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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. Good Sense

    Man's worse creation.....religion.
    Has and will divide the masses.
    Sheep follow anything...scared to step out the box.
    Got a question an no I am not your heathen...
    Did God invent man or Did man invent God?

    December 19, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  2. mightyfudge

    So now we can safely conclude that 1/3 of the earth's population are incredibly stupid beyond all hope or repair.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  3. yeahalright

    But I thought Christmas was under attack!

    December 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • George

      Christians are under attack. Open your eyes. It is evident even on these boards.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • yeahalright

      So wait. 80% of Americans believe in substantially the same fairy tales –
      1. for which you get at least two complete days off per year, basically a two month season to celebrate, – and
      2. without professing belief in the same one could never be elected president – and
      3. you get the name of your deity right there on our money and pledge of nationalism –
      4. your churches get no taxation,

      I'll stop numbering, I could go on and on with how privileged you people's myth is and how preferred it is. Essentially I marvel at the gall you have of calling essentially a few dozen commenters on a message board an "attack." I suppose you'll move on to how that one person one time said "happy holidays" instead of "merry christmas." I know you people love your persecution complexes but get real. Then again, reality is not a strong suit for you guys so...won't hold my breath.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  4. mscancak

    Whew! That is certainly a relief!

    December 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  5. Clayton

    Religion is evil and immoral and has no redeeming qualities. Religion poisons every society, every culture.
    When all religion is gone, we will either be extinct or making real progress for the first time in human history.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • George

      How can you determine what is evil and immoral without God?

      December 19, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • yeahalright

      It's called empathy for and solidarity with your fellow human being.

      I'm more frightened that without a deity to keep you in line you would apparently be running amok. Who do you trust more: the person who does the right thing because it's the right thing or the person who does the right thing just because they think a god is watching and is gonna punish them for it? I teach my kid to do right even when I'm not around to correct him.

      True morality is how you behave when no one is watching.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  6. Bo

    Sigh.. soo many religious nut-jobs.. to such a small planet.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • batteryinme

      rAMEN to that!

      December 19, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  7. hamboy

    The end is coming and the world is exceeding ripe for judgement. repent, there is not much time left

    December 19, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • George

      Amen! Pray for Jesus' return.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  8. Adam

    Way to go Christianity, you're in the lead, with a mere 4.8 billion people who KNOW that you are wrong about the metaphysics of the Universe! You possess the largest shard shard of our fractured humanity. Just don't hurt anybody with it...

    December 19, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Judas

      God have mercy on all of us believers and not believers! God is love! Repent while there is time!

      December 19, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  9. Dave

    If this is true, why did Jesus punk Tebow on Sunday?

    December 19, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  10. Billy Offspring

    The world would be much better off with a pagan belief, worship the sun as the sustainer of life and the moon and its role in the seasons and tides. Taking care of our planet Earth instead of destroying it with holy wars sounds good to me. Religions all start off with good intentions but eventually drive us apart, give power to demigods and create rules not based on rhyme or reason.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  11. Chef333

    Based upon these numbers about 80% of the United States is Christian, which makes me think that this sudy has a low bar for what is and is not a Christian. I have a lot of friends who do not go to church nor follow any type of organized religon yet if you ask them they would say they are Christians instead of answering the question correctly which is they do not follow any religon. Make it seem like anybody who celibrate xmas was listed as Christian.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • streetsmt

      Or more likey they are answering what religion were they born to.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • yeahalright

      They said right in the article that it didn't measure practicing the religion, just what people identified as.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • nepawoods

      Unfortunately, you don't have the final say on who's a Christian and who's not. I know many who go to church on Sunday, but don't "Love thy neighbor as thyself". We all fail in some respect.

      And as for Sabbath, when the commandments were written, from the beginning, and in Christ's day, it was Saturday, the seventh day, not Sunday, the first day.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Solitairedog

      Or maybe you have a high bar for what is Christian. Beware that litmus test, my friend. If an adult human being declares as Christian, who are we to say that designation is bogus?

