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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. Thing55

    These figures prove that it really isn't that hard to brainwash people, especially if they like what you're peddling.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  2. James

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7q6brMrFw0E&w=640&h=360]

    December 19, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  3. Jimbo

    247 Million in the US, where did they get this number? No one asked me my religion, it's not on the census. They must have got this info from churches who probably lied, becuase that is what they do best. Not to mention the growing fear of churches have of people leaving the faith, they know people who are sheep tend to follow the bigger crowd, the less people believe the more will follow.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • JC

      "They probably lied?" That is your response, to cast speculation and exhibit resentment? Yeah, they lied about the article Einey. Sheesh, atleast the atheists I went to Med School with presented intelligent arguments!?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Jimbo

      OK JC, with your medical school brillance can you tell me where they got the 247 million number from then genius? That is what I was asking, they didn't tell us so I assumed it was from the churches. I thought a medical student could at least comprehend a sentence.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • JC

      First off I haven't been a student in 14 years, I teach medical school. Secondly, the article did not list where the number came from but rather than question it you had to play the atheist trump card of accusing the Church of providing the numbers. But rather than even leave it there you accused them of probably lying to boot. Your comment is sheer conjecture with cathartic assumption designed to belittle and trivialize the article and Christianity as a whole.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Aloisae

      The numbers come from the American Religious Identification Survey which is published as part of the US Census Statistical Abstract.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Aloisae

      ARIS, btw, is self reporting and does not reflect church/synagogue/whatever membership.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  4. Jorge

    Mormonism – 1%?
    Mormons are Christian – Their Church is Called – The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints – How stupid some articles are.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • James

      Sorry! But Mormonism is a cult.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      Ask Christians, especially hateful white American Christian men, if Mormonism is Christian.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      You realize that what they were saying was that 1% of christians are mormons right?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • GB

      hahaha, reread it man.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Eric

      Do you feel victimized there, Mormon? Re-read the statement that sent you into your "Mormons are being persecuted AGAIN" narrative...and good luck out there. Keep those magic undies on...

      December 19, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • bill

      mormons say they are christians, but they are not. i am not a god, never was. god was not a man. i believe marriage is between one man and one woman.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Aloisae

      The article does classify Mormons as Christian.. it is part of the estimated 1% of Christians not falling under the other three categories (Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox).

      December 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • bob

      If you read the works of Joseph Smith, it is very easy to see why Mormonism is called a cult and not considered Christian. He claimed men can become gods and God actually started out as a man but then became God. Now, how this happened when, 13.7 billion years ago, there was no time nor space is a mystery to me (and it should be them 🙂 Of course, not all Mormons believe Joseph smith – they are probably closer to Christianity then they think (and certainly not Mormon as made up by Joseph Smith and his early followers).

      December 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Doubting Thomas

      @bill, actually god was a man wasn't he ? god, jesus, holy spirt. all 3 of them. or all 1 of them.... somebody was in the sky, somebody was on the ground fishing and the last one was knocking up the virgin mary.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • bob

      Nope. God was not a man. See, this is the problem – if you want to argue for atheism and against christianity, at least study what it is you don't agree with! God is divine. God is eternal. Now, the second person of the trinity took on the nature of human 2000 years ago, but he wasn't human that grew into a God. Nor was he God and turned himself into a man and gave up his divine nature. The trinity is a very complex theological concept. and I can't do it justice here. but suffice it to say it is VERY different than what Joseph Smith conjured up. Why do I believe that Jesus is who we say he is. Well, again, can't do it justice, but follow the historical evidence of the ancient biblical texts (and non-biblical texts) – Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig have good books on the subject. You dont' even need to believe the Bible is the word of God to follow the historical evidences.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  5. adam

    Woot all the christian nations have the nukes.... I feel better already.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  6. Bill

    Christianity must be demonized at all costs, because (real) Christians do not view government as an authority, and will not kill other people. (real) Christians are immune to military media propaganda.

    And, No, I am not a Christian, nor do I practice any formal religion. But it's pretty easy to see why mainstream media attacks and frames religious people as insane, especially Christians. And the media has gotten quite a bandwagon of atheist disciples following them now. You people act very religious with your constant preaching of 'Christians are crazy!' Then you turn around and believe every word a scientist says on pure faith.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • streetsmt

      Are you from another planet?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Jimbo

      I would trust a scientist who got a degree from a reputable university over a pastor who graduated from a self proclaimed christain university any day of the week.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      well unless the scientist claims it was all done by magic then I see no reason why I should believe the scientist is lying.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Bill

      Jimbo: I know you would. You view modern academia much like religious people view the church. Rarely (if ever) will you ever use the scientific method to verify things for yourself. Instead you will treat the modern academic as a priest, regardless of the fact that his consensus is partly influenced by a paycheck.

