An Overview of North America and the Caribbean

North America
North America is bordered on all sides by ocean, covering about 24.5 million square kilometers (9.5 million square miles), or about sixteen percent of the world. It is the third largest continent after Asia and Africa, and with some 515 million people it has the fourth largest population. It has access to enormous natural resources, although its economy has been transitioning into one that is dominated more by services than by manufacturing.

North America’s only land connection is to South America at the narrow Isthmus of Panama. For the purposes of this survey, the area from Mexico south is considered Central America, part of southern America. Greenland, a Danish self-governing island, is part of North America geographically; Bermuda is considered part geopolitically given its historical political and cultural ties to the continent.

With 314 million people, North America is the fifth most populous region in the world. It is growing slowly; by 2025 it is projected to reach 388 million. Most of the population is urban, and it is growing more urbanized every day.

North America shares a strong common cultural identity, although it is made up of a diverse number of ethnic groups. The three dominant cultures include white Euro-Americans (making up two-thirds of the continent), Hispanics and African-Americans. Asians and Middle Eastern cultures together make up nearly ten percent of the region and are found in significant concentrations particularly on the coasts. Over 240 languages are spoken in North America, although the most prevalent are English, Spanish and French (the latter having been historically significant and still strong in certain regions, particularly Canada and Louisiana, USA).

North America is the world’s wealthiest region; however, its share of global wealth is in decline with the rise of China’s and India’s economies. Nevertheless, the region has been blessed with riches, small percentages of which trickle into missions. The average per person giving of three percent equates to billions of dollars for evangelism and cross-cultural work.

In spite of North America’s wealth, extreme poverty, crime, drug use and diseases such as HIV/AIDS can be found. AIDS is not widespread; there are perhaps one million people living with the disease, most of whom are adults.

Christianity in North America
Historically, Christianity first came to the region with European colonists in the 1600s. The Americas were colonized for nearly two centuries, but the United States declared independence in the late 1700s. In the 1800s, several missions movements were launched; the late 1800s were notable for the beginnings of the Student Volunteer Movement and related plans to evangelize the world (which was impactful, but nonetheless failed). The impact of two World Wars, the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the civil rights issues and social revolutions of the 1960s, the liberalization of the 1970s, the commercialism of the 1980s and the technological revolutions of the 1990s all left their mark on the region. In the 1990s, another attempt to evangelize the world was a strong influence; however, the attempt failed.

Today over eighty percent of the region’s people would consider themselves Christians; however, apathy and nominalism are widespread. Over fifteen percent of professing believers are not affiliated with any church and do not attend services on a regular basis. About twelve percent of the region considers itself non-religious. Although the number of Christians is increasing in nearly every country, their share of the overall population is declining. It is unlikely that the majority role of Christianity in the region will be lost any time soon, but the growing numbers of non-religious, disaffiliated, unaffiliated and minority non-Christians is steadily eroding its presence. Minorities present in North America often remain culturally isolated and unreached by the gospel.

Despite this, North America continues to be a strong mission sending force. Over seventy thousand missionaries are sent out by Protestants and Independents, and a nearly equal number of Catholic missionaries are sent through their various orders and societies. Although there are growing problems with American missionaries in various parts of the world (largely due to the political trends America faces today), those working in partnerships with Africans, Asians and Latins are part of significant ministries in the unreached world. Along with agencies, the impact of affluent megachurches are beginning to have a significant impact on missions.

Statistics for the Five Countries of North America 


P'00  P'25 C'00  % C '25 % 75-00 00-25
Bermuda 0.1 0.1 0.1 91% 0.1 87% +- +-
Canada 30.7 37.8 23.9 78% 27.8 74% +- +-
Greenland 0.1 0.1 0.1 96% 0.1 95% +- +-
Saint Pierre 0.0 0.0 0.0 95% 0.0 92% +-
United States 284.2 350.1 239.4 84% 287.2 82% +- +-

The Caribbean
The small islands dotting the warm waters of the Caribbean are prime destinations for tourists, corporations and criminals. The hot climate and warm nightlife has lulled many into sleepy structures of sin that are difficult to break out of.

Few of the islands have any significant natural resources beyond their beaches, climates, fishing and sugarcane. Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Dominica, Haiti and Puerto Rico are the exceptions, possessing timber, minerals and some rare metals (gold and silver). The economies in the region produce fifty-one percent of Latin America's Gross National Product (GNP), and are a mixed bag: some endure abject poverty, while others are relatively well off. Tourism is the staple industry, but offshore banking is also common. The Caymans are a particular example of this, but with it comes a dark side: much of the wealth that moves through these tax-free havens is money being laundered by criminals.

Drugs are traded on some of the islands, and shipped through others, although this is declining due to recent policing. Sexual sins are widespread; many births are illegitimate. The Bahamas and Trinidad & Tobago both have AIDS epidemics.

In perhaps the ultimate irony, the tourist-friendly position of the islands also puts them directly in the path of annual hurricanes and tropical storms. Devastating natural disasters reduce the numbers of tourists and destroy the local economy, forcing impoverished countries to spend hard-earned money to rebuild their infrastructure. Martinique has averaged a disaster every five years. Montserrat, sitting on top of a volcano, was nearly reduced to ashes and has only recently begun to rebuild.