      December 19, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  12. Reichwing is Clueless

    Praise Allah!!!!!!......

    Praise Allah!!!!!!......

    Praise Allah!!!!!!......

    Praise Allah!!!!!!......

    Oh and btw, Happy Holidays!!!!!!!!!

    December 19, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Death To Islam

      All excrement upon your "allah"!!
      Islam is excrement!
      Heap excrement upon your head!

      December 19, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Hasan

      Allah is the Arabic word for "God", the same God of Abraham that Christians and Jews also worship. Nice job showing your hatred and ignorance.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • nooneknows

      Praise Easter Bunny!
      Praise Tooth Fairy!
      Praise Santa Claus!
      (these are all just as relevant, and as real)

      December 19, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • George

      Santa Claus, aka St. Nicholas, actually lived.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  13. Colin

    Dear 2.2 Billion Christians:

    God here.

    First, I do not exist. The concept of a 13,700,00,000 year old being, capable of creating the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the thoughts and actions of the 7 billion human beings on this planet is ludicrous.

    Second, if I did, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology you call the Bible. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors or how and why it was edited over the Centuries, yet you cite them for the most extraordinary of claims.

    Thirdly, when I sent my “son” (whatever that means, given that I am god and do not mate) to Earth, he would have visited the Chinese, Ja.panese, Europeans, Russians, sub-Saharan Africans, Australian Aboriginals, Mongolians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Indonesians and native Americans, not just a few Jews. He would also have exhibited a knowledge of something outside of the Iron Age Middle East.

    Fourthly, I would not spend my time hiding, refusing to give any tangible evidence of my existence, and then punish those who are smart enough to draw the natural conclusion that I do not exist by burning them forever. That would make no sense to me, given that I am the one who withheld all evidence of my existence in the first place.

    Fifth, I would not care who you do or how you “do it”. I really wouldn’t. This would be of no interest to me, given that I can create Universes. Oh, the egos.

    Sixth, I would have smited all evangelicals and fundamentalists long before this. You people drive me nuts. You are so small minded and yet you speak with such false authority. Many of you still believe in the talking snake nonsense from Genesis. I would kill all of you for that alone and burn you for an afternoon (burning forever is way too barbaric for me to even contemplate).

    Seventh, the whole idea of members of one species on one planet surviving their own physical deaths to “be with me” is utter, mind-numbing nonsense. Grow up. You will die. Get over it. I did. Hell, at least you had a life. I never even existed in the first place.

    Eighth, I do not read your minds, or “hear your prayers” as you euphemistically call it. There are 7 billion of you. Even if only 10% prayed once a day, that is 700,000,000 prayers. This works out at 8,000 prayers a second – every second of every day. Meanwhile I have to process the 100,000 of you who die every day between heaven and hell. Dwell on the sheer absurdity of that for a moment.

    Finally, the only reason you even consider believing in me is because of where you were born. Had you been born in India, you would likely believe in the Hindu gods, if born in Tibet, you would be a Buddhist. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. What, do you think we all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no god. Believing in me was fine when you thought the World was young, flat and simple. Now we know how enormous, old and complex the Universe is.

    Move on – get over me. I did.

    God

    December 19, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Reichwing is Clueless

      Amen to that!!!!!!!!!!

      December 19, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • JazzyJake

      Amen!

      December 19, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • hamboy

      hey, ..your not God. It is the true God that concerns us, not an absurd, indoctrinated fool who pretends god.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Clayton

      Good post, Colin!

      December 19, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      Thank you god I have been praying to hear this from you for 38yrs. I can now tell my fundamentalist brother you don't exist and that I heard it from you!! This gives me cause to celebrate I wonder if I can burn Bibles, Tora's and Korans together? If I did what color would the flames be?

