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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. Nick

    is this really NEWS? i mean its interesting, but i already knew about most of this already, by reading a text book in a school printed in the 1990's. its not really surprising that the majority of Christians live in the Americas, since the US is the 3rd largest country in the world by pop. also....the picture's caption reads that sub Saharan Africa has seen an explosion in the number of Christians, isn't that to be expected since its had an explosion in the number of people?

    December 19, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Real America

      Actually, the increase in Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa far outstrips population. And they are starting to send clergy, even missionaries, to the US.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Nick

      ahh....i see.....guess i shouldn't assume next time 🙂 ty

      December 19, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  2. George

    I'm sorry everyone. I think I've realized that I am a single-minded person who is self serving, selfish, and self-centered.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • BUT REPUBLICANS LOVE AYN RAND

      BUT REPUBLICANS LOVE AND RAND!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Jason

      There is forgiveness in Christ. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

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

      Only 2.2 Billion.... Heaven seems like a small place then.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Gogogoch

      Jason – tell me again how god can be 'just' and 'forgiving' at the same time? Aren't mercy and justice at opposite ends of the spectrum? You have no clue do you? Is it because you regurgitate stuff you've heard based on some of the words sound nice? Have you read the bible? Or do you just enjoy having selected passages read out to you on Sundays? Have you thought about what Christianity implies? Is vicarious forgiveness moral? Is the scape-goating of Jesus moral?

      December 19, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  3. Tonelok

    @Sandilee
    Christianity is anyone who follows God and believes that Jesus was his only son. Last time I checked, when you strip away the specifics, that is exactly what Mormon's are.
    .
    Also, who cares if islam or christianity is the largest religion? What difference does that honestly make?
    .
    @Rick
    If that is the most perverted thing a religion does, I would say that's pretty tame once all things are considered.

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

      We are all god's children. So what makes Jesus special?

      December 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  4. justin

    haha wars everywhere, greed everywhere and corruption everywhere! Yep I can see there being 2.2 billion christians saying that they are christians in the world.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Ted

      Mormons are Christian? How so?

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

      I dont understand where your coming from Ted. They do both believe in a super natural being.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  5. Jimbo

    Secularization is growing fast in the US and even faster in Europe, it's not slowing down either. With a growing number of people like me out there spreading the good word of common sense christainity and other religions will be something only for the history books.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Not as long as people fall for the fairy tales that reinforce their basic ignorance... Life is so much easier if you don't have to think for yourself and just follow along with the zombies who have been brainwashed...

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

      except that Gos is spreading his word even faster, and backing it up with real miracles, so your math won't work out

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

      It's pretty arogant to think that you can defeat a religion that has existed for more than 2000 years, and for which countless people have sacrificed their lives. Are you willing to die for secularism?

      December 19, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Gogogoch

      We are all still waiting for a "real" miracle – lk. Even one so far has proven to be a sham, or scam.

      Yes, Christianity has had 2000 years and we can now see what a mess things were when it was in charge and really thought it had god on its side. We call that time "the Dark Ages".

      December 19, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  6. Joe

    The largests sect is Roman Catholic but Islam is the largest as a whole. I am neither just trying to get the facts straight/.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Brian

      Last I check Islam has their "sects" too!

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

      Islam has their separate branches too. Sunnis, Shiites etc. Different enough to bash in each others skulls over it. Like the Catholics and Protestants did several centuries ago.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  7. Tony

    How can anyone even consider this article anything but garbage statistics.

    "It doesn't measure practice or belief, merely counting as Christian anyone who says they are."

    If they based this study on practice and belief then I'm sure the statistics would be very different.
    Here is something a friend of mind said that I thought really shows how off this research is. It doesn't really give you a true picture.
    (sdeo)"It does not measure practice or belief, merely counting as Christian anyone who says they are."
    – yeah count the number of people actually in the churches (in America) each sunday and you'll get your real number.
    Atheism is the world's TRUE number one religion. It's just not socially comfortable to say so.
    Oh by the way, I'm a GB Packers fan. I don't go to any of the games, I pretty much just watch the the playoff games, don't
    really talk about them, and moderately get bothered if they lose. But if you ask me if I'm a GB Packers Fan, I'll say yes.
    Same thing.

    I think this is more a religious PR campaign sold with wobbly stilted research.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Everything in Moderation (how about: Oh, Please!)

      I say this to the Christians who deny that a badly behaving self-identified Christian gets to be in the club, and I say it to you: identifying as Christian makes a person a Christian.

