There are two ways to assess the state of Christian faith in relation to culture. One is to look locally at your own immediate context, the other is to look at things globally. So if you live in the Global North, like Europe and North America like me, the picture isn’t very pretty.
As I wrote in a blog post earlier this year, the Pew Research Center revealed that in 2021 the percentage of Americans who self-identified as atheists, agnostics, or no particular religion rose to 29% of all American adults. That’s nearly one in three adults, up 10 percentage points from the 2011 survey. board questioned, self-designation marks 39%. The same survey found that the number of professing Christians fell from 75% in 2011 to 63% in 2021. The Pew researchers’ conclusion was fitting: “The secularization changes evident in American society so far in the 21st show no signs of slowing down. .”
But if you live in the Global South, it’s a whole different story. So, if those in the North were taken out of their cultural context, what would they find? Here are two headlines taken from the latest statistics from the Center for the Study of World Christianity.
1. Christianity grows
Worldwide, the number of people who embrace the Christian faith continues to grow, albeit modestly at a growth rate of 1.17%. By the middle of 2022, nearly 2.56 billion will identify as Christians. This number is expected to reach 3.33 billion by 2050. Moving down these numbers, the largest Christian group (about 1.26 billion) is made up of Catholics, and Evangelicals and Charismatics are growing fastest. The growth of Charismatics is particularly dramatic, from less than one million identifying as Pentecostals or Charismatics in 1900 to a projected billion by 2050.
2. The Global South is Exploding
The anchor for the global growth of Christianity is the Global South, particularly Africa (2.77% growth rate) and Asia (1.5% growth rate). To put this growth into perspective, in 2000, 814 million Christians lived in Europe and North America, compared to 660 million in Africa and Asia. Currently, the entire Global North has only 838 million Christians, while Africa and Asia alone have soared to nearly 1.1 billion followers of Christ. In the lead is Africa, where the Christian population is growing faster than any other continent. In fact, more Christians live in Africa than on any other continent in the world. By 2050, Africa will have nearly 1.3 billion Christians. North America? Only 276 million.
One conclusion is clear: the Global North has always been the one that sent missionaries out into the world for the sake of the gospel, usually to the Global South.
Now we need Africa to send them here.
James Emery White
Gregory A. Smith, “About three in ten American adults are no longer religious”, Pew Research CenterDecember 14, 2021, read online.
“Status of World Christianity, 2022, in the Context of 1900-2050,” Center for the Study of World Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, read online.
Aaron Earls, “7 Encouraging Trends in Global Christianity in 2022,” Lifestyle ResearchJanuary 31, 2022, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the assistant professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.