The Next Christendom

(Alternatively titled “Fun with Charts”)

I went to a conference today at Quest Church on Race & Faith. The keynote speaker was Soong Chan Rah (I hope I’m spelling that right), professor of evangelism and church growth at North Park Theological Seminary (hope I got that right too!).

Dr. Rah (his blog here) spoke at length on the rapidly changing ethnic makeup of Christianity. I managed to scribble down some of the statistics he provided, which I will graciously reproduce for you. This chart—and I suspect there may be better ways to organize this information, but hey, whatever—shows percent of world Christians (100% being all Christians in the world) by region in the year 1900:

World Christians 1900(Just to clarify: the chart depicts percent of the world’s Christians by region, not percent of a region that is Christian.  Thus, the red slice of the pie shows that European Christians made up 68% of all the world’s Christians, not that 68% of Europeans were Christians.)

Note the domination of the chart by Europe: they make up fully 68% of all Christians in the world 100 years ago. Combine that with North America and you have a Christendom that is, more or less, more than 80% white.

Now check out this next chart, which represents the statistics from 2005, only four years ago:

World Christians 2005

The most obvious thing to notice is the drastic reduction of the percent of the world’s Christians who reside in Europe: from 68% a century ago to merely 26% today. But the other thing to note is how much more evenly the Christian population is distributed across the world. Asian, African, and Latin American Christianity exploded in the 20th century, “the mission century”. Africa: from 2 to 19 percent. Asia: from 4 to 17 percent. Latin America: from 11 to 24 percent. (North America, by the way, is “holding strong” at 13%).

Now, here’s the shocker. The chart after the jump represents the projected figures for 2050, 41 years from now:

World Christians 2050Essentially, this spells the end of white majority within Christendom (note that I’ve pulled out majority-white regions from each of the charts). In 1900, eight of ten Christians were white. In 2050, that number will be less than 1 in 3. As Dr. Rah put it—exaggerating, perhaps—the juxtaposition “white Christian” will sound about as strange to the majority of the world in 50 years as “Swedish Buddhist” sounds to us today.

The big questions are: Why is the number of Christians in the West (and not just in proportion to other regions, but in raw numbers as well) declining so rapidly? What role will Western Christianity play in the broader Christendom—indeed, what role does it play in the broader Christendom that’s already here?

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3 Responses to The Next Christendom

  1. Christo says:

    I’ll ask a statistics question since it seems particularly relevant. Is the problem of percentages of European Christians a problem of decline or consistency?
    If we have roughly 25 out of every 100 Christians in 2005 as Europeans and in 2050 roughly 15 out of every 100 Christians being European, it appears as though European numbers have declined. This is deceiving. What could have occurred (and what I might wager has occurred if I could see the specific statistics of the populations), is that the other populations have gone up in numbers and the European population may have stayed the same. The issue is that if there are more Christians in general, then it will seem that certain populations will decrease as other populations have more converts. The percentage usage is deceiving because of this. It may be that instead of the 100 Christians in 2005, we are dealing instead with 166 Christians in 2050, with the same number of European Christians now representing a smaller slice of the pie, because their numbers have not grown. While expressive of the differences in population size WITHIN Christendom, your graphs do not appear to be representative of the number of European Christians overall. Thus your question “Why is the number of Christians in the West (and not just in proportion to other regions, but in raw numbers as well) declining so rapidly?’ seems to rest on incorrect notions of what the graphs tell us.
    Another side note, does it seem problematic to you to use the term “white Christianity?” in light of the enormous evidences from sociology and physiology that suggest that our conceptions of race are largely socially constructed and not biologically accurate?

    • urbanfall says:

      On statistics: that’s a great question, and one I was kind of wondering about during the lecture myself. The decline of Christianity in the West has long been a favorite lament of Western Christians.

      I take your point on raw numbers versus percent of the total. I’d say there’s probably no arguing that Christianity in Europe is in decline, depending on what you mean by “Christianity” and “decline”, of course. What’s certainly true is in Europe—and, to a lesser extent, in America—the Church plays less and less of an active role in the culture as a whole. I’m told (though I can’t verify this) that the EU’s Constitution essentially wrote Christianity out of Europe’s history. But as to whether or not there are actually less believers—and how would you measure that, anyway?—well, it’s hard to say. You could look up church attendance and whatnot. Another complicating factor is the enormous amount of Muslim immigrants to Europe from the Middle East.

      I’ll see if I can find some stats on raw numbers and population totals. Another interesting study would be on the percent of Christians out of each continent’s total population

      By “white Christianity” I don’t mean “the Christianity of white people”, but more, the particular form that Christianity has taken in people of European descent. I suppose “black Christianity” or “Asian Christianity” would be much the same. Naturally all of these groupings are tentative, and their boundaries are incredibly blurry.

      I suppose I could have used “European Christian”, but then you’d be leaving out Australian and American Christians when I’m trying to include them. Yes, race is a sociological construct. BUT, the fact of the matter is that whether or not biology confirms our perceptions, most people perceive the world in terms of “races” of people, subgroups of our species. Especially when you have several centuries of history when “white” people were oppressing “people of color”, and then you discover the remarkable fact that many of these people have actually adopted the religion of their oppressor and made it authentically their own, I don’t think the white/colored distinction, though it has its limitations, is useless when discussing the issue. Perception matters just as much as reality.

      That’s my tentative conclusion, anyway.

  2. Pingback: The Next Christendom, Ctd. « Of City Streets and Falling Leaves

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