      Spirituality is a personal choice. If you're not the deity or soul in question, you don't get to make the call.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  8. Justin

    They will know we are Christians by our love.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Ohio Paul

      For little boys?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Everything in Moderation

      Not nice, Ohio Paul.

      That's a very profound statement and a challenge to all Christians to be loving.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  9. I lose nothing by believeing you lose everything by not believing

    @ marsmotel-People that think the earth just
    boomed into existance scare me...

    December 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Atheist 1#

      But nobody knows Exactly what happens after you die! It just makes you feel better if you think your cousin,grandma our Friends will be there.

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

      You lose the ability to think critically

      December 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      People that think that people think the earth just boomed into existence scares me.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • marsmotel

      Well how was god created then, if that is true? Boom, he just was there. That is a stupid thought. Just like I said, religion is a crutch for the weak minded. I don't know what happens or how it happened. I am alright with that!

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

      Cedar – what the hell are you talking about? Go read a science book – not some christian website misinformation.

      December 19, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  10. James

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atGBbn6JKKg&w=640&h=360]

    December 19, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Atheist 1#

      Utah Ha ha ha ha ha!

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

      For the truth, go to mormon.org

      December 19, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  11. Joe

    The problem with this article is you don;'t count all the sects for Islam but you count all the sects for Christianity. Way to go CNN to make the facts be in your favor.

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

      I believe the overall numbers DO include all sects of both religions. Since the article is about Christianity, they only delineate the Christian sects for the purpose of the story. No shenanigans there as far as I can tell.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  12. LeeCMH

    I just went by the grocery store. Upon my exit, a Salvation Army bell ringer said Merry Christmas. I turned and said, Happy Solstice. She glared hatefully at me.

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

      Do you need a hug?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Imagine

      I would glare at you too!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Fox me? Fox you!

      Ha!! That's funny. Shows you how ignorant the Xians are. They think that the person they know as jesus christ was actually born on the 25th of December. They don't know that Xmas is based primarily on the winter solstice thanks to the work of the Roman Catholic church. HA!! Xmas is a lie!

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

      Well, if that is what you believe, then you have every right to say it! Good for you.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Ohio Paul

      I treied the "Festivus" welcome once with the same result...

      December 19, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Common Senser

      That's because you did it out of spite instead of kindness.

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

      No, any learned Christian understand that we didn't know, although we now think we do, when Christ was born. That does not make or break a religion. Most scholars understand that it was in the spring. Yet, back when the Pope declared 12/25 as the date, he did so simply to mast a pagan festival. That, my friend, is a man made asertion. When people like you justify disqualification on a date chosen that coincided with another festival is very pathetic. The bible, neither tells the date nor asks it be celebrated. It is man's desire to celebrate their saviors birthday as it is a families desire to celebrate a childs birthday too. My mother in law was born in Mainland China under very poor conditions. To this day, she does not know the precise date she was born. We have an idea, but it doesn't matter. What matters is, we chose to celebrate her birth as she is important to us. IF she picked Mothers Day as her birthday for the simply reason that she could remember that in this country, so what! We would celebrate it then. It doesn't matter. Argumanets like your make your though process very shallow indeed.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Gogogoch

      How about "Merry Mithras" if you can get your tongue around it.

      December 19, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  13. dougaussie

    i think the 67 million chinese christians would be worth more than the 247 million so called christians in the usa.

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

      "worth" is not the proper description. What is amazing about the Chinese Chreistian community is the fact that they practice their faith in a country that bans it, except for sanctioned churches. The vast majority of Chinese Christians meet underground. That my friend, is faith in action!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  14. Muneef

    All the financial problems we hear about in the west is being held by the Churches who are recruiting more Christians worldwide... They even been accused of using illegal means to multiply these money...! Example the Vatican... Search google

    December 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Real America

      Muneef you're breaking up, man. Your lips move but I can't hear what you say.

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

      There is absolutely no basis for this statement other than the the section of google that holds the 9/11 conspiracy theorists and UFO enthusiasts!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Reality

      (As per Google) – a few examples

      As the koranic/mosque driven acts of terror and horror continue:

      The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century

      ■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.

      and more recently

      1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

      1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

      2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

      3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action, 3,480 and 928 in non combat roles. 102,522 – 112,049 Iraqi civilians killed as of 9/16/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, land mines and bombs of various types, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

      4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

      5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

      6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

      7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

      8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

      9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

      10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

      11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

      12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

      13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

      14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

      15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

      16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

      17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

      18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

      19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

      20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

      21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

      22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) - Hena Akhter's last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh's Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Muneef

      Strange is your google different than mine?

      http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=money+laundering+by+the+vatican&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&client=safari

      December 19, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Muneef

      Hmmm.
      You do agree that there is no Smoke with out Fire?

