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December 19th, 2011
12:08 PM ET

Christianity goes global as world's largest religion

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

(CNN) - Christians are by far the largest religious group on the planet, and the religion has gone truly global over the past century, according to a new report out Monday, which finds some of the world's biggest Christian communities in surprising places.

Europe was the clear center of world Christianity one hundred years ago, but today the Americas are home to more than a third of all Christians. In fact, the United States has the world's largest Christian population, of more than 247 million, followed by Brazil and Mexico.

China also appears on the list of top 10 largest Christian populations - with an estimated 67 million Christians, it has more followers of the faith than any western European country.

There are nearly 2.2 billion Christians around the world, making up about one-third of the world's population - the same percentage as a century ago, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Islam is the world's second largest religion, with about 1.6 billion followers worldwide, the Washington-based organization calculates. That's just under one-quarter of the estimated 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.

Sub-Saharan Africa has seen the biggest explosion in its Christian population in the past century, going from about 9 million Christians in 1910 to about 516 million today - nearly a quarter of all the world's Christians. Three of the world's ten largest Christian populations are in Africa: Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.

The study, "Global Christianity," is based on demographic and opinion data from 232 countries and territories. It's part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project, which has also included reports on the current and projected number of Muslims in the world.

It does not measure practice or belief, merely counting as Christian anyone who says they are.

The report calculates that half the world's Christians are Catholic, 37% are Protestants, and 12% are Orthodox. The remaining 1 percent belong to other traditions such as Mormonism.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Belief • Christianity

soundoff (2,648 Responses)
  1. Jen

    Whenever I see polls like this I try to decide if Buddhists don't exist, or if they just don't answer surveys.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  2. Alex

    "The Religion of one age is literary entertainment to the next"- Ralph Waldo Emerson

    December 19, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  3. Sylvia

    How could America be a free and secular country when Good Friday is a holiday in my state (NJ), we have strict Sunday blue laws in my county (Bergen) and Christmas is a federal holiday? Please answer.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Chris

      When 80% of Americans are Christians, the majority wins.... Seperation of church & state is fake...... Christians added "In God We Trust" in the 50s as national motto

      December 19, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      same reason when you go to court you are sworn in on a bible.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Oh really

      Simple.. it is not.. it just likes to play the secular/free-country card on the international stage..

      December 19, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Louisa Ferre

      just turn on c-span in the morning better yet
      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hb332V0Gz98&w=640&h=360]

      December 19, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """same reason when you go to court you are sworn in on a bible."""

      I've testified many times and never had to swear on a bible.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  4. Gene

    If atheism were a religion, it would be the fastest growing religion in the West.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Just another guy

      It is a religion. It fulfills the seven dimensions of religion.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Absolutionis

      Atheism is a religion. It takes faith to absolutely believe in nothing.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • streetsmt

      "It takes faith to believe in nothing' ??? Faith in what? That doesn't make any sense.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      i went to the church of atheism... its called a library

      December 19, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Charlie

      To the morons saying atheism is a religion...it is not. You know it's not. (I love the fact that religious people, when they want to speak in pejorative terms about atheism, simply call it a "religion". It is ironic.)

      December 19, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Louisa Ferre

      actually the library is the church of the Watchers/Grigori

      but yeah the high priest of the American Athiest David Silverman said it was a religion

      December 19, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Bob

      Just as it can't be proven there is a God, it cannot be proven there isn't. It takes faith to believe each presupposition. The question becomes "Which presupposition seems more reasonable given what we do see in the universe?"

      December 19, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  5. us1776

    Religion is declining dramatically.

    Religion is the worst thing to ever happen to the human race.

    Religion is a pre-historic throwback to ancient ages where rulers needed a means of governing people at a distance.

    .

    December 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • o.k.

      @us1776...great handle, and entirely ironic that you would identify yourself with a place and time that many recognize as the birth (or perhaps the conception) of true religious liberty.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Charlie

      @o.k. – 1776 indeed was the birth of religious liberty, as it was secularity. So in a sense, we both win.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Belieber

      That's so paranoid. It was an attempt to answer the questions they had about how and what their observations of their environment, and themselves arose, and to control it, and explain it.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • o.k.