      Cedar Rapids: Many scientific claims today fall under entirely theoretical concepts with no proven basis in reality. There's nothing wrong with theories, but when you start going around calling them facts, that's where trouble arises. For instance going around claiming The Big Bang is a fact, is not much different than claiming God created the world in 7 days. But you get enough "scientists" to agree on something and somehow it becomes an accepted truth. This is very similar to religious behavior.

      Your rebuttals to this sound very much like a typical "Christian's" rebuttal if you questioned their religion. Basically "No, you're wrong. The authority I trust is the right one."

      December 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Bill, like gravity and the general theory of relativity?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • bob

      you know, science isn't the enemy of theism – it actually helps provide evidence for theism – at least for premises in the kalam and telelogical arguments. The Big Bang says 13.7 billion years ago, the universe came into existence – space AND time did not exist prior. Now, given that nothing can pop into existence uncaused out of nothing – you have a question you need to answer. And science won't help at that point – this is metaphysics. Some uncaused, timeless, spaceless "thing" brought the universe into existence via the Big Bang. You start there.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • bob

      BTW: the standard model (aka the Big Bang) has had a century of data supporting it. I know of no mainstream cosmologist or physicist that denies the Big Bang model – at least, at the core that says 13.7 billions years ago, the universe came into existence and it has been expanding ever since. Just this year, more data came from NASA supporting this premise. The Big Bang did happen. The only question is – what caused it? Or do you actually really believe the entire universe, TIME included (which Einstein and others proved as well, time came into being then) really came into being uncaused out of nothing? And by nothing – it isn't even the quantum vacuum – that came into being as well!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Bill

      Correct, Jimbo. Certainly the effects of gravity are undeniable, but the nature of gravity is theoretical, as is all the fundamentals that make our universe tick.

      I'm not against science. I admire the pure scientific method. What I don't admire is a bunch of people with degrees propping up each others' theories as unquestionable truth, patting each other on the back, and ridiculing counter theories that might tip over their applecart.

      It is also quite ironic to me the way "rational" people are so ready to bow down at the Altar of Academia. 'He has a degree! He must be speaking the truth!' It's blind faith, no different than someone following a priest.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  7. jon

    I hope you did not spend too much time on this study.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  8. LeeCMH

    I hate Christians as much as they hate me.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • bill

      alrighty then

      December 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  9. scoobster

    who doesn't know that God is real? Everyone believes in God.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • James

      One point in History people believed in the "Fountain of Youth"

      December 19, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Eric

      I dont

      December 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • F16wpnsUSAF

      I used to believe in Santa Claus, but then I grew up.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  10. Phil

    The end is near! Repent! Repent! Send me your money now for more information!

    December 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  11. why bother

    if you feel that a so called intellectual that does not believe in god most adamantly is correct in his statements, than please follow his life course of heavy drinking and heavy smoking, don't be kind to anyone, just angry at the world, and witness yourself how your life will end. Is that better than the truth of what the bible really contains? And I don't mean what the hypocrites of mainstream religions teaches. If you feel that way I truly pity you and how sad your life must be.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Doubting Thomas

      If somebody doesnt believe in invisible ghosts, why would this make them lead an unhealthy or unproductive life ? that is moronic logic... just ask the Dalai Lama

      December 19, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  12. Vijay 123

    Very nicely written article. True Christianity is followed by the majority of the people. Apart from other religions practiced,
    Hinduism is the oldest religion of the world.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Publius Novus

      I'm pretty sure animism is older than Hinduism.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Gogogoch

      Actually, Christianity traces its roots to Mithras and other sun-God myths. Perhaps one of the oldest is the Egyptian Horus myth, dating back to 10,000BC when the Eastern Star – Sirius – first made its appearance (after a long absence) in northern Egypt.

      You know about Mithras/Horus right? Born of a virgin, 12 followers, son of god, "light of the world", "no one goes to heaven but through him", baptised by a guy who gets his head removed, goes to the wilderness for 40 days, is killed but resurrects after 3 days, ascends to be with his father?

      Sounds familiar?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • bob

      Gogoguch – you've been reading too much of the internet atheists 🙂 Mithrasism isn't as you say it is. The old "Jesus was born from myths of the pagans" is a very old, centuries old in fact, argument against Christianity and has been debunked over many generations. Its just not true – the facts don't play out. What you claim was the Mithrasism beliefs were, not, actually their beliefs. There is no pagan religion that matches Christianity as exactly as you claim.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  13. Eric

    Those numbers are a bit deceiving because no two groups (under the Christian umbrella) believes the same way. Not only that, these so-called Christians are never asked to "unpack" their belief about God. Some claim the biblical story of creation, some literally interpret the Noah's ark story, others reject stories of talking snakes, burning bushes, witches & the like - these Cultural Christians see these stories as traditional metaphors. So who knows how many of those Christians believe in an omniscient Sky Daddy that answers prayer, performs miracles, & nominates which creatures deserve to spend an eternity in a pit of fire? So what is a Christian?