Although most of the countries are at peace, the notable exceptions are Haiti and Cuba. Haiti's long period of political turmoil has led to endless poverty and violence. Cuba's isolation under Castro has locked the largest potential missionary force in the region away from the rest of the world.

Christianity in the Caribbean
Most of these countries profess Christianity but it is of the most nominal kind. Many are Catholics, although Protestants and Independent churches are also widely found. The Church is growing, but none except the Church in Cuba are growing faster than the population. It is hard to maintain growth when over ninety percent of the people already consider themselves Christians.

More revealing is the widespread lack of mission-sending efforts. Mission mobilization is a key need. The wildcard in the region is Cuba after Castro. It is clearly unlikely he will survive to 2025, and perhaps not to 2010. What happens after he is gone is not certain, but further liberalization is possible. Persecution in Cuba is on the decline, and restrictions have been loosened. Explosive church growth is the norm and will likely continue. Perhaps one day Cuba will send missionaries to the countries where Castro once sent troops. What impact could Cubans—and Caribbeans as a whole—have on the unreached world? 

Statistics for the Twenty-four Countries/Territories of the Caribbean 


P'00  P'25 C'00  % C '25 % 75-00 00-25 Issues affecting the future
Anguilla 0.0 0.0 0.0 92% 0.0 89% +- +- Few resources, poverty, tourism/banking, hurricanes, water
Antigua 0.1 0.1 0.1 94% 0.1 92% +- +- Water, hurricanes, tourism, some unemployment, drugs
Aruba 0.1 0.1 0.1 96% 0.1 92% +- +- Tourism, relatively wealthy, Christian radio
Bahamas 0.3 0.4 0.3 92% 0.4 91% +- +- AIDS, tourism, declining drug trade, unemployment, nominalism
Barbados 0.3 0.3 0.3 96% 0.3 95% +- +- Tourism, sugar, relative wealth with some unemployment, apathy
British Virgin Islands 0.0 0.0 0.0 84% 0.0 83% +- +- Tourism, prosperous economy, materialism, nominalism
Cayman Islands 0.0 0.1 0.0 78% 0.0 69% +- +- Offshore financial center, wealthy, tourism, money laundering
Cuba 11.1 11.3 5.9 53% 6.4 56% ++ ++ Declining restrictions, Castro transition, poverty, church growth
Dominica 0.1 0.1 0.1 95% 0.1 94% +- +- Agriculture, hurricanes, economic restructuring, poverty, nominalism
Dominican Republic 8,3 11.2 7.9 95% 10.6 95% +- +- Hurricanes, unemployment, political turmoil, poverty, rich/poor gap
Grenada 0.1  0.1 0.1 97% 0.1  97% +- +- Tourism, unemployment, poverty, nominalism, church unity
Guadeloupe 0.4 0.5 0.4 95% 0.5  93% +- +- Hurricanes, unemployment, poor, nominalism
Haiti 7.9 10.9 7.6 96% 10.2 94% +- +- Absolute poverty, violence, political instability, unemployment
Jamaica  2.6 2.8 2.2 84% 2.2 78% +- +- Tourism, socioeconomic ills, unemployment, poverty, hurricanes
Martinique  0.4 0.4 0.4 98% 0.4 95% +-  +- Unemployment, poverty, nominalism, average one disaster every five years 
Montserrat  0.0  0.0 0.0 96% 0.0 93% +-  Volcanic activity, half the island uninhabitable, reconstruction 
Netherland Antilles 0.2  0.2  0.2 94% 0.2  91%  +- +-  Tourism, unemployment, apathy, Christian radio 
Puerto Rico  3.8  4.3  3.7  97%  4.1  96% +-  +-  Growing economy, politics, unemployment, addictions 
St. Kitts and Nevis  0.0  0.1  0.0  95%  0.0  95%  —  ++ Tourism, drugs, no known missionaries from the island 
St. Lucia 0.2  0.2  0.1  96%  0.2  96%  +-  +- Growing economy, unemployment, nominalism 
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 0.1  0.1  0.1  89%  0.1  84% +-  +-  Tourism, tropical storms, marijuana, drug transshipment point 
Trinidad & Tobago  1.3  1.3  0.8  63%  0.8  59%  +-  +-  AIDS, poverty, violence, corruption, tourism, offshore banking 
Turks and Caicos Islands  0.0  0.0 0.0  93%  0.0  90%  +-  +-  Tourism, unemployment, immigration, offshore banking 
Virgin Islands 0.1  0.1 0.1  95%  0.1  91%  +-  —  Tourism, hurricanes, oil refining, materialism, crime 

Key to the above charts:
P’00 – Population, AD 2000
P’25 – Population, AD2025
C’00 – Christianity, AD 2000 (followed by the percentage of the overall population)
C’25 – Christianity, AD2025 projection, World Christian Database (followed by percentage of overall population)
75-00 – Growth rate. The first (+/-) indicates whether Christianity is growing or declining; the second (+/-) indicates whether it is growing faster or slower than the population (thus whether Christianity’s influence is growing or declining). (+-) means Christianity is growing, but not as fast as the population, and so is declining as a share of the country.
00-25 – Growth rate projected for AD2000-2025
Issues – A brief encapsulation of the issues affecting the growth of Christianity in the nation

Justin Long manages and is senior editor for Momentum, a magazine devoted to unreached peoples. He can be reached at [email protected].