      @Charlie...actually, I can live with your response too.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  6. Jules

    Hate to say it, Chuckles, but you could not be more wrong. The God I worship teaches us to love one another and be patient, kind, and long-suffering. People have indeed used religion as an excuse for egregious acts, but does that make religion guilty? Would you remove the blame from the actual person regardless of what they used to justify their horrendous actions? That's like blaming a car when a drunk driver kills someone. Despite what a person may believe, they are ultimately responsible for their own actions. the Judeo-Christian ethic is responsible for so many great things, so much compassion and civility. We all have our good and bad sides, and religion has the capacity to bring out the best in us. You don't need to believe in God for Him to believe in you anyway.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Angry

      that was well said jules but most of these people could care less about what you said because the point for them is to be angry and take shots at religion but importantly christianity

      December 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Oh really

      But one confession in front of god and all your sins are wiped clean, isn't it.. christianity is all about forgiving and second chances, isn't it? How does that act in the face of individual's accountability and your ethical human index?

      December 19, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  7. Mattias

    2.2 billion Christians within 2000 years :O Jesus Christ must be proud saviour!

    December 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      heaven must be getting really crowded.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • tr

      Yeah, because we all know that if it's popular, it *must* be right! Lmao, classic logic fail.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  8. augustghost

    FAIRY TALES....or do you prefer "MYTHS" as we as a society have declared the Greeks beliefs?

    December 19, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  9. Angry

    roar !!!! Im so angry!!!! roar !!!!! chistians !!!! roar !!! lol

    December 19, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  10. dave

    Why do they allow loudmouths like streesmt to post comments? Nobody really cares what an idiot has to say

    December 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • streetsmt

      OK Dave,
      Let's go at it....
      What did I say that was idiotic?

      December 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Just another guy

      If nobody cares what an idiot has to say then why are you posting? Sheesh. Hypocrite.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  11. NOT MY CHAIR

    WOW i guess America is not the only stupid ignorant country after all.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  12. Jennifer

    We should pass a law that's enforcing people to convert to Christianity, otherwise they would NOT be considered Americans and be allowed to be U.S citizen. Yes, I'm being honest!

    December 19, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      my heart goes out to you, i hope you will one day come into the 21st century

      December 19, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Colin

      Ah yes, the Christian Taliban at its finest.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Just another guy

      You're either a really bad troll or somebody that doesn't understand freedom of religion. You can't force people to believe in what they do not believe to be true. I don't mean to be harsh, but that idea is incredibly stupid.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Hilikus00

      LOL...yes, I'm being serious

      December 19, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  13. Colin

    The belief that an infitely old, all-knowing sky-god, powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, will cause people to survive their own phsical deaths and live happily ever after in heaven, if they follow some random laws laid down in Bronze Age Palestine = Judaism.

    Judaism PLUS a belief that the same god impregnated a virgin with himself to give birth to himself, so he could sacrifice himself to himself to negate a rule he himself made = Christianity.

    Christianity MINUS the belief that Jesus was the messiah PLUS a belief that god used an angel to whisper the secrets of life and death to a 7th Century Arab pedophile in a cave = Islam.

    They are all silly pre-Dark Ages superst.itions and the sooner we abandon them, the better.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Atheist 1#

      The Supreme Ayatollah Is very displeased with this news. He just ordered more suicide bombers to inspire more converts.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Gerold

      Really sounds like you have been spending a lot of time justifying your beliefs, or non-beliefs. I dare say that you probably believe that the Continental Congress actually took place, although you did not personally attend and the pictures you have seen have been illustrative in nature and not taken with an actual camera. However, I do respect you and the right to express your opinion. That is what makes America what it is! Peace!

      December 19, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  14. NJ Jew

    I am Jew and America is truly a Christian country, otherwise Christmas Day wouldn't be a national holiday, and slap on other peoples faith and holiday :/

    December 19, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • pockets

      FRIGHTENING...

      December 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  15. Portland tony

    @j How about.... America is a free country where Christians can openly practice their faith.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • streetsmt

      And anyone else can criticize their wacko belief system.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Oh really

      Yep.. free and secular country where only Christmas is a holiday.. It kinda points at something..

      December 19, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  16. Atheist 1#

    Isn't Gambling a sin Gluttony too. Laziness, eating pork and shouldn't adulterers get stoned to death? Kobe Bryant, or Where you going to bet on a couple of his games first?

