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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. Kanye Best

    CNN, Imma let you finish inna minute. I just gotta say that atheism is the greatest non-religion of ALL TIME! ALL TIME!

    December 19, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  2. angry

    and there still Angry lol

    December 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  3. sybaris

    No god ever answered the prayers of an amputee

    December 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  4. Reasonably

    Our cult is better than your cult – just ask us!

    December 19, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  5. sharon

    ROMANS 15:13

    December 19, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  6. Atheist 1#

    Muslims are horrible there's an actual law in the Koran that says Non Muslims must Respect the Koran And can't disrespect the Prophet Muhammad. That The most arrogant thing i have ever heard. Screw all Muslims. The Koran is Crap And Muhammad was a Conquering,slave owning,Pedophile!

    December 19, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Sid

      Give break to Muslims. You really have to read well history as well as the teaching of Islam then can talk. If it was not the media damaging the image Islam and Mulsims, Many Europeans and American will turn to Islam. It is really a religion of peace and logic. Islamic arguments are very convincing about alomst ever debatable topic. Be fair and read more.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  7. Get real.

    247 million out of a population of 307 million? That would be over 80%. Where did this BS number come from? The Christian population of the U.S. is more like 29% and falling rapidly, roughly equal to the percentage of non-believers and the percentage other religions. Brainwashing isn't as easy as it once was. Our young people now have the internet and can actually think for themselves. It's no wonder Christians have taken to passing the big lie on to places like Sub-Saharan Africa. People with low IQ's and little technology are the the only ones left who can still be fooled.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Colin

      Exactly. If you want to sell snake oil, avoid zoologists.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Eric G

      Easy now. I will give you no technology, but people is third world countries have the same capacity for knowledge as anyone else. What they lack is education, not IQ points.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • sybaris

      Actually 80% may be a little high, not by much. Check the CIA Factbook. Not that it's encouraging cause it's still a high percentage of people who are heavily invested in willful ignorance

      December 19, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Bob

      What makes you think of Christianity's adherents as brainwashing any more than any other belief system's adherents?

      December 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Curious

      Does anyone have a reliable figure for the non-religious population in the U.S. and worldwide? Wiki cites several surveys that seem to cluster around 12-15% or so for the U.S. Relatively few of the non-religious appear to identify themselves as atheists.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • becool

      To get real: If you were involved in Christian ministries in U.S. you'd find the real figure of the American Christians and you'd be amazed! Just draw near and check the statistic that the last gallop claimed last year: 80%+ of the American are Christans: and just 20% are Jews, aetheists or Pagans. Still the American Christians are the most generous givers for mission and evangelism. By the way: I am not American!

      December 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • BorisMKV

      Atheists...pulling BS statistics out of their butts for...all of history, actually.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Almost right Boris!

      Christians...pulling BS statistics out of their butts for...all of history, actually.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  8. Eric G

    I do have a question for the believers here today that was asked by Jim Jefferies.......

    If you were a bad person, if you die and go to heII, why would Satan punish you? You would be one of his boys! He would dig you!

    December 19, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Joon

      It's not Satan that would punish you. It's God that punishes you. Hell is reserved for Satan and his demons and if you don't choose to side with God, then God will send you to hell and God will punish you along with Satan. May not seem fair but that's how it is.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Welcome to Reality

      Let's talk about He11 first, since it is typically misunderstood. He11 is a place where God has the most minimal presence possible – some even say he has no presence there. This is because all good things come from God, but those who choose to reject God and only accept their own selfishness end up in He11. Therefore, the punishment is not "from God" so much as it is by rejecting God and all of the "good things" that can possibly exist. Satan does not "punish" those who end up in He11. Satan and his demons torture these souls because they were made in God's image, and Satan (and his demons) hate God. In fact, what we think of "hate" is nothing compared to the pure hatred Satan has for God.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Eric G

      "all good things come from god"? So, by default, all things not good come from somewhere else? What if something is good to you but bad to someone else? Is there a branch office that handles those? I thought all things came from god because he created everything?

      At what point does it just become a bunch of stuff someone made up to control other people?

      By the way, I am still waiting for you to present evidence that your god even exists for verification.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  9. What???

    CrazyOwlLady and Dan, you don’t get it and should be very thankful for the very religion that you despise because it was religions, in particular Christianity and Islam that made much of what you enjoy possible. Both have contributed to the advance of science and mathematics which in turn led to many of the medical , science and engineering that you atheist lean on so to justify you unbelief.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Colin

      Utter garbage. Religion has been a retarding force against the inexorable advance of science and knowledge, ever since the Church threatened Copernicus and Gallileo and actually killed Giordano Bruno. What we have today, we owe 100% to science, not to Bronze Age Middle Eastern beliefs in ridiculous sky-fairies.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Eric G

      I lean on evidence that can be verified to support a hypothesis. Religion is for the advancement of scientific understanding? Please look up how Galileo spent the last years of his life and tell me how we have religion to thank for scientific understanding.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Yes! Case in point – The Inquisition! No repression of scientific advancement there. No siree!