      December 19, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Naddy

      all I have to say is wow! I am guessing you don't believe in anything with is fine to each his own but to totally out right dismiss other who do again I say WOW!

      December 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • J. Murphy

      Extrememly well-said. Wouldn't it be lovely to know that those who need it the worst will read it? (Oh, tht's right...they wouldn't get it, anyway!!)

      December 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Chef333

      Interesting .... what you wrote is almost as bad as the people who think the old testament is word for word accurate. Meaning you simply wrote something that has little based upon facts, and everything based upon some personal belief. As a scientist, and former science teacher I had to deal with crap passed as "truth" from the religious ignorant on a daily basis but now realize the other side has there version of head in the sand logical arguments as well. If you can not make a statement based upon the scientific method of logical and intelligent argument then stick with ranting about sports teams on ESPN

      December 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Don

      Wow, and they call religious people close-minded. Maybe you should actually study religions instead of generalizing all of them based on your simple perspective of religion.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • batteryinme

      rAMEN!!

      December 19, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Keefster

      What Colin said.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Hmmmm

      I was thinking exactly the same thing Don. I love how atheists like to call Christians "closed-minded" and blast forums about how "ignorant" they are ... so so sad.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Observer

      hamboy,

      Be careful about who you call a fool. Remember what Jesus said about people calling others fools and going to hell?

      December 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • why bother

      oh you poor uneducated fool who has not done proper research into history and is closed minded except to your own theory

      December 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • nepawoods

      "First, I do not exist" ... Who says?

      December 19, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Phil

      From the time I was a child, the god concept seemed like BS to me. As an adult, I attended church for ten years. When I inquired about something that seemed irrational or inconsistent with the bible, I was treated like the proverbial turd in the punch bowl. I guess it's easier to jump on the bandwagon of religion then try to get through life without it. I agree with George Carlin, Joe Pesci is a guy who can get things done!

      December 19, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Solitairedog

      Funny. Not very considerate of others, but funny. Did you copy it from something?

      December 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Michael

      Dear Collin:

      First, I find it amazing that you think that your opinion somehow supersedes 2.2 BILLION people that currently claim Christianity, not counting the other billions of people who believe in a "god", even if not the God of the Bible. Also, considering these numbers only count people currently on earth, so there were billions of others prior to our time who believe in the God of the Bible and then billions of others who believed in some sort of God.

      Second, atheist make up the smallest percentage of believe or lack thereof in America, I would venture to say the world and somehow you are the smart, intellectual one and the billions of people present and past are just all morons, I guess, in your opinion. Even though that a lot of people that have done great things medically, scientifically, technologically, and humanitarian work have called themselves Christians or at the very least acknowledged a faith in a "god".

      Third, your article starts off saying "God here", though I'm sure you meant this sarcastically, still begs the question, is it that you don't believe in God or you believe that you are god, considering you think you have all the answers to all of lives mysteries and complexities.

      Fourth, God sends no body to hell. Your and my sin sends us to hell. God offered a way to not go to hell, but it is your choice and your choice alone to accept it. That is a pretty simple choice if you ask me.

      Fifth, God has given proof of his existence in His creation. No one looks at a coffee table or a car or any other item and say...ummm, I wonder how that got here, maybe it just appeared because of something in the cosmos or oh I know the coffee table evolved from the nail file over millions of years. We all know that if we see an object it was created by a creator, inventor, or made by someone. So, how much more, should that logic follow to a complex universe with complex human beings. If a very simple table cannot create itself or just appear, why would you think the most complex beings could? That is both illogical and unintelligent. Even if you think we just happened, that our bodies just formed over evolution, how do you explain morality and the need to feel loved?

      Sixth, to assume that the only reason you believe in a Christian God is because of were you born, is at the very least absurd. There have been stories upon stories of real people who have converted to Christianity in countries where it is against the law to even have a Bible in your possession and even risked their lives for the conversion. Now it is true that your upbringing may influence you, no matter the religion or lack thereof, but it doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. We are usually all influcened by our parents in some way. The likelyhood of athesist parents raising an athesist child is likely, but doesn't mean that child doesn't have their own individual choice of what they do or don't believe in.