    December 19, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • ari

      no, actually jesus declared that those books of the old testament were corrupted and should not be followed, which is why he rejected kosher laws and the stoning of adulterers. unless you're talking about judaism...

      December 19, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • JF

      Ari,

      You're wrong. jesus did not say that. He said to follow the Jewish law. He was a Jew you know.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • pockets

      I REALLY MISS CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS.....REALLY MISS HIM. ESPECIALLY WHEN I SEE ARTICLES LIKE THIS.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • streetsmt

      So god had his son come down to fix his previous mistakes?

      December 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Atheist 1#

      Jesus said those books were corrupted or did he love beacon? mmmm

      December 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Oh really

      So, if all those old books were corrupt.. so are the 10 commandments? how many good ol Christians are ready to throw them in the fire?

      December 19, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • ari

      yes JF he was a jew, but he said that some of the books of the torah were corrupted by men. he said to follow the 10 commandments–nothing more

      December 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Louisa Ferre

      actuary this is what Jesus said

      Luke 16:17 "It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pa-ss away than for the smallest part of the letter of the law to become invalid."

      Here is matthew’s take on ethe same conversation
      Matthew 5:17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pa-ss away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pa-ss from the law, until all things have taken place."

      just so you know this is referring to the two books of Law in the Torah. dose a good Christian like yourself know them. But even if you believe what you said about the OT being invalid then what about the fu-cked up sh-it written in the NT
      But concerning Adultery
      5:27-32 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into he-ll. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into he-ll.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • o.k.

      @Ari–I think I speak for most knowledgeable Christians...please stop while your behind. Jesus did not say follow the 10 commandments and nothing more (Frankly, Louisa Ferre's reference to adultr-y was spot on.) Your doing what most of the atheists on this blog do–you're cherry picking. Stop!

      December 19, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Louisa Ferre

      Yeah! totally stop cherry picking yo!… figs are tastier.....

      December 19, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Oh really

      Yes Ari.. Haven't you figured out yet? Cherry picking is only for the readers of Bible.. you can not do that!

      December 19, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • o.k.

      @Ari...I just read below that you claim to be an atheist–I didn't get that from your posts on this string. My apologies...I thought you were embarrassing Christians. I see now that you're embarrassing atheists. Please, feel free to continue.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • o.k.

      @ Oh Really....I've been posting on these blogs for months...cite me one example where I've taken a verse out of context.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • o.k.

      @Louisa Ferre–I agree that Figs are tastier, but there's just something wrong in accusing someone of Fig Pick'n.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Oh really

      @O.k. I don't know about you or your comments.. I was talking about "Readers of Bible". Are you arrogant enough to say that you are the only reader of bible? careful there Ok.. your fellow christians will have no qualms about coming after you with pitchforks if you say that..

      But like I was saying, cherry picking is only reserved for the readers of bible..

      December 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Louisa Ferre

      Dude even Jesus loved a good Fig pick

      December 19, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • o.k.

      @oh really–are YOU really arrogant enough to suggest that the atheists on this blog (e.g.. Ari) don't cite the Bible out of context? I will at least concede to you that both sides do this enough to make any serious student of the Bible cringe.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • o.k.

      @Louisa Ferre–I know you probably won't believe this, but I'd like to think Jesus is having a good laugh over our Fig conversation.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Louisa Ferre

      yeah so am i, its even funny because no one knows what i mean when i say fig unless your biblically literate. Then again I would say less the 2 people on this blog know what my name means

      illiteracy is fun

      December 19, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • o.k.

      @Louisa Ferre–Fair enough, I had to look up your handle–nice. Arrogance is funny too.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  17. tintin

    PROSELYTIZATION is the main reason Christianity is the largest religion in the world. I mean how many times have we come across a Buddhist or a Hindu asking us if we have been saved?