      December 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • BorisMKV

      It's hilarious that you have to go back 400 years to find a good example of religion hindering science. Did you know that a Catholic monk was the founder of the modern understanding of genetics?

      December 19, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """It's hilarious that you have to go back 400 years to find a good example of religion hindering science"""

      You amuse yourself so easily. But seriously, I can give you some recent examples – the drive to teach creationism in schools, anti-evolution resistance and stem cell research.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  10. Colin

    So many Christians, so few lions......

    December 19, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • M. Montaigne

      Best comment on this topic yet! Nicely done, sir.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  11. BBBBB

    Good now that it is established that Christianity is the worlds largest religion can Christians stop whining about how they are being persecuted.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • BorisMKV

      As soon as atheists quit whining about hearing us talk about it all the time.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • BBBBB

      How about a compromise. If Christians stop trying to shove their beliefs down my throat I won't say another word about them.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  12. Lol

    Wait, is Jesus here yet? Or is he still on his way? Oh that's right. You're all f'n morons.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • K-Mac

      LOL

      You call Christians morons? That is a pretty strong attack don't you think? Nevertheless, let's say you are correct and we, the moronic Christians, are wrong. What price do we pay? We live a life striving to be more loving, giving and decent then we die to go off to nothingness – I would say that is not such a bad price to pay for being wrong. If you are wrong, may the God you are mocking have mercy on you because that will be all that will save you from one heck of an ugly eternity!

      December 19, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  13. Sidney

    statistically, 98% of people who commit crimes associate themselves with a religion. It must be evil.. Oh wait guess what 98% of people who commit crimes have eaten bread. It must be evil. wait I have a better one, 100% of people who have committed a crime also take in oxygen. anyone else see the undeniable proof here? Oxygen is the cause of poor behavior not people.(sarcasm in case you really cant tell)

    December 19, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Snow

      Lol. I love your statistics..

      December 19, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Razier

      What you seem to fail to understand is that religious people usually claim to derive their moral code from their religion, so when they commit acts of immorality that reflects negatively upon their religion.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  14. Atheist

    At least Christians don't worship a pedofile like Muslims do 😀

    December 19, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Papa

      Muhammad was a Pedophile and a womaniser...he was no different from the Talibans....The Terrorists are just perfecting the act their true leader was,,,,when You see Terror then you see the true side of Islam.......Muslims are not terrorists...But Terrorists are Muslims....

      December 19, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  15. Atheist 1#

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8sbBVOt40Q&w=640&h=360]

    December 19, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  16. sigh

    weak

    December 19, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  17. GSA

    Must be nice being #1, hehe. Just wondering why the big 3 religions all talk about influencing others to convert? I mean if you are the one true faith and you believe then wouldn't the masses eventually change their ways regardless?
    Just a thought coming from someone who follows a religion that does not preach conversion and actually wants us to learn more about other religions and their benefits and hindrances rather than discredit them.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  18. Colin

    2.2 billion Christians, hey? That brings up an interesting point.

    Approximately one hundred and ten thousand million (110,000,000,000) people have lived on Earth. Given all those who have, over the centuries, rejected the Christian god, or who have otherwise committed mortal sins, there must be literally thousands of millions of people burning for all eternity in the cosmic oven of hell set up by your all-loving god. Some must have been burning for thousands of years by now.

    About 100,000 people die every day. There must be a constant stream of thousands of forlorn souls every day into the one way pit of hell your all-merciful god set up and maintains.

    But, far, far worse than sheer overwhelming numbers is the extent of the punishment. There is no way out, no parole, no time off for good behavior. You don’t just burn, you burn for all eternity. Billions of people and thousands of daily new arrivals burning for all eternity!

    No criminal justice system in the history of the Human race, even those established by the most despotic of tyrants, comes close to matching the unfathomable barbarity of your “infinitely benevolent” god. I don’t have to kill, I don’t have to steal, hell I don’t even have to litter. All I have to do is refuse to believe in the Christian god and it will impose a penalty on me an infinite times worse than the death penalty.

    Hitler murdered six million Jews in his concentration camps, but compared to your god, Hitler was a bleeding-hearted wimp. A goose-stepping girlie-man. Your all-caring god not only burns billions more than Hitler, Pol Pot and all other dictators and tyrants added up, he keeps doing so to them for all eternity! I would not wish a bad sunburn on a person simply because they have a different religion to me, let alone fry them for ever.

