World Christian Trends, Update 2007

(The following was adapted from a plenary briefing given at the Lausanne Bi-Annual International Leadership meeting in Budapest, Hungary 18-22 June 2007.)

To understand the status of global Christianity and world evangelization, as we lead up to the 100th anniversary of the World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh in 1910, we will consider trends both inside global Christianity and trends outside global Christianity.

Trends Inside Global Christianity

1. Christianity has shifted dramatically to the South. Looking at Slide 1, we can see that at first glance there has been little change in the status of global Christianity over the past one hundred years. For the entire 100-year period, Christians have made up approximately one-third of the world’s population. This masks dramatic changes in the geography of global Christianity—a process stretching back to the earliest days of the world Christian movement.

Slide 2 illustrates these changes by mapping the statistical center of gravity of global Christianity over the past two thousand years. One can readily see that in the modern period (highlighted in red) there has been a decisive southern shift. At the time of the 1910 Edinburgh conference, the statistical center of global Christianity was near Madrid, Spain. In fact, at that time, over eighty percent of all Christians were European. By the time we meet for the 2010 Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, the statistical center will have shifted well south of Timbuktu in Mali. This 100-year shift is the most dramatic in all of Christian history. Only about forty percent of all Christians will be Europeans in 2010.

Slide 3 shows us what the average Christian family looked like over this 100-year period. The average Christian family in 1907 an be represented by a European family with few children (although many European families were quite large at the time). Today, the average Christian family is much more likely to be African or Latin American, with more children. One observation we can make is that Christianity in the Global South might show strong demographic growth through family size.

The southern shift can also be put in context of the entire history of Christianity. Slide 4 reveals that Christians of the Global South were in the majority for the first nine hundred years of Christian history. European domination of global Christianity can be seen as a recent phase of world Christianity that has now passed. Since 1981, Southern Christians are, once again, in the majority.

Slide 5 exhibits the percentage of Christians by country in 1910. The darker colors represent higher percentages of Christians. One can easily see Christianity as a Western phenomenon—including a strong European Roman Catholic presence in Latin America, where few church leaders were Latin Americans. Slide 6 maps the same phenomenon by province one hundred years later. The most dramatic difference between these two maps is in Africa—less than ten percent were Christian in 1910 but nearly fifty percent will be Christian in 2010, with sub-Saharan Africa well over seventy percent Christian. The top ten Christian countries are presented in Slide 7 where the southern shift can be quickly perceived. Nine of the top ten Christian countries in 1900 were in the Global North, whereas nine of the top ten in 2050 will be in the Global South.

2. Christianity is fragmented. Christians are now found in thirty-nine thousand denominations. These range in size from millions of members to less than one hundred members and are listed for each of the world’s 238 countries in the World Christian Database. By 2025, there will likely be fifty-five thousand denominations. One should note that the vast majority of these denominations are Protestant and Independent, forming the core of global evangelicalism.

3. Christians are experiencing unprecedented renewal. There are many forms of renewal within global Christianity, including evangelical movements, liturgical renewal, Bible-study fellowships and house church movements. One of the most significant is the Pentecostal/Charismatic renewal which coincide with the end of the 100-year period we have been reflecting on. The percentage of Christians involved in this renewal is shown in Slide 8. The focus of the renewal is clearly in the Global South where the majority of its practitioners live and where it is growing the fastest. It is also interesting to see that Southern languages dominate the list of the most Renewalists by language (Slide 9).

4. Christians are experiencing unprecedented suffering. Christians around the world are being persecuted for their faith. We estimate that over the entire history of Christianity, seventy million Christians have been killed for their faith. Over half of these were in the twentieth century alone, a century which historian Robert Conquest referred to as “The Ravaged Century.” Slide 10 shows the Hill of Crosses—an international shrine to martyrdom found in Lithuania.

Slide 11 highlights another aspect of suffering for Christians of the Global South, who represent sixty percent of all Christians but receive only seventeen percent of all Christian income. This puts them at a disadvantage in many areas, including health, education, communications and overall quality of life. This imbalance is one of the great tragedies of global Christianity that could not have been easily predicted by our colleagues in Edinburgh in 1910.

