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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. Abdul

    Interesting that reports show 5% of population is Athiest yet 50% of CNN bloggers seem to be.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Atheist 1#

      Funny how most Muslims say that 9/11 was a job done by "Americans Or The Jews"

      December 19, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Binky42

      It's more like 12% are non-believers.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  2. Godlike

    Saying you're Christian is one thing, practicing it is another. There might be 2.2 billion people claiming they are Christian, but I bet the number of people actively practicing is far less.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • ari

      christianity is a fairly liberal religion in terms of practice, to the point that all one must do to actually be a christian is believe in the divinity of jesus. going to church and such is actually not required in the religion (and is actually advocated against by jesus himself, who said to pray on your own and in silence).

      December 19, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  3. hippypoet

    Reality – The world or the state of things as they actually exist.
    Schizophrenia – A long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation
    Delusion – An idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality.
    1. What good has the belief in god done anyone? Ever? I think belief in oneself is far more powerful, meaningful, and useful to the lot then belief in anything else no matter how clearly imaginary or factual!
    2. Parents teach morals and ethics not the bible, simple... and those who place misguided ideals into an imaginary creature are ill-equipped to raise kids yet are encourage to do so...if the number of christian psych ward patients are on the rise its high time we, those of intellect, should get the fuk outta here! Consider them, those religious sheep, an experiment in how not to live...after all, every religiously run nation in this planets history has done nothing but great things for the whole right?
    3. You folks have conveniently forgot that you took part in the slave trade, gay bashing, witch killings, the inquisition, the crusades – i'm sure i could go on but i think these facts will as always fall to the wayside and once again be conveniently forgotten... if christianity has taught the world anything, its that god views us as sheep and we will be used as such...luckily for your kind, you can sheer a sheep many times...and like a dog, you keep coming back for the next beating! Perhaps you folks missed that part in sunday school where the teacher spoke about how so many of the bibles leaders are shepards...who tend a flock...but it is clear that you people have more use to the whole NOT having ideas of your own...(ready for the pun) god help us if you were to ever right!!!
    4.the horrors of mankind are not exclusive to religion. I said they took part in the horrors while preaching all the stuff people claim its made up of...religion is no better then anything, but can be if used properly, much worse then all others for its appeal to the igorant masses is like food to the hungry!
    5. And the majority of the world is believers…what conclusions do you draw from this?
    if your conclusion is anything but religion is idiotic, moronic, and hurtful to the world as a whole no matter how it makes you feel inside than i fear you have completely lost your grip on reality.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • ari

      lol were you so proud of this that you had to post it twice

      December 19, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • hippypoet

      yes i am proud of it... but the double posting was because i screwed it up while posting it because i had costumers walking in.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • What???

      Thank God that you don't live in Saudi or Iran or you would find out sooner than later if God exists!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Real

      Yeah you're not the first to post that flawed and incomplete idealism on an internet blog. [eye roll]

      December 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  4. Holymoly

    if a majority of people believe something, well then, by gum, they must be right.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Jay

      majority rules right?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  5. anobody

    Group think. Need I say more...?

    December 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  6. Binky42

    "In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion." – Carl Sagan

    December 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  7. Alex

    I love how these atheists in the West deride Christianity while benefiting from it. A Christian heritage gave us our system of law, value of human life, even our work ethic. Compare that with North Korea or any other country that is founded on atheism.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Binky42

      What law did our Christian heritage give us that didn't already exist in Ancient Greece?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • streetsmt

      Alex,
      Our Christian heritage brought us witch burning too. How come we don't have that any more? Hmm. I think our morals come from us. If it happened to be part of our heritage and is still good, we keep it. If not, we throw it out or replace it.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • claybigsby

      North Korea founded on Atheism? Really? Last I checked, most of the people in that country are Buddhist.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Eric G

      @Alex: North Korea is about as religious as it gets. They worship the Supreme Leader. It is the prime example of a theocracy. Atheism is not a form of government.

      Take a sociology class.

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

      I love how religious people always try to take over anything good that was not done in the name of religion and claim it.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Alex

      As far as witch burning, that was as Christian as much as the Iraq war was about "freedom". They were both based on fear.
      Yes, Christianity was a core part of our laws. Like the concept of inalienable rights. And North Korea was based on atheism and later developed its Juche personality cult.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • streetsmt

      Alex,
      You are already backpeddling. You have moved to the "excuse" phase of your argument.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Eric G

      @Alex: Atheism is a lack of belief in a god or gods. Please explain how a nation can be "based on Atheism".

      December 19, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Alex

      @streetsmt – I'm not making excuses. There is no excuse for the Salem witch trials. But don't forget it was an isolated incident in American history with about only 30 deaths.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • What???

      Atheism, gave us Stalin (15-35million killed his own people?), Hitler (15-35 million), Mao (35-70million his own people including all intellectuals that would not become re-educational)?), Paul Pot and the Khmer Rouge (you know the killing fields; he also killed his own people and intellectuals. His idol was Mao). Why? Atheism has no redeemer nor does it have a consequence for those with power. Atheist justifies themselves and their actions by the position of power and a self centered view that they are superior because they believe in only in themselves.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • What???

