Will Christianity Grow or Decline as a portion of the World's Population
Over the course of the 20th Century one third of the world's population continued to be Christian. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia Christians were about a third of the total in 1900, 1970, and 2000. Since then we have seen a tiny decline, but still above 30%.
For the future the experts at Pew suggest that the Christians will maintain their percentage of the world's population.
Third World SuccessesChina has been the relatively recent success story for Christians. Last I checked less than ten percent of the population was Christian but it is increasing rapidly and may soon pass Buddhism, which has long been the strongest of the large international religions in China.
Christianity is continuing the conversion of Sub-Sahara Africa, but as the majority has already become Christian and a vast majority are either Christian or Muslim room for growth through conversion is relatively limited. Nevertheless this is a dominately Christian area with rapid population growth through the excess of births over deaths.
Christianity has made progress through conversion in the former Soviet Block, but perhaps not as much as one might expect. The countries of the Soviet Block are now Third World countries and normally religious faith is very strong in Third World countries, but non-belief remains strong even though the strong economic incentives formerly imposed by the communists have been removed. The large number of people without faith in the former Soviet Block countries are still a major evangelical opportunity.
Of course conversion is rare in the Muslim world. Converts maybe killed.
Low caste Hindus sometimes do convert, though this is causing persecution and resistance in India. It will be very interesting to see how the growing wealth of India and its connection into the Internet will influence Christianity in India. It may become more difficult for Hindus to use economic means hold their people.
The Internet and other forms of communication will tend to bring the world together. This could strengthen a strong international competitor like Christianity at the expencence of religions that rely on societial support, but who knows, we will see.
First World Decline of ChristianityI have checked the eleven First World industrial democracies with populations greater than a million and Christianity is a declining portion of the population in all but South Korea and Japan. Conversions away from the faith are the reason for the First World decline in Christianity. The Atheist and non-religious populations are growing, often fairly rapidly, inspite of the generally lower birth rates for these groups.
I was disappointed to see that the trend in Western European nations is away from faith. I had assumed that a lot of the strength of atheism in Western Europe was related to communism and would fade with the fall of communism. It is disappointing to see that atheism and other forms of non-belief have expanded after the fall of communism in the Soviet Block.
Atheism and other forms of non-belief have been expanding in the United States. This is as I expected. With Communism gone atheism is not as tainted as it was in this anti-communist country.
In recent decades the ratio of people living in First and Third world nations has remained fairly stable, if we count the former Second World, the Soviet Block, as Third World. The more rapid birth rates of the Third World has been roughly balanced by immigration from the Third to the First World, and Third World nations like South Korea ascending to First World status. There are about five people in the Third World for every one in the First.
For the future the First World is likely to grow much more quickly. Population growth in the Third World is declining more quickly than it has in the First, and much of the Third World is now growing at very high rates. China, which is one quarter of the Third World, has been roughly doubling its per person economic output every decade. India, which is roughly one fifth of the Third World, has been growing more rapidly and with the Internet may start doubling per person out put every decade. There has been considerable success in many other Third World countries recently. The percentage of the world's population in the low income category has already declined dramatically with China moving to lower middle income status and further declines will be coming soon. I have recently put up a web page on Third World nations becoming First World nations where you can read about this in more detail.
As a progressively larger portion of the world becomes affluent, Christianity will have to face the challege of thriving in a First World environment.
If you are interested in a statistical break down of how many believers there are in the world's major religions, or the major divisions of Christianity I have pages on that. Finally I have created an index of some of the most important web sites with religious statistics.
According to Gallop Polls educated people are less likely to believe, but more likely to attend religious services, find out why.
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Last updated January 27, 2006