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USA Evangelicals/Evangelicals in a Global Context

By Todd Johnson
January 2006

Over the past one hundred years global Christianity has experienced a profound southern shift in its geographical center of gravity. Whereas in 1900 over eighty percent of all Christians were from Europe and North America, by 2005 the proportion had fallen to under forty-five percent. It is no surprise then to discover that the center of gravity of the Evangelical Movement, with roots in the United Kingdom and the United States, has also been steadily shifting south for over one hundred years. This is also true of evangelicals (a more broadly-defined term that includes Roman Catholics—see glossary below). Thus, though the number of evangelicals worldwide is estimated to range from 250 million to 688 million, most are increasingly found outside of the Western world.

Table 1 illustrates this shift by highlighting the cultural traditions in which Evangelicals and evangelicals are currently found. In both cases, Europeans (including Americans of European descent) are in the minority. The difference is less pronounced among evangelicals because of the large number of Roman Catholic evangelicals in Europe. Nonetheless, Africans, Asians and Latin Americans are more typical representatives of evangelicalism than Americans or Europeans.

Table 2 puts Christianity in the US in a global context and shows the changes that have occurred over time to evangelicalism in its various forms. Several trends are immediately apparent:

  1. Since 1900 Christians (Lines 2 and 3) have been declining as a percentage of the US population.
  2. Evangelicals (Line 8) have been declining since 1900 (forty-two percent to fifteen percent today).
  3. There are at least four ways to measure evangelicals (Lines 4, 5, 7 and 8) ranging from forty-five million (fifteen percent) to Gallup’s forty-two percent or 126 million.
  4. Pentecostals/Charismatics (Line 6) have been growing steadily since 1900.

Table 3 gives a detailed breakdown of Evangelicals by major Christian tradition. Note that although Baptists represent the largest number of Evangelicals, the fastest growing are found among the Independent immigrant churches. The number of Evangelicals is calculated by determining whether or not a denomination belongs to an Evangelical council or whether individuals within a denomination identify themselves as Evangelicals.

Evangelicals or evangelicals continue to grow globally, whereas in the US they are declining as a raw percentage of the population. Nonetheless, immigration continues to transform the evangelical landscape. In twenty years, African, Asian, and Latin American Evangelicals/evangelicals will likely be at the forefront of both these global movements and within the US.

Glossary

• Adherents. As defined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a person’s religion is what he or she professes or confesses or states that it is. Totals follow the methodology of the World Christian Encyclopedia, Second Edition  (2001) and World Christian Trends (2001), using recent censuses, polls, surveys, yearbooks, reports, websites, literature and other data. See the online World Christian Database (http://www.worldchristiandatabase.org/) for more detail.

• Christians. Followers of Jesus Christ, enumerated here under Affiliated Christians, those affiliated with churches (church members, with names written on church rolls, usually total baptized persons including children baptized, dedicated or undedicated). Doubly-affiliated are Christians who are baptized members of more than one denomination.

• Evangelicals/evangelicals. These two designations cut across all of the six Christian traditions (Anglican, Independent, Marginal, Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic). Evangelicals (with uppercase E) are mainly Protestant churches, agencies and individuals that call themselves by this term (for example, members of the National Association of Evangelicals); they usually emphasize five or more of seven, nine or twenty-one fundamental doctrines (salvation by faith, personal acceptance, verbal inspiration of Scripture, depravity of man, Virgin Birth, miracles of Christ, atonement, evangelism, Second Advent, et al). The lowercase term evangelicals refers to Christians of evangelical conviction from all traditions who are committed to the evangel (gospel) and involved in personal witness and mission in the world; it includes Evangelicals but also all who do not belong to specifically Evangelical churches or agencies, nor give their primary identity as “Evangelical,” yet remain committed.

• Independents. The term here denotes members of Christian churches and networks that regard themselves as post-denominationalist and neo-apostolic and thus independent of historic, mainstream, organized, institutionalized, confessional and denominationalist Christianity.

• Marginal Christians. Members of denominations who define themselves as Christians but who are on the margins of organized mainstream Christianity (e.g. Unitarians, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science and Religious Science).

• Pentecostals/Charismatics/Neocharismatics. Pentecostals are church members, churches or organizations affiliated to a Classical Pentecostal denomination (e.g. Assemblies of God). Charismatics are church members affiliated to non-pentecostal denominations who have entered into the experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit (e.g. Catholic Charismatics). Neocharismatics are church members similar to charismatics but unconnected with mainline pentecostal or non-pentecostal denominations (e.g. Vineyard Churches).


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