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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. Filthman

    The poll does not show how many of those people need a shower.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  2. Lol

    LOLOLOL

    December 19, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  3. GodofLunaticsCreation

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WQ0i3nCx60&w=640&h=360]

    December 19, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  4. healive

    @Colin: to the corrupt all things are corrupt. You will give account for every idle word to King Jesus.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  5. URJustWRong

    I hope they all get Kindles for Christmas this year so they can actually READ and UNDERSTAND their Bible.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  6. Jamezzz

    Unfortunately, many Christians hold to beliefs that are not necessarily Biblical. Many hold onto beliefs that are based more on tradition than scripture itself. Others mistakenly take scripture out of context twisting the meaning of important texts. One of the worst misunderstandings in scripture is that which paints our God as one who would unjustly punish for infinity those who committed sin during a finite lifetime.

    The Bible repeatedly describes death as sleep and states that the dead know nothing. The eternal fire that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah no longer burns today, but nonetheless the effects of that fire are certainly eternal. God's punishment is most certainly eternal, not his punishing. In fact, the Bible describes punishment as God's strange, unusual or alien act. Any loving parent having to punish their child can certainly relate to how strange it makes one feel to punish the one they love.

    Furthermore, the Bible states the gift of eternal life goes to those who believe and have accepted Christ as their savior. To those rejecting their savior, no such gift is forced upon them. Now how can one be punished eternally, if they are not given the gift of eternal life.

    Finally, the Bible states that when Christ comes again, His reward is with him. When we die, we sleep and we sleep until Christ comes with his reward. Christ hasn't come yet and no one is burning in this eternal hell. When Christ comes God will once again perform His strange act to put an end to sin, pain and suffering. Those eternal flames are eternal, in that, our loving God's judgement is final. The punishment lasts forever, but the punishing will surely end. How do I know? God made a promise that someday there will be no more pain and suffering. He couldn't make that promise if people burned in hell forever.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • healive

      Yet another inane refutation of the Bible. Apparently you didn't read the article: most of planet Earth follows the risen King. In the new heaven and new earth, everybody will.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • nympha

      Ouch! That is some of the most warped and twisted interpretation I have ever heard someone garner from the Bible. H ell is very methodically and emphatically explained and mentioned numerous times throughout the book. Have you been waylaid by Rob Bell?

      December 19, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Real Deal

      healive:

      No, not *most* of the planet follows your zombie guy. 1/3 is not *most*. Read the article:

      "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,"

      December 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  7. Flint Rock

    I'm always reminded why I'm a practicing agnostic.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • Felix The Navidad

      You look forward to a shortened life and eternal anguish?

      December 19, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • healive

      No unbelievers in hell. Are you sure about your position?

      December 19, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  8. healive

    Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Colin

      While they please him orally?

      December 19, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • nope

      Nope! YOU ARE SO WRONG ABOUT THAT!!!!!

      December 19, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • gman

      Colin, why waste your time on here? why care? For Christians Joy is the central reality and unknowns are on the periphery – we have most of the questions of life cogently answered through science, literature, reason, history,etc. there remains some unknowns ... for atheists it is just the opposite ... why do you even bother?

      December 19, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Leucadia Bob

      in bed. Hey Bible passages are like fortune cookies!

      December 19, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  9. korkea aika

    Of course Christianity is the majority religion, its easy to convert. Just say I accept Jeeee-sus and you're in.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Southern Celt

      Only if you are a Protestant 🙂

      December 19, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • o.k.

      @korkea aika–That's right. You got it! In other words, we have a God who loves us so much that he made it so very simple to have eternal salvation–you don't have to worry about some undefined list of good deeds that you have to complete–you only have to (honestly) accept Christ as your savior. That's the character of a loving God–he made the test simple and objective and without any mystery to it.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  10. REPUBLICANS LOVE AYN RAND

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CT-Hq117w8s&w=640&h=360]

    December 19, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  11. Leucadia Bob

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

    December 19, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  12. nathan

    What no love for us Jews?

    December 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • gman

      🙂 Lots of Jewish love ... Christianity is the fulfilment of Judaism – I know this is sacrosanct in your eyes but it is our belief and espoused by Paul a very well educated Jew

      December 19, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Heyjoo

      You want love? Look in a mirror.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Lolo

      I find it fascinating and wonderful to know that the first leader/leaders of the Christian church were Jews. Without Jewish parents, there would have not been a Christ. I believe Christianity is based on the "belief" that Jesus is Lord and to follow his footsteps, not a religion. The Jewish faith is the foundation of Christianity and God hasn't forgotten his chosen people even though most Jews do not believe the covenant has been fulfilled. Presently, Jewish unbelief continues to influence Christ's Church and have an important role to fulfill when He comes again.

      December 19, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  13. MAJORITY always WINS

    CHISTIANITY RULES!!!

    December 19, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • Wrong again

      MAJORITY ALWAYS LOSES!

      December 19, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  14. Colin

    Who is most likely to think the world began 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake:

    (a) illiterate tribesmen from Yemen who have never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education

    (b) Homeless people who have never read a science book

    (c) About 65% of Christians; or

    (d) All of the above?

    December 19, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Felix The Navidad

      My vote would go to Colin because he brings it up so much and accuses others of that belief all the time.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • healive

      Methinks thou does protest too much.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • nympha

      Lol! 100% of the Christians I know are not homeless, do not live in a tribe, and many have science degrees. Your ignorance is a hoot!

