Global Religious Trends

The religious trends occurring in Australia are not typical of the rest of the world. The Atlas of Global Christianity, a new book from the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity, plots the global trends.

Close to one-third of the world’s population identify themselves as Christian. This proportion has changed little in the last century. However, where they are to be found has changed considerably. In 1910, most of the world’s Christians lived in Europe and North America. Today, most Christians live in South America and Africa. The balance changed sometime in the 1980s. There are also large numbers of Christians living in Asia, particularly China and India. They are not a high proportion of the population there, but because of the very large number of people living in those two countries, the small proportion of Christians amounts to far higher numbers of Christians than found in many Western countries, including Australia.

It is interesting to note that atheism and agnosticism have grown very substantially over the last century from about 4 million to about 778 million. However, they reached their peak in the 1970s and began to decline. Part of the decline had to do with the collapse of Communism. The actual numbers of atheists and agnostics are continuing to decline at the present time with rates of growth below 0%. In this regard, the trend in Australia is very different from the world-wide trend.

Not only has the location of Christians changed, but so has the balance of theological orientation. The greatest movement has been the rise of Pentecostal and charismatic Christians. While many people would see the Pentecostal movement beginning in 1906, there were certainly precursors to it and the Centre for Global Christianity numbers Pentecostals/charismatics in 1900 at just under 1 million. The number of Pentecostals/charismatics has grown to around
600 million, now representing more than one quarter of all Christians.

Roman Catholics remain the largest group, making up just over half of all Christians. The second largest group are the Pentecostals, followed by the Independents, Protestants, Orthodox and Evangelicals.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 20, No. 4, Pages 1-2

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