By Troy Anderson January 12, 2012
The purported demise of Christianity is a fallacy – an illusion conjured up by sociologists, atheists and secular media with Newsweek cover stories like "The Decline and Fall of Christian America."
In reality, Christianity is now the world's largest religion and is growing exponentially in developing nations, offsetting declines in Europe, according to a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The report found the number of Christians – both Protestants and Catholics – has tripled from 600 million in 1910 to 2.18 billion in 2010. The increase is largely driven by an explosion in the number of Pentecostals and Charismatics – movements that ignited over the last century and now encompass a quarter of all Christians with 584 million adherents.
"There has been enormous growth in Christianity," says Rodney Stark, the author of "The Triumph of Christianity" and the Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. "The sociologists have been telling the world for 100 years that Christianity is disappearing while it's actually continuing to grow rapidly. It's kind of a European illusion."
In 1910, two-thirds of the world's Christians lived in Europe, Christianity's traditional stronghold. Today, only 26 percent are in Europe. More than a third – 37 percent – live in the Americas, 24 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 13 percent are found in the Asia-Pacific region.
In the last century, the world's population has grown from 1.8 billion to 6.9 billion. As a result, Christians made up about the same proportion of the world's population in 2010 – about a third - as they did a century ago. Of these Christians, about half are Catholics, 37 percent are Protestants, 12 percent are Orthodox Christians and the rest are Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and other groups.
However, the relative stability of the proportion of Christians in the world over the last century masks a momentous shift.
Although Europe and the Americas are still home to most of the world's Christians – 63 percent, that share is much lower than it was in 1910 – 93 percent. The proportion of Europe's population that is Christian has dropped from 95 percent in 1910 to 76 percent in 2010, while the proportion of the overall Christian population in the Americas – North America, Latin America and the Caribbean – fell from 96 percent to 86 percent.
Over the same period, however, Christianity grew enormously in sub-Saharan Africa and significantly in the Asia-Pacific region, where there were relatively few Christians at the beginning of the 20th century. The share of the population that is Christian in sub-Saharan Africa climbed from 9 percent in 1910 to 63 percent in 2010, while in the Asia-Pacific region it rose from 3 percent to 7 percent.
"Today, as a result of these changes, there is no indisputable center of Christianity," says Alan Cooperman, the Pew associate director for research. "In 2010, no one region held a majority of the world's Christians. Of the five regions discussed in the report, the Americas were the region with the largest share of global Christianity – over one-third."
The Americas now have 804 million Christians, up from 166 million in 1910. In comparison, Europe has 566 million Christians, up from 406 million in 1910.
Sub-Saharan Africa has 516 million Christians, an exponential increase from 9 million in 1910. Likewise, the Asia-Pacific region has 285 million Christians, a ten-fold increase over 28 million in 1910. The Middle East-North Africa region has 13 million Christians, more than double the 4 million Christians in that part of the world a century ago.
In the Americas, 86 percent of the people are Christians, down from 96 percent in 2010. The three countries in the Americas with the largest Christian populations are the United States (277 million), Brazil (176 million) and Mexico (108 million).
The U.S. has the largest Christian population of any nation on the planet, a country where 80 percent of the people are Christians. The proportion of Americans who are Christians has declined from more than 90 percent in 1910.
"Even in the U.S., the growth or decline of Christianity, depending on how you look at it, is a mixture involving all kinds of different groups, from the Roman Catholic presence here, which would be declining except for immigration from Latin America, and then the mainline Protestant groups, which are famous for losing members," says Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. "But then you have the Assemblies of God, Seventh-day Adventists and other groups that have been growing over the years and even smaller groups that are doing quite well."