      December 19, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hey, nymrod, long time, no response. When are you going to provide proof that Planned Parenthood is evil?

      December 19, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • fred

      Colin
      Even the Bible does not say it all began 6,000 years ago. I suspect you do this intentionally knowing full well that is not what the Bible says.

      December 19, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  15. REPUBLICANS LOVE AYN RAND

    "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the Republican Party as useful."

    December 19, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Dave

      Rand had a gift for making blunt, sweeping and inane statements sound positively insightful.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  16. Bernard

    Thank God

    December 19, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  17. Colin

    Which of the following is the most barbaric act imaginable, that only a sick psychopath would condone?

    (a) Cutting off the hand of a thief

    (b) Hanging a convicted killer

    (c) torturing and burning a woman as a witch; or

    (d) burning somebody for all eternity, simply because they do not believe something you could easily prove to them, but choose not to?

    The mythological Christian god does not make much sense at any level, does it?

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

      nice little straw man argument you have there .... God give you free will – if you chose to not accept to believe in God but want to instead coddle your pride then by all means you will spend eternity separated from God – why would a loving God make you spend eternity with Him if you choose not to?

      December 19, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Dave

      (e) Willfully ignoring centuries of deep theological and philosophical reflection on complex and weighty matters regarding God, Life, The Universe and Everything in order to confirm your own simplistic reduction of a worldview you know nothing about.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Colin

      gman – you adroitly avoided the point. Your sky-fairy withholds all evidence of its existence, then supposedly punishes those who draw the eminently reasonable and honest conclusion that it does not exist by inflicting a penalty on them a billion times worse than the death penalty.

      Dark Ages clap-trap.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Colin

      So Dave, what are these very deep and esoteric principals about your Bronze Age sky-god that I am apparently ignorant of?

      December 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Southern Celt

      So show me in the New Testament where any of that happens, and wasn't just done by a sinner who didn't believe.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Alex Trebeck

      And Colin gets a 2 point bonus (and personal bo ner) by working the phrase bronze age into a reply. For another 2 points does the ass hole even know what the bronze age is?

      December 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Pav

      Probably you should take your own inventory and leave others out. I'm not sure the gates of hell are as bad as people thought they were a thousand years ago. But what I do personally know is that Christianity has worked for me all of my life. I have faith, I'm content, and that's fine by me.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Pav

      Besides. Jesus fulfilled all of the old Testament prophecies. They aren't hanging over anyone's heads anymore.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  18. Man

    Atheists really don't get it. But they must know that humans are spiritual beings. We are, and everyone worships. Most worship God or gods. Lots of people. But people also worship rock stars, movie stars, sports teams, and more.

    We were created to worship. I choose to worship the creator: God.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Real Deal

      @Man,

      Some people, like you, seem to have a fetish for worshipping something or someone... many others can respect, admire, esteem, learn from, and enjoy people and things without falling prostrate before them and turning their lives over to them.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • Eric G

      Sorry Man, logic foul on the play. You have not established that your god exists. You must do so prior to making claims about their abilities or state of mind.

      Please present verifiable evidence that your god exists.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Southern Celt

      Eric G,
      How about Motion? Everything moves or changes yet nothing moves or changes itself. Everything must be moved by something already in motion. An infinite chain of movers can't explain it. It has to have a beginning that was un-moved. The Prime Mover that started the chain is called God. Q.E.D.

      December 19, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  19. LunAtheicst

    "Those who say atheism is religion are idiots"

    Absolutely they are, because atheism isn't religion, it's nothing... ATHEISM is NOTHING!

    December 19, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Deep North

      Atheism is a Belief, just like Christianity. They simply believe there is no God! They have their Kool Aid also!

      December 19, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Colin

      By that logic, people who don't believe in Leprechauns comprise a religion.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • gman

      Collin, you are making a huge logical error, leprechans are not mentioned – religion is about God(s) – the lack of belief in God(s) would be a direct comparison with a belief in God(s) and hence valid. Many atheists are having de-baptizing ceremonies and trying to argue people to come to atheism – in that sense they are an actively recruiting religion

      December 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • The Pope

      I just have the belief that people should not wear condoms in the most H.I.V infected continent on earth!

      December 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Eric G

      Sorry, Atheisim is a lack of belief in god or gods. Do you believe in the sun god Ra? If not, that makes you an atheist too.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Colin

      gman, to somebody who does not believe in magic and the supernatural, there is no difference between an immortal being with supernatural powers called a "god" and the same eing called a Leprechaun, fairy or whatever.It is all nonsense.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Eric

      No gman, you are the one who erred. It is not OK to prove something exists via proving the negative (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance). The burden of proof is not on the atheist. They, in fact, are correct until proven otherwise by the believers.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • MAJORITY always WINS

      @LunAtheicst

      Don't exaggerate. They maybe insignificant but they still part of the community.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Southern Celt

      Colin,
      If you want to be logical about it I suggest you investigate Thomas Aquinas and his Five Ways, based on the likes of Plato and Aristotle and natural proofs, not scripture which you obviously don't accept.

      December 19, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  20. TheRationale

    How is this news?

    December 19, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Live by your name, even for once..

      You are in Belief blog, don't you know it?

      December 19, 2011 at 6:30 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.