    December 19, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • bob

      Eric – at the core, Christianity has one main belief at the center – that Christ, the divine Son of God incarnate, lived, died and rose again. All others are towards the outside of the "web of beliefs" – I could, for example, not believe in the total inerrancy of the entire Bible and, so long as I maintain my belief in Jesus Christ, I would be considered a Christian (or "Mere Christian" in the words of C.S. Lewis). All Christians don't have to believe the same things – post tribulation? pre-tribulation? Old Earth? Young Earth? these are not core and you need not believe those as dogma to be a mere Christian.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  14. us1776

    Christianity is the fastest declining religion on the planet.

    .

    December 19, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Eric

      Jesus Christ is truth, deal with it.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Ummmmm

      "Jesus Christ is truth, deal with it."

      LOL! No it's not because he didn't write any of it. LOL!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Eric

      The flying spaghetti monster is truth. Deal with it.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  15. YeahItsMe72

    Unless you've read the bible in it's original Hebrew you're just a poser Christian.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • streetsmt

      Finally, Someone has defined what a TRUE CHRISTIAN is!!!!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Publius Novus

      That is a little surprising. Whose Bible? Are you referring to the Torah? Or the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible? Or the Roman Catholic/Episcopalian version of the Bible, with 66 books, plus the Apocrypha? Or the Protestant Bible with 66 books? Depending on the version, portions of the bible never were in Hebrew, so there would be no original Hebrew to read.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • nope!

      New testament was originally in Greek, not Hebrew.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  16. Gogogoch

    There are lots of ideas in the world. The scientific method is simply something used to work out which are true and which are not. That's all. So far, all religious and supernatural notions have gone into the "not" category, and there are lots of people who don't like it. Fair enough. But the idea is still in the "not" category no matter how much we may wish otherwise.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  17. Binky42

    There may be a lot of Christians, but non-belief is the fastest growing choice in the world.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  18. Sybaris

    Religion...................the ultimate ponzi scheme

    December 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  19. Cyle

    "I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

    ...Stephen F Roberts

    December 19, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Beth

      Awesome quote. Sums up my feelings exactly. 🙂

      December 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • bob

      So, fill me in – why do i dismiss the other gods? Do you even know? For me, I actually have very GOOD reasons for believing in, at least, one and only one God – just look into the Leibnizian Argument, and the Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Teleological Argument and the Moral Argument and the Ontological Argument (to name the more impressive ones that do it for me). Now, what are YOUR reasons for dismissing theism? Are your arguments as strong and more plausible that, at least, those 5? I've researched it myself, thought long and hard, and I find atheism MUCH more difficult to believe in when you REALLY understand the implications of what atheism claims (and let there be no doubt – atheism DOES make truth claims – to claim there is no God is just as much a claim to the truth as there is a God – what is your warrant for believing either truth claim?).

      December 19, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Modmon

      Go away bob/fred/george. Your stupidity is not welcome here.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Alex

      Bob, You have a bias, and that bias is your "soul". You see it benefits you to believe in god, because then you dont have to face the horrible realization of your own mortality. Athiesm has no benefit what so ever, it just happens to be the truth. It sucks.. but thats also how you know its true. You can stay as religious as you want if it makes you feel better, but I just want to know the truth, regardless of if its good news or not...

      December 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • streetsmt

      Bob,
      You do not understand what atheism is. Atheism is a LACK of belief, not a belief in itself. You, the believer, has the burdon of proof.
      The arguments you posted have not met this burdon of proof. If they had, they would be visciated on all the scientific journals. They would be revolutionary. They would have profound effects on the world, today. Or, there must be a scientific conspiricy to keep them quiet.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Really? you find atheism harder to believe in than the notion of a magical supernatural being casting spells to make the universe and creating some bizarre judegement system for some weird unknown reason?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • bob

      If atheism is a LACK of belief, then my pet cat is an atheist – since he lacks all belief. Does that make sense? No it doesn't. you are wrong – Atheism makes very strong truth claims – that there IS NO GOD. That's is it. Theism claims "there is a God". Two truth claims – both needs arguments to enable one to warrant belief. Study philosophy and you will understand the difference. Note: you will not learn this on the internet.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • bob

      cedar – yes, I do. Do you even know those arguments that I mentioned? Kalam? Teleological? Leibnizian? If you study them, you will see Christians have very strong warrant for their beliefs. I've yet to come across a strong atheistic argument for their belief that there is no god (the problem of the suffering and evil comes close, however – but I have defeaters for that argument, and my 5 arguments FOR theism are as strong if not stronger).