    It is also odd that your all-loving god is also all-knowing and knows which souls will go to hell before they do. He even knows it before they are born, and yet he still creates them. He is worse than a psychopathic teenager than breeds litter after litter of kittens so he can slowly roast them in ovens.

    That's the problem with trying to reconcile an all loving, all powerful god with the myth of hell. It shows up Christianity to be utter garbage,

    December 19, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Eric G

      Point noted.

      A little graphic? Maybe, but point noted.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Guess who

      Your statement is like reading a book. Make it shorter. You will reach more individuals. Your article may possess intelligence but your approach is off key.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Answer

      Most of those 110 billion people who have died would also like to have their pets with them in heaven.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • jim

      Colin,
      Never read the Bible, did you? All loving? Not what it says. Holy. Totally different issue. Read it and then discuss it. Otherwise, you're just another talking head with no facts to back up your argument.
      Read it, believe it.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Joon

      One thing that you're forgetting is that God is all-holy. Compared to a holy God, you and I are no different than Hitler. Any sin great or small violates God's requirement of holiness and therefore, God must punish those who are in violation, a.k.a. the whole human race. But in God's mercy and love, He sent His son Jesus Christ to die for our sins. So yes, God saves us from Himself.

      Yes, God knows all things and knows already what will happen because He made everything. So why does He still make humans who He knows will not believe? The simple answer is that it's for His glory. I know that's not the answer that you're looking for but the truth still remains that that's how God is.

      Just because we don't think it's morally right in our perspective doesn't make it make-believe. We sinned against God (our representative Adam) and we deserve full punishment.

      The alternative to Christianity is that another religion is right or that they're all wrong and there truly is no God. It takes more faith to believe that there is no God and that all of this just happened "randomly." If that's the case, then everything we now see is make-believe because everything will end in the Big Crunch or freeze over because of the ever-expanding universe. Either way, there's an end to all things and everything is meaningless.

      I don't believe in God to have meaning in my life. I believe in God because it's the truth. May God have mercy on your sould and may His grace be upon you so that your eyes and heart may be opened to the truth.

      Amen.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • RP

      God doesn't make decisions for us. We choose what we want to do and where we want to go. If you choose to believe in Him, He will bring you into his kingdom. But he won't force you to go if you don't want to. The alternative is hell, but He doesn't want you to go to hell. He has given plenty of evidence to believe in Him. You probably have never witnessed any miracles, but others have. You have to have trust in people. Not everybody is a liar or a nutcase. I know you require evidence, but there has already been plenty of evidence. How much would be enough?

      If you don't believe in God, it doesn't necessarily mean that you will go to hell. You will probably end up in purgatory and God will judge you there. In the mean time, just respect Him and others that believe in Him.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Any sin great or small violates God's requirement of holiness and therefore, God must punish those who are in violation, a.k.a. the whole human race."""

      Why must he punish them?

      Is there a reason he must?

      He's God, after all – why can't he make things perfect? Because he wants us to suffer?

      December 19, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Colin,

      You said, "About 100,000 people die every day."
      I can't get your math to work.

      If we simplify the world population model to the following:
      – 7 billion people alive today
      – Stable population (equal number of births and deaths)
      – A fixed average life expectancy of about 65 years

      Under these assumptions, the entire population ages by a cumulative 7 billion years every year. To keep both the population and life expectancy constant, dying people need to take approximately 7 billion years out of the mix. 7 billion divided by 65 years is approximately 107 million. This would indicate that approximately 107 million people die every year (to be replaced with an equal number of babies). 107 million per year equates to about 295 thousand per day.

      So, if my simplified model is anywhere near accurate, your number is off by a factor of 3 (give or take).

      Cheers.

      December 19, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • hotairace

      CIA World Factbook 2005 puts the number of death worldwide per day at about 155,000.

      December 19, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  19. Brian

    But they're still more oppressed than gays, so be mindful of their feelings.

    December 19, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  20. Just another guy

    It is my contention that everybody has a right to believe in what they believe in. I'm an atheist, but i hate when other atheists tell christians, muslims, jewish folk, and others what they believe in is wrong. Let people live the way they want to live and stop criticizing. It won't get you anywhere, and, in the end, it doesn't matter so long as you live a happy fulfilled life. But whatever, just my belief.

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

      I agree, problem is everyone thinks they right and can judge everyone else like they are all high and mighty.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • KW

      Thanks for the thoughtful and measured comment. I'm a devout evangelical Christian and I really hate it when others of my persuasion try to shout opposition down. We are disparate in opinion regarding the divine, but alike in that we both believe people should be free to come to whatever conclusion in regards to faith as they see fit.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
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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.