I am a bit of a statistics nerd, so when I came across some stats on the world’s major religions in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, I couldn’t resist playing around with them.
Note (2023): For updated statistics, see World’s biggest religion?
Growth over the last century
The graph above shows the growth in numbers of the world’s major religions (plus a projection to 2025), and the decline in numbers of people not following one of these. I would guess the main reason for this decline is the missionary work in Africa, where large gains in Christianity and smaller gains in Islam have resulted in large losses from local animistic religions.
The figures show both Christianity and Islam gaining about the same number overall, with smaller growth in Buddhism and Hinduism. A subset of Christianity, Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity, has been responsible for most of this growth, especially in Africa. As a result, Christianity has overtaken Islam as the majority religion in Africa.
Percentages of world population
The figures show that Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism have all grown at about the same rate as the world population, thus staying approximately the same percentage of the total. Islam and Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians show significant growth as a percentage of the world.
In 1900, European and North American Christians comprised more than three quarters of the world’s Christians, but now they are only one third. The number of Christians in Europe and North America is still growing slowly, but the numbers in Africa, Asia and South America are growing rapidly.
Does this tell us anything?
None of this is very surprising. The big questions are, I suppose:
- How much more will Islam and Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity grow? Will they level off soon? Where will new converts come from (or will growth be via a higher birthrate)?
- Will Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity become the dominant form of the faith before much longer? (It has already grown from zero to a quarter of all Christians in just over a century.)