Brief Summary of World Christian Statistics
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Catholic & Near Catholic versus Protestant
Catholic & Near Catholic
Protestant - 17%
Perhaps because some people are classified in more than one group all the Church groups combined have about 105% of the total. This is probably why the numbers do not add up to 100%. Below I explain the figures in more detail and explain how I came up with the figures above.
The figures on this page and my summary of world religious membership statistics are from David Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia, the standard source of religious membership statistics. I hope this provides a more reasonable grouping of Christian churches, emphasizing which churches are most similar in theology.
Numerically Christianity is dominated by Catholics and near Catholics. A little over one half of the world's Christians are Catholic, about 53%. About 11% belong to the very similar Orthodox churches. Together Catholics and Orthodox believers are about 63% of the Christian population.
The big difference between Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church is Orthodox Churches do not accept the leadership of the Pope. Instead the Orthodox Churches are a group of national churches with the same doctrine.
Eastern Orthodox doctrines are very similar to the Catholic doctrines. Naturally Catholics claim that their doctrines are the truly orthodox doctrines. The Catholic Church accepts the validity of Eastern Orthodox sacraments.
The Anglicans are also closely related to the Catholics and the Orthodox. They sometimes claim to be the third pillar of the Church. Anglicans are about 4% of the Christian total. Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglican believers are about 67% of all Christians. It should be noted however that Anglicans are frequently divided into the more Catholic High Church and the more Protestant Low Church. So the 67% may somewhat over state the number of Catholics and near Catholics. The 65% figure given above is based on the totally arbitrary assumption that half the Anglicans are High Church, near Catholics, and half are Low Church, near Protestants. Such estimates are some what justified because all the Church statistics are questionable for several reasons.
The most important problem is that people counted as members of a church do not necessarily believe in their church's doctrine. This maybe particularly true of Catholics, and Orthodox Christians because people in these groups are often belong on the basis of family ties. Catholics and Orthodox Christians do not as readily move from church to church as many Protestants do.
Protestants are 17% of the world's total Christian population according to The World Christian Encyclopedia. But that does not include the Independents who maybe more Protestant than the Protestants and have a rapidly growing 19% of the total Christian population.
Independents are the non-denominational churches. In the United States they are generally quite Protestant, in fact more traditionally Protestant than many Protestant churches. The independents in Africa are generally indigenous churches. I am not familiar with their theology. Still we must assume that the theology is somewhat similar to traditional Christian theology or The World Christian Encyclopedia would have grouped them with marginal Christians, a category that includes groups like the Mormons and Christian Scientists.
If we add the Protestants and the Independents, together they have 36% of the Christians, but remember that is 36% out of 105% some people are listed in more than one group. Some of the 36% might be both independent and Protestant and be counted twice.
If we add 2% for the Low Church Anglicans. Once again, this is purely arbitrary on my part. I have no figures on Low Church versus High Church Anglicans. I simply assumed half belong to both categories. I made the half and half assumption even though I know that many may well be theological liberals who really do not belong to either group. At any rate that would give the Protestant/independent/Low Church group 38% out of 105%. Or if we divide 38 by 105 to get back to normal percents figure 36 out of a hundred, 36%.
If we subtract the 2% that I arbitrarily called Low Church Anglicans from the Catholic/near Catholic total we would have 65%. If we then divide by 105 to get back to normal percentages we get about 62%.
So the split up would be 36% Protestant etc., and 62% Catholic/Near Catholic.
Now there are some big difficulties here. First the many Protestant denominations often have very different doctrines, in fact the theological distance between one Baptist Church and another is likely to be far greater than the theological differences between Catholics and Orthodox.
There have even been extensive theological discussions between the Lutherans and the Catholics trying to find a common theology for grace. As far as I know their are no similar discussions between Lutherans and Baptists. One could almost argue that some parts of traditional Protestantism are closer to Catholic than they are to other parts of the Protestant group.
On the other hand as I mentioned above many Catholics and Orthodox Christians maybe even more at odds with their Churches teachings than Protestants. A theologically liberal Baptist may join a Methodist church while the theologically liberal Catholic is more likely to remain Catholic. So the 36% Protestant, 62% Catholic/near Catholic split given above maybe a fair guess of the relative numbers of the two groups, but both groups include many members who do not accept the Church's official teaching, this is even true of groups which are usually thought of as quite conservative, though in those cases the heterodox are likely to be quiet about their differences.
To get better figures one could take various surveys on what people's beliefs are and combine them with the above figures to get a more accurate idea of the actual number of believers in each camp.
The statistics also include another group I mentioned above, marginal Christians, these are Mormons, Unitarians, Christian Scientists etc., these groups have diverse theologies which would not fit into either the Protestant or near Catholic category. About 1.3% of all Christians fit in this category.
More Web pages on Religious StatisticsWorld Religion Statistics Summary: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheists, etc. This page gets lots of hits. Like the above analysis I look at the related size of theologically related groups. For example, monotheists versus reincarnationists.
You want more detail? Here are the links to the best sites on religion statistics. You will find adherents.com, which has mountains of detailed national data, the World Christian Encyclopedia which is the source of almost all my data, plus links on the Charismatic renewal statistics, and Catholic education statistics.
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Last updated October 30, 2005