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AUGUST 29, 2014

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  August 2007

World Christian Trends, Update 2007

By Todd Johnson
August 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.

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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 TJohnson@gcts.edu



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Published as a joint effort between the Institute of Strategic Evangelism,
Evangelism and Missions Information Service and Intercultural Studies Department
(Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill. USA) and the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization