More than 1/3 of Protestants and Evangelicals live in Sub-Saharan Africa (Pew study)

The latest Pew study on Global Christianity.

The number of Christians around the world has more than tripled in the last 100 years, from about 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion in 2010. But the world’s overall population also has risen rapidly, from an estimated 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion in 2010. As a result, Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population today (32%) as they did a century ago (35%).

This apparent stability, however, masks a momentous shift. Although Europe and the Americas still are home to a majority of the world’s Christians (63%), that share is much lower than it was in 1910 (93%). And the proportion of Europeans and Americans who are Christian has dropped from 95% in 1910 to 76% in 2010 in Europe as a whole, and from 96% to 86% in the Americas as a whole. At the same time, Christianity has grown enormously in subSaharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, where there were relatively few Christians at the beginning of the 20th century.

The percentage of African Christians is even more striking when we limit it to Protestants (37%) and Evangelicals (38%). Africans also make up 44% of the world’s Pentecostals (p. 68).

Sub-Saharan Africa has both the greatest concentration of evangelical Christians (13% of sub-Saharan Africa is evangelical) and the largest share of the world’s evangelicals (38%) (p. 68). [About one-in-three evangelicals live in the Americas (33%) and roughly one-in-five reside in the Asia-Pacific region (21%).]

The majority of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa are Protestant (57%), as broadly defined in this report; this includes members of African Independent Churches and Anglicans.12 About one-in-three Christians in the region (34%) are Catholic. Orthodox Christians account for about 8% of the region’s Christians, and other Christians make up the remaining 1% (p.54)
  • Nigeria is the 2nd largest Protestant nation (after USA). 3. China, 4. Brazil 5. South Africa 6. UK  7. DR Congo 8. Germany9. Kenya, 10. India (p. 27)
  • Kenya is the 9th “largest” Protestant nation in the world; 60% of the population is Protestant; Kenyans make up 3% of global Protestants. (Including Catholics, 85% of Kenyans claim to be Christians.)
  • 73% of South Africans are Protestant.

Nigeria’s large Christian community is diverse. It includes nearly 60 million Protestants (broadly defined),
about 20 million Catholics and more than 750,000 other Christians. All of Christianity’s major groups have
grown in Nigeria since the 1970s, but the growth of pentecostal churches has been especially dramatic in
recent decades.

Orthodox Christians make up 12% of the global population. Ethiopia is the second largest Orthodox country in the world (after Russia ahead of Ukraine) with 36 million (43.5% of their population; 14% of all Orthodox.) (Spotlight on Ethiopia p. 56).

Other Christians includes groups that “self-identify as Christians” (pp. 35, 40), including American exports like Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and Christian Science, but they make up only about 1% of the global total. Zambia leads African countries (#4 globally) with just over a million “other Christians”, 8.5% of its population, followed by Nigeria (#6) with 0.5 of its population, and Kenya (1.5 % of its population) at #9, just ahead of Germany (p. 35).

The United States is the world’s third most populous country, but it has by far the largest Christian population. With nearly a quarter of a billion Christians, the U.S. dwarfs even Brazil, which has the world’s second-largest Christian community (more than 175 million). About 80% of the U.S. population identifies as Christian, and U.S. Christians represent 11% of the world’s Christians (p. 46).

CHINA: Read the section on Living as Majorities and Minorities (p. 19) There’s a considerable treatment of China (see esp. spotlight on China page 56, and Appendix C, pp. 97-110 ):
  • China has the world’s largest Christian minority population, although Christians make up only about 5% of China’s total population.
  • China probably has more Christians than any European nation except Russia.
  • India is #10 in terms of number of Protestants, but only 1.5% of the Indian population is Protestant.

The Middle East-North Africa region is home to less than 1% of the world’s Christians.13 Only
about 4% of the region’s residents are Christian. Although Christianity began in this region,
it now has the lowest overall number of Christians and the smallest share of its population
that is Christian (p. 63).


Eddie Arthur, head of Wycliffe UK (beat me to the draw with his post as I was eating dinner with my family ;-), adds the following comment:

…although the Church is growing rapidly, it is only just keeping pace with the growth in the world population. There is no place for either complacency or triumphalism in this data.

One issue which I have not seen in the report is the issue of influence. Though the majority of Christians are found in the two thirds world, most power and influence still resides in the Western Church. Our habits and attitudes have yet to catch up to the statistics. If you would like some further thought on these questions, I heartily recommend the talks by Martin Lee and Peter Oyugi at the recent Global Connections’ Conference, you can also take a look at an essay which I wrote on the subject a few years ago.

I’m curious how the stats would have looked if they had split North and South America.

Read the full Pew report for more details on these subjects:

Christian Traditions:

Related Content from The Pew Forum

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