    December 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • ari

      the number of hindus and buddhists in america is quite small. but hindu "missionaries" do indeed exist in india.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Chuckles

      There's actually quite a bit of prostltyzing by buddhists, it's just more subtle than you'd expect. Hinduism....not so much as both hinduism and judaism don't proseltyze.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • tintin

      Yeah they do exist but they are a small minority ex. ISKON temples. But seriously they are never in your face proclaiming the imminent destruction of the world or asking people whether they have been saved. I never said they don't exist but merely stating the ubiquitous nature of the Proselytizing Christian zealots

      December 19, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Oh really

      Ha.. if you think Hinduism has missionaries anywhere in the world (leave just India or here in US), you know nothing about that religion.. ISKON is a commune.. just a bunch of people with same idea putting a banner on their commune.

      Hinduism's way is not to shove their ideas down other's throats like christianity but to leave the choice to the person .. and FYI, there is no conversion into Hinduism.. if you want to be a hindu, be one, if you don't then don't.. whatever

      December 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Oh really

      that comment is for you ari..

      December 19, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  18. eastwood1379@gmail.com

    Islam would be the largest religion in terms of practice I would think. Also because the Catholics and Protestants have a difference of a few books in their bibles, they should be considered different religions. In that case, Islam is the largest because there is only one Quran, unchanged. I converted back in university after I was given a Quran to read. It changed my life for the better. Peace.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • ari

      islam has many divisions within it as well. there is only one christian bible, but people interpret it differently. the main difference between protestants and catholics is that the former reject the authority of the pope. in islam the main division is between sunnis and shiites, which dates back to the first days of the religion in which mohammed's successor killed his grandson.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Papa

      o well I was convereted from Islam and its evil practices of hate towards Jews and Non-Muslims (infidels) to Christianity,,, I think had I conitunued with Islam I would have turned to be a Terrorist...Koran commands killings to non Muslim and any Muslim is told by the Koran not to be friends with jews and Non Muslims....Islam is all about hate an Intimidation....didnt Muhammad Kill 900 Jews in a single day? wASNT HE A WOMANISER AND A PEDOPHILE? If Islam is about peace..how come al most all the Muslim nations are in turmoil and fighting each other...Our whole Family Turned to the True Prince of Peace...Jesus Christ....Thank God for The Jews and God bless jerusalem the City of Our God

      December 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  19. seoras

    Always surprising that people blame 'Religion' as the cause of wars and death, when the greatest killers in world history [Hitler, Stalin, Mao] hated religious people and killed them in vast numbers.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Chuckles

      ....*sigh*....Hitler was a catholic, but regardless of the fact, Stalin and Mao hated pretty much everyone. They targeted a lot of religious people specifically because god or the gods undermined their authority.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • ari

      whenever anyone brings up stalin people whine about it and say YEAH BUT HE DOESN'T REPRESENT MOST ATHEISTS.

      yes, that's true.

      and 14th century crusaders don't represent most christians.

      but they can't see that. they can only see things from their perspective, and are convinced that all religious people are evil or sick or both.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @Ari

      um.... yeah, why stalin doesn't represent the atheists is because he was a communist who used atheism as a tool to consolidate power. Crusaders were directed by "god" to kill people and you are indeed correct that those crusaders do not represent christians of today. However there are a great many christians of today who are equally bloodthirsty and use god to quench that thirst.

      I know it's frustrating to argue semantics because as an atheist I can point the finger and you can't point it back, but that's the nature of the game slick, if you don't like all the stuff that's been done in the name of your god, you might want to rethink what you're really worshipping

      December 19, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • ari

      whoops, chuckles, i'm an atheist too. i'm just one who was raised to not violently hate others simply because they believe in something that i do not. you should try it some day.

      stalin used atheism just as much as crusaders used christianity. he claimed that he was saving the world from the tyranny of gods. he does not represent me, nor do violent christians represent the vast majority of christians in the world. same for other religions.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  20. Jesus (L)

    America is a Christian country.... proud 😀

    December 19, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • streetsmt

      I am American and not Christian. What ya gonna do about it. Put me in jail?

      December 19, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • JF

      There are a lot of people who "claim" to be Christian. There are non-believers that go to your church, perhaps even your pastor.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Jew

      More than 247 million Christians (Out of ~ 300 million) in America..... I'm moving back to Israel!

      December 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Cyle

      America is a country of religious freedom. Not for any one of the many gods people profess to worship.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • HockeyMinny

      I'm not ashamed either... I just wish people would get as excited about God as they do about football, NASCAR etc...

      December 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Adam

      actually, it's not...proud 🙂

      December 19, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.