      Seventh, of course the idea of an all knowing God who can be in relationship with billions at once is mind boggling, even to the believer. But, then again there is a reason that you and I are not God! So, because you are not all knowing and you don't have all the answers to all of lifes problems and complexities. I think I won't take your "wisdom" into too much consideration when making my life decisions.

      Eighth, let's suppose for a second that I'm wrong and you are right that there is no God. If I'm wrong, I have nothing to lose. However, if you are wrong, you have everything to lose.

      Finally, God loves you and it is will that none go to hell, but He also didn't want to create robots that have no choice, so He gave you freedom. However, He did say that he puts before you life and death, but is pleading with you to choose life! God bless!

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

      Michael, I will adress each of your points.

      First, I find it amazing that you think that your opinion somehow supersedes 2.2 BILLION people that currently claim Christianity, not counting the other billions of people who believe in a "god", even if not the God of the Bible. Also, considering these numbers only count people currently on earth, so there were billions of others prior to our time who believe in the God of the Bible and then billions of others who believed in some sort of God.

      First, gods do not exist just because a lot of people believe in them. They cannot be democratically elected into existence. For thousands of years, 100% of human beings thought the World was flat. It remained round. Second, 2.2 billion out of seven billion is a minority. There are more people who reject Christianity than believe it. Third, all the gods are inconsistent and many believe in reincarnation.

      Second, atheist make up the smallest percentage of believe or lack thereof in America, I would venture to say the world and somehow you are the smart, intellectual one and the billions of people present and past are just all morons, I guess, in your opinion. Even though that a lot of people that have done great things medically, scientifically, technologically, and humanitarian work have called themselves Christians or at the very least acknowledged a faith in a "god".

      Non-believers (atheists and the functional equivalent, disinterested agnostics) number about 1B worldwaide and are growing. Any scientific breakthrough has nothing to do with a belief in a Bronze Age Miuddle Eastern sky-fairy. Hindus, atheists and Muslims advance science, too. 95% of the american Academy of scientists reject belief in a god.

      Third, your article starts off saying "God here", though I'm sure you meant this sarcastically, still begs the question, is it that you don't believe in God or you believe that you are god, considering you think you have all the answers to all of lives mysteries and complexities.

      Mere insult, and a failure to recognize basic irony. No need to respond.

      Fourth, God sends no body to hell. Your and my sin sends us to hell. God offered a way to not go to hell, but it is your choice and your choice alone to accept it. That is a pretty simple choice if you ask me.

      In your mythology, he controls the admission process. Why not simply appear and show us he is real? I would drop to my knees immediately.

      Fifth, God has given proof of his existence in His creation. No one looks at a coffee table or a car or any other item and say...ummm, I wonder how that got here, maybe it just appeared because of something in the cosmos or oh I know the coffee table evolved from the nail file over millions of years. We all know that if we see an object it was created by a creator, inventor, or made by someone. So, how much more, should that logic follow to a complex universe with complex human beings. If a very simple table cannot create itself or just appear, why would you think the most complex beings could? That is both illogical and unintelligent. Even if you think we just happened, that our bodies just formed over evolution, how do you explain morality and the need to feel loved?

      Morality and the need to be loved are purely human characteristics – so what? Evolution nicely explains the complexity of life on Earth, but even taking your hypothasis, well who created your god?

      Sixth, to assume that the only reason you believe in a Christian God is because of were you born, is at the very least absurd. There have been stories upon stories of real people who have converted to Christianity in countries where it is against the law to even have a Bible in your possession and even risked their lives for the conversion. Now it is true that your upbringing may influence you, no matter the religion or lack thereof, but it doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. We are usually all influcened by our parents in some way. The likelyhood of athesist parents raising an athesist child is likely, but doesn't mean that child doesn't have their own individual choice of what they do or don't believe in.

