Warning: This opinion piece may induce boredom, especially among those unmoved by the reading of statistics. Maybe it will spell relief from the un-boring religion-and-politics stories of this winter. It relies upon the folks at WorldChristianDatabase.org , Christian encyclopedists and trend-watchers. So, I beg your patience and know that you know that I know all statistics should be approached with some suspicion. Needless to say, I am not bored by these numbers, and read an important implied message out of them.
According to volume thirty-two of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, of the 6,691,484,000 people in the world in 2008, in the broad-brush-painted sense, 2,231,421,000 are Christian; 1,412, 301,000 are Muslim; 887,991,000 are Hindu; Buddhists number 391,122,000; and Jews list 15,044,000.
Every twenty-four hours the world has a population net growth of 219,000 people. Christians number 170,000 converts per day but find 91,000 defectors, so the net growth is 79,000 Christians each day. Of the 2,113,199,000 "affiliated" Christians, 1,476,690,000 are "church attenders." How the database computers come to this next figure I do not know, but they list 175,000 Christian martyrs worldwide this year, which means 480 per day. This is down from 377,000 in 1970, Cold War and Colonial Wars years?
Don't think the Database folk are in public relations. They rank trends and facts from "Very Good Situations" to "Very Bad Situations." Let's start with the pits. Number fifty: Criminal penalties against clergy in sexual abuse cases now exceed $2 billion. Bankruptcies follow. Number forty-nine: "Annual [world-wide] church embezzlements by top custodians [of funds] exceed the entire cost of all foreign missions world-wide." Number forty-seven: Because procedures are lax, "trusted church treasurers are embezzling each year $25 billion from church funds[.]" Number eight among Very Good Situations: "The country with the fastest Christian expansion ever is China , now at 16,500 new converts (including births) every day."
The Global Mission divides Christians by "bloc." (More accurately, Christians through the centuries have divided themselves.) "Roman Catholics" claim 1,130,401,000 and their church is really the "big kid on the block." The 422,659,000 "Independents" outnumber 386,644,000 "Protestants" and 252,891,000 "Orthodox" and the rest. As for where they are, 423,675,000 are in Africa; 355,008,000 are in Asia; 556,359,000 are in Europe; 530,187,000 are in Latin America; and, tagging along, 220,374,000 are in Northern America. The compilers know of 39,000 separate denominations and 3,684,000 congregations around the world. Church members around the globe have an income of $18,170 billion. The nominal Christian percentage around the globe is thirty three and a third percent. It's been in the thirty-threes and thirty-fours since 1800.
We scout "public religion" topics: One wonders how much of Christian existence in China is "private," how much in Europe is "invisible," how much in sub-Saharan Africa is "at war," and how much in North America is lackadaisical.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.