americas did not have as large a population growth that identified themselves as Christians during that time period when compared to sub-Saharan Africa. Missionary work as well as the growth of indigenous Christian communities helped further the reach of Christianity to parts of the world not traditionally known for their Christian populations.
Michael Gryboski contributed to this article.