      The vast majority of human beings adopt and maintain the faith they were rought up with, which is inarguably a result of where they were born. That is why you are not defending Buddhism.

      Seventh, of course the idea of an all knowing God who can be in relationship with billions at once is mind boggling, even to the believer. But, then again there is a reason that you and I are not God! So, because you are not all knowing and you don't have all the answers to all of lifes problems and complexities. I think I won't take your "wisdom" into too much consideration when making my life decisions.

      Again, pointless personal attack.

      Eighth, let's suppose for a second that I'm wrong and you are right that there is no God. If I'm wrong, I have nothing to lose. However, if you are wrong, you have everything to lose.

      And so do you, if the Hindus, Buddhists, Mulsims or Jains are right. No, threats about the dire consequences of not believing in little magic men will not prompt me to start believing in leprechauns.

      Finally, God loves you and it is will that none go to hell, but He also didn't want to create robots that have no choice, so He gave you freedom. However, He did say that he puts before you life and death, but is pleading with you to choose life! God bless!

      That is part of your superst.ition, not mine

      December 19, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  14. Paul

    By the way ... God is always seen as a 'him" .. so, he is a male .. Question: how big are his genitalia?
    What does he use them for? Wait .. God is banging a Goddess? Interesting .. how often do they do it ? Does she get pregnant? I wonder, does God ever cheat on her Goddess ... ? ...

    December 19, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Hitch

      Dear Paul,

      Only a ho.mose.xual would ever dream about the size of God's genita!s. Tell ya the truth i haven't looked.....yet.
      P.S. – you're an idiot.

      Sincerely,

      Christopher Hitchens

      December 19, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Aaron

      The bible clearly states that God has no gender. The terms of "male" and "father" and "son" are applied only to give us a frame of reference to a relationship that we generally recognize. Please be careful speaking so disrespectfully of things you don't understand.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Solitairedog

      Oh O,o where is the LIKE button? Good one. "Does God ever cheat on her Goddess?" That's great!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  15. Guester

    I'd imagine that the number that identify themselves as Christina and those that actually follow it are vastly different.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Michael M.

      Pretty much what I was thinking.

      It doesn't really matter if you identify as Christian if you're still bigoted and short-sighted.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  16. rockinrob

    Over half the world is delusional.. WHAT A SURPRISE

    December 19, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  17. Paul

    Christianity, the largest among the groups of gullible not very bright people who think God really exists, thank him for saving their life when they survive an airline accident or similar close call with death, yet failed to thank him for killing the non survivors of the same accident ...

    Let's not start gong into observing the behavior of the believers of other religions, because they are not worse nor better .. all the same kind of gullible childish never grown up sub humans.

    Guys, stop behaving like you were delusional and educate yourself .. moral guidance is not with God, is with you .. so do the right thing ... you know which one is it, just stop being an idiot

    December 19, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Jason

      Why atheists insist on commenting on the BELIEF BLOG. You seriously have nothing better to do than ridicule those who disagree with you? Truly sad.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Wade

      Well, Jason, this article was on the CNN home page. I didn't intentionally come to the Belief Blog to make fun of you.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • steve

      If you don't believe in God, there is no such thing as morals, unless you think your morals matter more than someone elses. No God, No Moral standards...

      December 19, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Solitairedog

      What Wade said.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • yeahalright

      Why do you need god to behave morally and decently towards your fellow human being?

      Do you only obey the law when cops are around?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  18. flarnkingsgargle

    praise him!

    December 19, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  19. hippypoet

    My Almighty Sun is brighter then your dum-ba-ss god and his dead beat godson!

    oh puns, how i love thee!

    December 19, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  20. YeahItsMe72

    Well it was probably a higher % at one point which means we are making progress educating people. 100 years from now I hope that number gets cut in half.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:23 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.