CHRISTIANITY & 7 Encouraging Trends in Global Christianity

by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Facts & Trends, 3/11/15.

With more conflict over religious liberty in the United States and high-profile martyrdoms around the world, it would seem Christianity is in global peril. But that’s not the case, according to a new report.

Published in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, the findings of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary provide an optimistic picture of Christianity heading into the heart of the 21st century.

The 31st annual edition of the report included numbers on Christianity and other world religions from 1900, 1970, 2000 as well as projections for the rest of 2015, 2025, and 2050.

Here are seven positive trends within Christianity across the globe.

1. Christianity is growing.

Currently, there are more than 2.3 billion affiliated Christians (church members) worldwide. That number is expected to climb to more than 2.6 billion by 2025 and cross 3.3 billion by 2050.

But it’s not just numerical growth, Christianity is growing in comparison to overall population. More than one-third (33.4 percent) of the 7.3 billion people on Earth are Christians. That’s up from 32.4 percent in 2000. By 2050, when the world population is expected to top 9.5 billion people, 36 percent will be Christians….

Today, more Christians live in Europe than Africa. By 2050, more than 1.2 billion Christians will live in Africa, more than the number in Europe and North America combined (and more than the total population of every other religion except Islam and Hinduism). By that time, almost 1 out of every 8 people in the world will be an African Christian.

2. Atheism has peaked.

It’s not just that atheism has peaked globally, but that it did so around 1970 with a population of 165 million. Since 2000, the number of atheists have dropped almost 400,000 and the future doesn’t look much better for atheists. By 2050, atheists are expected to fall to just over 125 million.

Agnostics are growing, but not for long. Those who claim to be unsure of God’s existence climb to more than 700 million by 2025, but fall back under by 2050. Their decline means the number of non-religionists peaks at slightly over 834 million in 2025.

In 1970 around 19 percent of people in the world were classified as a non-religionist. Today, that number is closer to 11 percent. By 2050, less than 9 percent of the world’s population will be an agnostic or atheist.

3. Evangelicals are growing rapidly.

By comparison, from 2000 to 2015, Christianity overall grew 1.32 percent, Islam grew 1.88 percent, and Hinduism grew 1.26 percent. Evangelicals grew at a 2.13 percent rate.

That global growth rate is better than Roman Catholics (1.13 percent) and Protestants as a whole (1.62 percent).

Evangelicals will grow from 4.5 percent (328,582,000) in 2015 to 6 percent (581,134,000) of the world’s population in 2050. That type of growth is only eclipsed by one other group.

4. Pentecostals will climb to more than 1 billion by 2050.

In 1900, there were less than 1 million Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians in the world. Today, there are more than 640 million. By 2050, they will top 1 billion, which means that in 35 years, more than 1 in 10 people around the world will be a Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian.

5. We are reaching the unreached.

In 1900, more than half of the world’s population (54.3 percent) was unreached with the gospel. Today, that percentage is down to 29.3 and will drop another 2 percentage points by 2050.

That doesn’t mean the job is finished. It is still the case that almost 1 in 3 people on Earth (more than 2.1 billion people) have not been evangelized. And the number of international missionaries dropped in the last 15 years. But the gospel is spreading.

In 1900, only 4.3 percent of non-Christians even knew a Christian. In 2015, that number stands at 14.1 percent and is expected to climb to 15.4 percent in 2050. Much of that comes from the spread of the gospel into predominately non-Christian nations.

More than 100 years ago, 95 percent of all Christians lived in a nation that was at least 80 percent Christian. Today, that’s the case for just over half (52.6 percent). By 2050, the number falls to 48 percent, which means most Christians will be living in a country that is more than 20 percent non-Christian.

6. There are less martyrs today.

While it may seem Christians are dying for their faith today more than ever, the numbers don’t seem to support it. That’s not to say no Christians are martyred. The nightly news reminds us this is not the case. But it is better now than it has been.