Trends Outside Global Christianity

1. There is enough evangelism to reach everyone in the world. One might have the impression today that what is needed is more evangelism to reach the world for Christ. But, in sheer quantity, there is already enough evangelism in the world today for every person to hear a one-hour presentation of the gospel every other day all year long. This amounts to over 1,430 billion hours of evangelism generated by Christians every year ranging from personal witnessing to television and radio broadcasting.

2. Most Christian outreach never reaches non-Christians. Slide 12 shows that over ninety percent of all Christian evangelism is aimed at other Christians and does not reach non-Christians. Here we have graphed the deployment of the world’s foreign missionaries, but close examination of virtually any Christian evangelistic activity reveals this massive imbalance. Part of the explanation is the unanticipated success of Christian missions in the twentieth century.

Much missionary deployment is trying to keep up the growth of the churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America. What is surprising today is how missionaries from the Global South have also been drawn into mission primarily to other Christians. Deployment studies in Nigeria and India have shown this to be the case, although there is a perceptible shift in the past decade toward work among non-Christians.

3. Christians are out of contact with Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Recent research reveals that as many as eight-six percent of all Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists do not personally know a Christian. This must be viewed negatively in light of the strong biblical theme of incarnation which is at the heart of Christian witness. Christians should know and love their neighbors! In the twenty-first century, it is important to realize that the responsibility for reaching Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists is too large for the missionary enterprise. While missionaries will always be at the forefront of innovative strategies, the whole Church needs to participate in inviting people of other faiths to consider Jesus Christ. Note that Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists are increasingly found living in traditionally “Christian” lands.

4. Many of the most responsive peoples in the world are Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist. Our analysis in the World Christian Database reveals that of the top one hundred most responsive people groups over one million in size, twenty-two are Tribal (nine percent of the total by population), thirty-one are Hindu (forty-eight percent), thirty-one are Muslim (twenty-five percent) and four are Buddhist (nine percent). The five most responsive of these are the Jinyu of China (Buddhist), the Khandeshi of India (Tribal), the Southern Pathan of Afghanistan (Muslim), the Magadhi Bihari of India (Hindu) and the Maitili of India (Hindu). What this means is that God himself is inviting the world’s peoples into his family. Christians must be more alert to his initiative. 

One related and growing phenomenon is insider movements—defined as “movements to Christ where the gospel flows through pre-existing communities and networks, and believing families remain inside their socio-religious communities, retaining their natural identity while living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of scripture.” Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists around the world are following Christ while remaining within their own communities. Churches and mission agencies are just beginning to grapple with the implications of this for the world Christian community.

5. God’s global family will include all peoples. The biblical text (Revelation 5:9, 7:9) leads us to a world in which all peoples have access to the gospel message. The body of Christ will not reach its full stature until all peoples are worshipping at the throne of God.

In 2007, we find ourselves in an unprecedented position for the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.


Barrett, David and Todd Johnson. 2001. World Christian Trends, AD 30-AD 2200: Interpreting the Annual Christian Megacensus. Pasadena, California, USA: William Carey Library.

Barrett, David, George Kurian and Todd Johnson. 2001. World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World. Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Barrett, David, Todd Johnson and Peter Crossing. 2007. “Missiometrics 2007: Goals, Resources, Doctrines of the 350 Christian World Communions” in International Bulletin of Missionary Research. January, 25-32.

Johnson, Todd and Sun Chung. 2004. “Tracking Global Christianity’s Statistical Centre of Gravity, AD 33-AD 2100” in International Review of Mission. (93)369.

Johnson, Todd and Sandra Kim. 2005. “Describing the Worldwide Christian Phenomenon: Terminology for the 21st Century” in International Bulletin of Missionary Research. April.

Johnson Todd and Charles Tieszen. (slated for October 2007). “Personal Contact: The sine qua non of 21st Century Christian Mission” in Evangelical Missions Quarterly.

World Christian Database. 2007. Leiden: Brill Publications.

Dr. Todd Johnson is director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Communications to him may be directed to [email protected]