      Don’t be fooled by the atheist view that they don’t believe there is a god, but they do worship idols such as money, things, themselves, education, government, family, technology etc… Which in all practical application is a god? Humans have an innate need to believe in something! The only difference between people is some put their belief in the super natural and others the natural? Either way you put it they have a belief in something!

      December 19, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • TR6

      @Alex, What??? quick history lesson for you about Hitler, Stalin, Mao and PolPot – the so called atheists who Christians like to showcase as atheists who abused power.
      Hitler
      First, Hitler was a Christian. A devoted Christian who despised atheists. For example, in a speech in Berlin in October 1933, Hitler said "We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out."
      He would also agree with most Evangelicals on religion in school – "Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith ...we need believing people." Adolf Hitler, April 26, 1933
      He was, for most of his life, a devoted Christian, serving as an altar boy in Vienna and often hosting archbishops and even the Pope. Indeed, he said the following in a speech on 12 April 1922 (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20, Oxford University Press, 1942)
      “"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice... And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.”
      By the way, that does not mean Hitler was truly motivated by his Christian religion to do what he did. He was motivated by a lust for power. His Christian faith was as irrelevant to what he did as his star sign (Taurus, FYI).
      But, he was most definitely not an atheist.
      Stalin
      Stalin was an atheist, at least when he was older. He said so himself many times and scoffed religion. He actually started life as Eastern Orthodox and was even educated as an Orthodox Monk. He later rejected religion and saw the Church as a threat to his power. That is why he was so anti-theology. But let’s not be naive, if he thought it would have benefitted him, he would have held himself out as Orthodox Christian, or as a Wiccan for that matter. It was all about power. His atheist views were no more a motivator for his actions than were Hitler’s Christian views.
      As a curious aside, Hitler was not German (he was Austrian) Stalin was not Russian (he was Georgian – I have visited his birthplace) and Napoleon (an atheist who most theists miss when listing “evil atheist leaders” by the way) was not mainland French, he was Corsican, which was then under French rule.
      Pol Pot
      Pol Pot Started life in a Buddhist household, but was later sent to a French Catholic school in Phnom Penh. His religious views were rarely articulated, although I have read that he considered himself a Buddhist. According to one Pol Pot biographer, Dr. Ian Harris, a Reader in Religious Studies at the University College of St. Martin: "In one of his early writings Pol Pot wrote approvingly that the 'democratic regime will bring back the Buddhist moralism because our great leader Buddha was the first to have taught [democracy].”
      However, as with Hitler, Stalin and Napoleon, there is no evidence that his Buddhism (or his brief stint with Catholicism) motivated his actions. Religion seems to have been irrelevant to the man.
      Mao
      As with Pol Pot, religion seemed to have been generally irrelevant to the man. If one reads his Little Red Book – which is remarkably forward thinking on a few things, by the way, including equality of the $exes – he seems to have been a generally agnostic philosophical type, with views akin to Buddhism, but with no real defined views on religion or the afterlife.
      But in none of these four cases can it fairly be said that their religion, or lack thereof, motivated them. It was as irrelevant as their star signs. Power and faulty economic policies were the reason they killed so many.

      December 19, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  8. EternalBliss

    Great news for all Believers!.. .the world of Science is finally reaching a point where it is reaching the knowledge of Truth and Oneness and becoming in line with the deepest/truest teachings of Spirituality.... the material age of science is at an end... watch "Quantum Activist"

    December 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • CrazyOwlLady

      Okay. Give back the computer you used to type this on, don't drive a car on our roads or drink our clean water or take any of our medicine or visit any of our drs. Make sure you don't watch TV or listen to an iPod or use a cell phone of any sort. In fact, no telecommunications at all.... after all, that's created by science.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Dan

      Riiiiiight. I don't think you quite "get" science.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  9. Ben Thare

    And how exactly is this news?

    December 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  10. Marc Kapou

    Lots of Catholics around the world....

    December 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  11. WDinDallas

    Woo hoo!. Crusade on Thursday. Let's get the Atheists this time around.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Atheist 1#

      Your True Competidors are The Muslims with their Islam!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  12. Richard

    So why don't you all kill yourselve and be with your God, why wait? Please go to your heaven where God is waiting for all of you.

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

      Careful Richard,
      Part of the deal is to start Armegedden (and kill the rest uf us too).

      December 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  13. wow

    You got to love all the liberal hate.... lol....clowns

    December 19, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • cw

      Why do you care?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  14. Larry

    I might buy the results of this poll if the world reflected it. Maybe it should be listed as "lip service Christianity". I for one believe if 2.1 billion people were true followers of Christ, it would be a much different world than it is.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • DeeDee

      Excellent point!

      December 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  15. Quest

    If Christianity is the worlds' largest religion, shouldn't the world be getting better?

