A new global Christianity report predicts that there will be 2.6 billion Christians by 2020, with most of the growth expected in the global South while Christianity continues to decline in the global North.
The study conducted by U.S.-based Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary titled, "Christianity In Its Global Context, 1970-2010", offers a timely overview of the changing context of Christianity since 1970, while looking forward to 2020. The data in the study also details the religious and social contexts of each of the 21 United Nations regions and the changes that will occur within them.
Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, noted that while 2.6 billion is a daunting figure, there has been and will continue to be a decline in the number of Christians in North America and Europe. "Secularization is strong here, but it's far more pervasive in Europe. People are now choosing for themselves instead of following a religion established by a state or a country," said Johnson to The Christian Post on Thursday.
According to the report, Christianity in Europe rose from 75 percent in 1970 to 78.6 percent in 2010, mostly attributed to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. But the report shows that Christianity in Europe is expected to decline to 78.0 percent by 2020.
"In Europe, modern science pushes religion and sees it as a myth or superstition," said Johnson, referring to the cause for agnosticism. "People think that church and state are too closely aligned so when people do have a choice, they're not interested in Christianity as a national religion," he added.
In North America, Christianity is expected to decline from 91 percent in 1970 to 76.9 percent in 2020. This drastic decline can mostly be attributed to Canada, where the Christian population fell from 94.5 percent of the population in 1970 to 69.4 percent in 2010, and is expeced to drop to 66.0 percent in 2020. The United States, meanwhile, saw its Christian population drop from 90.9 percent in 1970 to 80.1 percent in 2012, and is projected to drop to 78.1 percent in 2020.
Agnosticism is the second-largest tradition in every country in North America, and is projected in the United States to triple in 2020 compared to the 1970 percentages, and increase by a factor of seven in Canada during the same time period.
Despite a decline in religion in Europe and North America, out of the projected 2.6 billion Christians, 700 million Pentecostals and Charismatics are presumed to grow almost twice as fast as global Christianity as a whole, and will account for nearly 27 percent of all Christians seven years from now.
In Latin America, while Christians are expected to decline from 94.2 percent of the population in 1970 to 92.1 percent in 2020, overall Latin American Christians are increasing as a percentage of the global Christian population. But evangelicals are expected to increase from 3 percent of the population in 1970 to 9 percent in 2020, while specifically Charismatics are expected to grow from 4 percent to 31 percent.
Johnson said studies support the fact that people really desire a personal encounter within their religion and attributes Pentecostals and Charismatics as socially engaging which attracts even more people to join their movements. Furthermore, he adds that non-western nations seek an explanation of the supernatural such as the existence of satan and demons and they are able to retain those beliefs with the Pentecostal tradition.
Christianity is also expected to continue to grow quickly in Asia, rising from 4.5 percent in 1970 to 9.2 percent in 2020. Likewise, Christians in Africa are expected to increase from 38.7 percent in 1970 to 49.3 percent in the 2020. The study also found that Roman Catholics and Anglicans are a rapidly growing group in the region and by the year 2000, the Anglican Church was larger in Africa than in Europe, where it originated.
Despite the growth of Christianity, Christians still have little interaction with members of other world religions, the report noted.
"There is a lack of personal contact between Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. Many reported that they don't know a Christian and it's a crisis to be out of relationship with people," said Johnson. "From psychology, we learn that when people don't know people, they are afraid of them and that's a problem that Christians face today in the preaching of the gospel."