      December 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • bob

      streetsmt – do you even know the kalam? It USES mainstream science as part of its evidence FOR one of its premises. If you believe in the big bang, GREAT! That supports the Kalam! Science is the friend of the theist – internet atheists just don't know it. Modern cosmology supports the teleological argument! I love science! It helps strengthen my faith!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Actually yes, yes your cat would be an atheist if you were to so classify it as not having a belief in god.
      Its a foolish argument but if thats what you want to use then sure.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Cyle

      I was raised in the church (Southern Baptist), and was a believer until the age of 17. After studying mythology it dawned on me that the stories were all very similar. If these mythological gods weren't "real", how could the Xtian god be any more "real".

      Example: Hercules... whan broken down to basic plot points, is the mortal son of a god who performs a lifetime of miracles, fights the lord of the undervworld to save a soul, then goes to live with his father in the heavens. Very similar to the christmyth with a few details rearranged. The Hercules story is older, so does that make it more "real" than the Christ story?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Your arguments are nothing bob. They all boil down to magic and the supernatural. They use splurious logic masquerading as 'logical' arguments. Each one ends with a rewording of the phrase 'therefore: magic'
      Its like the people that try to claim intelligent design is not the same as creationism so should therefore be allowed in schools.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • streetsmt

      Bob,
      Lets try this again.
      Atheism is a LACK of belief in a god. You are an atheist too. You probably do not believe in Zeus.
      However, if someone provides the incredable proof necessary for their incredable claim, an atheist will helplessly begin believing.
      You, however, have chosen to believe 1 particular god with absolutely no evidence. The big bang is not evidence of god. It only is the point at which we currently can not undersand events prior too.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Gogogoch

      Bob, thanks for posting your arguments. Most atheists reading up on the topic on-line are, by now, very familiar with them and the fact that they have been debunked many time over.

      Leibniz – "why is there something rather than nothing?". Read up on Heisenberg and Inflation, and that the net energy of the Universe may be ZERO. This answers the question for me. god is certainly not a good answer.

      Kalam – a medieval "first cause" argument. Here "first cause" is very Newtonian in its thinking, but again, quantum mechanics dis-confirms the starting arguments. The universe appears to be non-commonsensical to we humans. And in any case, why would a god be a reasonable answer?

      Telelogical – Intelligent design. Not one iota of evidence to support this, whereas the millions of observations support evolution. And cosmologically, the universe is an immensely barren empty life-killing place. Not much of a design for us.

      Moral – moral absolutes. Which morals are we talking about? The ones about killing your children for being disobedient? Treating women as chattel? How to treat slaves? Sorry, the morals we live by today are better that those in the bible, and have been delivered to us through secular thought and advancement. The bible is, quite simply, immoral if you look at the whole thing and avoid editing out the bits your find offensive.

      Ontological – which one? I don't think that 11th century wisdom such as "if we can conceive of the greatest possible being, it must exist in reality." really stands up to scrutiny, do you? It is a non-starter. People though so at the time too.

      So all of these arguments are stressed to the point of collapse. The universe really is huge, barren, cold and empty and not at all suitable for we humans. We have to be amazed that we eek out an existence as we do at the bottom of a gravity well on a planet – but it is fragile. We see the universe through our gelatinous eyes and understand it through our gelatinous brains, and these organs are poorly adapted to take it all in – things do not adhere to common sense – but we try. And certainly the old myths we made up to explain things in our earliest years carry no truth or wisdom beyond a few specks we pick at and hold dear. But they are myths and stories from another time.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  20. Matthew 7:21-23

    While it may be true that the vast majority of religious people claim to be Christian, it has to be noted that the vast majority of those claiming to be Christian are not TRUE CHRISTIANS.

    The reason we know this is true is because of Jesus' own words at Matthew 7:21-23

    "Not everyone saying to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter into the Kingdom of the heavens."
    These are people who address him as 'Lord' and therefore claim to be Christian.

    "Many will say to me in that day 'Lord, Lord' did we not prophesy in your name and expel demons in your name and perform many powerful works in YOUR NAME?"
    They knew Jesus and did all these things in the name of Jesus Christ (claiming to be Christian)

    "And yet then I will confess to them, 'I NEVER KNEW YOU! Get away from me your workers of lawlessness!'
    Yes... while these ones knew Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ never knew them. Why? They did not "do the will of his Father in heaven" – verse 21
    Does someone want to be a TRUE CHRISTIAN, they will separate themselves from Christendom (false Christians) immediately.

    December 19, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Ummmmm

      "Does someone want to be a TRUE CHRISTIAN, they will separate themselves from Christendom (false Christians) immediately."

      Then Christianity will go bankrupt. I love that idea. So yeah, go for it!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Sybaris

      You might want to study the True Scotsman Fallacy

      December 19, 2011 at 4:03 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.