    December 19, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Sweep

      no, the world is always going to be bad with evil in it. Not until the return of Christ is when it will be better.

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

      even without christianity, i would say that the world is objectively better than it was last century. far less people dying, better life spans, less illiteracy or infant mortality, better technology, more freedom.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Richard

      Yes, isn't it amazing that because there are so many Jesus-followers the world is not as bad as it could have been.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Jay

      That's absurd.... "no, the world is always going to be bad with evil in it. Not until the return of Christ"...
      The People can make the world better, why should we wait for the return of Christ?... if there is one...

      December 19, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "The People can make the world better, why should we wait for the return of Christ?"

      Because its easy to let your imagination to run wild, waiting to be saved, when in reality it will never happen. Its easier to do nothing that do something.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  16. Tupster

    Just realized that this site is "religion.blogs.cnn.com" but I've never seen an article promoted to the CNN homepage that was not related to Christianity.

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

      They do blog about other faiths.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  17. Lord Vader

    CNN forgot to mention the most ignorant group of people...... Atheists!

    December 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Tom Cruise

      Do they exist?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Follix

      You mean the 5% with a superior intelligence?

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

      Atheists know more about religion than most Christians, and they put their trust in science not myth and fairytales. That obviously scares you.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      Atheists are ignorant? Wow are you bassackwards on that point.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Binky42

      So why do atheists score higher that any religious group when tested about religious knowledge?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Rings

      Atheists think that their ability to google makes them intelligent...

      December 19, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Steve Jennings

      Vader – I believe you are the ignorant one. What proof do you have this religion or ANY religion is true? Don't worry, I'll answer that for you...NONE. Religion was invented to create fear and control for ages. And you are tend to create a hatred towards others that don't believe what you believe and for what purpose? Because you only feel comforatable with equally weak minded individuals? Time to open your mind and stop listening to the lies.

      Remember, more people have died behind religion than any other cause known to man. It's time to evolve yet again...

      December 19, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "Atheists think that their ability to google makes them intelligent..."

      And christians cherry picking bible verses written by men makes them brainwashed.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Feloniousmax

      I find your whacked out faith disturbing. to paraphrase Lord Vader

      Actually, I don't, but the fact that you would call Atheists (a group of which I count myself amongst) to be ignorant is pretty funny considering some of the most brilliant minds throughout the past couple centuries are/were Atheists.

      December 20, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • Felix The Navidad

      To view a "good" atheist go sneak a peek at Chris Hitchens.

      December 20, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  18. HolyChrist

    At one point, 100% of the people on the planet thought that the Earth was flat. They were all wrong.

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

      You mean the earth really isn't flat after all?

      December 19, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      That may be true for the Bronze Age equivalent of Fox News viewers, but thinking people, even thousands of years ago, knew the world was not flat.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Sweep

      At one point people thought the earth stood still while the sun revolved around it. What is your point? Let me answer that for you. You have none.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Cyle

      My Rand-McNally Map proves the world is flat. You cannot deny that the piece of paper clearly shows a flat planet.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  19. Goddog

    "It does not measure practice or belief, merely counting as Christian anyone who says they are."

    Well I'm a robot... neener, neener...

    December 19, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Jeff Williams

      """merely counting as Christian anyone who says they are"""

      Hey cool. Then I'm Brad Pitt.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Dan

      Exactly. The article/poll lost all credibility at this point.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  20. Drew

    There are so many different and conflicting flavors of "Christianity" out there, that it covers anyone who simply makes such a claim.

    Churches today don't resemble churches from 200 years ago (before Evangelical sects existed), and four hundred years ago there was the brutal Inquisition. A thousand years ago the Church would have resembled a different religion entirely. And 1800 years ago, "the Church" would not even be recognizable to modern American Christians.

    Today, it's OK for American Christians to wear makeup, wear expensive clothes, live in a home that is far bigger than what they actually need, gossip is no longer a sin, gluttony is no longer a sin, the love of money is no longer the root of all evil, divorce is a-OK, humility is now a bad thing and so is turning the other cheek, it's no longer mandatory for rich people to give all their money to the poor because not being rich and gluttonous is a sin.

    For such a self-proclaimed "Christian" nation, we sure are a bunch of greedy, gossiping gluttons.

    So, why bother with all the self-loathing and misery? If the loudest and brashest self-proclaimed Christians flout the rules in the Bible, so can you.

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

      You all have posted good points and the inevitability is that no religion has been able in thousands of years been able to reslove the worlds ailment; Wars, Strife, Global Economy and so forth. Why is this so? Thwhole world is lying under the power of the evil one Satan and all his works have originated with sin. 1 John 3:8. Men have tried to rule themselves to no avail and to much hardship to mankind. Its time that Jehovah will bring retribution to all those who did not follow his sons words in being no part of this world. Be prepared and search out those provide truth to all by means of the bible. The next time you hear a knock on your door, please ask questions to enlightenment in regards to the truth of your future and the future of this world.

      December 20, 2011 at 12:05 am |
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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.