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11380628

      http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/story/2011-11-26/vatican-money-laundering/51409102/1

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/21/vatican-bank-facing-money_n_732947.html

      http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/colombia/2002/newsarticle_1599.html

      December 19, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  15. Joe

    This article is wrong because Christianity is not the largest religion. Shame on CNN to make up crap like this.

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

      And on what basis do you make such a statement? In my reseacrh it is indeed the worlds largest religion.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  16. JEN

    COMING SOON, TV EVANGELISTS TO AFRICA. THEY NEED MORE CASH FROM THESE HARD WORKING PEOPLE. MY NEXT LIFE, BE A SCAM ARTISTS LIKE THE POPE. JUST SIT BACK AND COLLECT MONEY

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

      People around the world and especially in the US have lost their minds.

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

      Hmmmmmm, we can give our money to the government forcefully and see how they completely mismanage it or give our money voluntarily to the church of your choosing who us it to reach out to the community or oppressed. Pastors do not make much money. There are exceptions, but that is due to man's sinful nature, not what is written in the bible.

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

      @Imagine. Not only are you incorrect on most of your posts, you are schizophrenic. I have done business with pastors and I have seen their salary, most of them make over $100,000.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Imagine

      Marsmotel- In the church i attended, the pastor made $3,000/month and rented a house. They ate lentles for dinner. He actually gave money back to the church. He was amazingly humble. The pastor of my new church, while I dont know what he makes, probably makes a lot more. But is that wrong? In the D.C. area $100K will not get you much. It all depends on where you live, their needs etc. They do have families too and need to pay for their kids college. $100k will not make any pator rich!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  17. iBELIEVE

    WOW... GOOD NEWS

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

      So many brain washed people around the world !!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  18. Sandilee

    Mormons aren't Christians

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

      A cult ?? I do not think others are better !!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Abinadi

      Yes, Mormons are Super-Christians. There is nothing in the christian world that can't be done better in the Church of Jesus Christ.

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

      to be Christina means you believe Jesus is our Savior, Mormons don't believe that

      December 19, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Imagine

      Whether Mormonism is a cult is debateable. Mormonism is defininitely NOT Christian. they have tried to tie themselves to Christianity to be more acceptable. The New Testament is explicitely clear that when Christ died on the cross is was finished. The bible also clearly tells us that others will come in "my" name, but they are not from God. Mormons are very nice people, but they simply are grossfully misled. Look into the history of the Mormon church and see how they consistantly avoid the tough questions. Ask why they will never allow the excavation in New York of a historic place in their belief. Perhaps because, if it is investigated, nothing will be found. It truly is sad that Satan has so deceived these people, but again the Bible is explicitly clear on this.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Mormons are Super-Christians."""

      They're Christians Version 2.0 They have the latest owner's manual and everything.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  19. Rick

    Christianity is a religion where people pretend to drink blood and eat flesh. I find that to be extremely perverted.

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

      Note this is ONLY the Catholic religion, no other Christian sect believes this....

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

      Your preception is woefully incorrect. You should not speak on subjects you know nothing about.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Seriously?

      @Joshua
      Sorry, the Eucharist is practiced in the Anglican church.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Dawson

      Actually both Orthodox and Catholics believe that in the Eucharist the bread and wine are objectively transformed and become in a real sense the Body and Blood of Christ.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  20. marsmotel

    That means there is alot of tunnel minded, weak and mis-guided people getting sapped into these falsehoods. Religious people scare me!

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

      Thank god for athiests...!!

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

      "thank god for atheists"......hmmm, like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Kruschev............

      December 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """hmmm, like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Kruschev............"""

      Fact check much? No? Hitler was Roman Catholic. His wehrmacht troops wore belt buckles with the inscription "Gott Mit Uns" (God is With Us). Does that mean anything to you?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • tallulah13

      @ imagine

      Do you believe all atheists are despotic political leaders? I hate to break it to you: Most atheists are just normal people who work, pay taxes, are active in their communities and love their families. If you socialize anywhere outside of your church, you probably know a few atheists.

      But if realizing that atheists are just normal people makes you uncomfortable, you go on and hate us. Heck, you already believe that the universe was created just for you by an all-powerful being who will let you live forever in a special paradise if you just tell him you like him best. Recognition of reality might be too much to expect from you.

      December 19, 2011 at 9:56 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.