In 1970, 370,000 Christians were killed for their faith. In 2000, it was down to 160,000. That number is expected to bottom out around 100,000 each year.

Each of those deaths are to be mourned and we should do all we can to prevent them and discourage religious persecution around the world. But we should also acknowledge the improvements that have been made.

7. More than 100 million Bibles will be printed per year by 2025.

Currently, 82.6 million Bibles are printed each year. That number will climb to 110 million in 2025 and 135 million in 2050. More of God’s Word is getting out to more people than ever before.

Currently, more than 5 billion pieces of Scripture are printed each year. By 2050, that number will almost reach 1 trillion.

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PERSECUTION & A Good Measure? Thoughts on Analyzing the Persecuted Church

by KAREN ELLIS, Reformed African American Network, 11/16/14

Last week, a colleague asked for my thoughts on a recent study on how the persecution of Christians relates to church growth. The study compared the data of two unrelated studies from two separate and well-respected research organizations, Pew Research and Operation World, formed into a third study by an independent researcher.

The study asked, “Is there a correlation between the persecution of Christians and church growth?” The question is a fair one, as it’s commonly accepted that a correlation exists. The study concluded that “there is no strong correlation between the two.” That is, according to this study, there’s no perceptible evidence today that churches grow any more quickly under persecution than in places where there is religious freedom.

The conclusion that there is no strong correlation between persecution and church growth challenges centuries of Christian thought. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” has been a rallying cry for centuries , originally penned in A.D. 197 by the early church father Tertullian. Tertullian wrote in response to the church’s struggles at a specific time in its history, as false charges and deleterious actions were leveled against the Christians by the state government. In Chapter 50 of “The Apology of Tertullian for the Christians,” he writes:

“But pursue your course, excellent governors, and you will be more popular with the multitude if you sacrifice the Christians to their wishes. Crucify, torture, condemn, crush us. For the proof of our innocence is found in your injustice. It is on this account that God suffers us to suffer this. […] Yet no cruelty of yours, though each were to exceed the last in its exquisite refinement, profits you in the least, but forms rather an attraction to our sect. We spring up in greater numbers as often as we are mown down by you: the blood of the Christians is a ‘source of new life’ (in other translations, ‘a seed’).”

The narrative that a region under persecution is experiencing rapid growth is often based on anecdotal (or oral) reports, which can be time-consuming to gather and quantify. We place a measure of trust in anecdotal evidence due to both biblical accounts and historical documents that report the early church grew rapidly under persecution (Acts 8). These provide us with a model established by the early church that most Christians accept as historical fact, but does a model necessarily constitute a pattern? Due to the nature of the church itself, it’s difficult to tell.

I was curious to see how the original researchers defined the word “church” in the phrase, “church growth,” so I purchased the expanded research to find some definition. While the study gave definition to how persecution was measured, the word “church” remained undefined. Unfortunately, no links to original data were provided in the report.

That being said, is it possible to accurately measure a subjective spiritual phenomenon—such as the correlation of the growth of the church under persecution—with an objective diagnostic tool? In studying the persecuted church, quantitative studies have their limitations, and qualitative data (such as narrative reports) becomes valuable.

That Which is Unseen

This particular study doesn’t seem to account for the distinction between the visible church and the invisible church. The latter is far more elusive than the former, hidden from census takers. Statistical data rests on a measure of certainty with regard to indisputable facts; so while we may be able to make some general measurements, ultimately we cannot know with numeric exactitude how the Spirit of God is moving in churches, regions, cultures and individual hearts.

This reality makes it both difficult and risky to make declarative statements as to how persecution may or may not be affecting the church. The visible church is static and numerable; the invisible church is a fluid organism – both in regions where there is freedom, and in those where there is none. While measuring church growth may be a helpful tool for church planters, drawing sharp conclusions beyond basic patterns presents us with far more muddy waters to navigate…

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