Christians a Plurality Worldwide, about One Third of All People

January 10, 2013

Christianity is the largest religion in the world (by a significant margin), comprising almost a third of the world’s population (about 2.2 billion).

Pew religious groups

The Pew Research Center has a new report out (December 2012) on The Global Religious Landscape (as of 2010).

As Pew explains, “This study is based on self-identification.”  It is “based on analysis of more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers”.

According to Pew, there are currently “2.2 billion Christians (32% of the world’s population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%) around the world as of 2010.”

Some people make much of the fact that Christians have had some schisms over the years.  People may even argue that some denominational traditions are so different from each other that they can’t be considered one religion.

It seems pretty clear to me that we’re all one church—from Catholics to non-denominational congregations, we’re all united by the things that are most central to Christianity, belief

  • in the Trinity (God is one being in three persons; God is love; God is good; etc.);
  • that we’re all sinners;
  • and that in Jesus, the second person of the Trinity became man, died for our sins, and was resurrected, making it possible for us to be reconciled to God;

and practice, including

  • baptism and
  • communion

—but I can understand if some people find the schisms distracting.  So I want to point out that the splintering into thousands of denominations is basically an American phenomenon.  The three largest denominations worldwide account for about two thirds of all Christians.  Those three are Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans; all three have very similar theology and religious practices.

(My source is the Pew report from the previous year, December 2011, on Global Christianity:  It found that Catholics represent 50.1% of Christendom, Eastern Orthodox 11.9%, and Anglicans 10.6% of the 36.7% of Christians who are Protestant—i.e., 3.9% of Christians worldwide are Anglicans.  The three together add up to 65.9% of all Christians.)

That’s more than 1.4 billion people; even if you threw away the other third of Christendom, the remaining Christians would still represent the second-largest religion in the world, almost as numerous as Muslims (1.6 billion)—and we didn’t get there the way they did, and we don’t keep our numbers the way they do.

I’m not saying that being the biggest proves that Christianity is true, but if you’re trying to decide what to believe, it’s something to think about.

7 Responses to “Christians a Plurality Worldwide, about One Third of All People”

  1. chicagoja Says:

    On the contrary, it’s pretty clear that it’s not all one church. The problem is that there is such a divergence of beliefs in the multitude of denominations and the different bibles in use. So what you really have is many similar religions under one umbrella.

    • Hello, Chicago! Thanks for commenting.

      By “different Bibles”, I assume you’re referring to the fact that Catholics include a few books in the canon that Protestants don’t. Other than that, as far as I’m aware, all Christians use the same Bible. Perhaps that makes us all one religion, even by your own definition?

      Are you aware of any difference between Bibles used by different Christian denominations that would prevent unity on those central matters of faith and practice that I mentioned?

      • chicagoja Says:

        Yes, the Catholic bible has 73 books compared to the Protestant bible which has 66. Furthermore, the bibles of the Greek Orthodox and Ethiopic Church are considerably different. Also, the original King James version included the Apocrypha while some of the early Christians followed gnostic beliefs. It’s only after 2,000 years that the Protestants have presented a somewhat unified front. Catholics, of course, practice their faith differently than Protestants and within the main Protestant group there is a general lack of unity on central tenets; for example, was Jesus god, the son of god, or the son of man? Also, do you believe in the End of Days and/or the Rapture?

      • In other words, the answer to my question is No?

        Yes, some denominations have a few more books in their canon than others, but I don’t think they amount to anything like a total difference. The differences are on secondary questions, and do not prevent the various denominations from being united on central matters of faith and practice.

        Apart from the Bible as well, Christian belief and practice are remarkably united. Here you did try to offer two specific examples, but the first one is totally wrong; Protestants and Catholics agree that Jesus was both fully man and fully God. As fully God, He was the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, Who is eternally the Son of the first person, the Father. In other words, you listed three categories, but the answer is that Jesus was all three, and Protestants and Catholics alike agree on that.

        Your second example is no doubt interesting but is not central.

        You also tried to slip Gnosticism in among the other groups, as if it were just one Christian denomination among many, but I suspect you know that it’s not; it’s a heresy, incompatible with Christianity. It differs from Christian doctrine on important, central questions.

      • chicagoja Says:

        Some of my Christian friends do believe that Jesus was God but I’m not sure where your understanding that all Christians believe that Jesus is God comes from. i’m a Christian and have attended services of various denominations over the years and not one said that he was God. My point about Gnosticism is that it was accepted Christian practice for
        300 years after Christ and, in fact, Origen was one of the first church fathers. The fact that some relatively unknown bishops
        came along later and declared it a heresy actually proves one of your points on unity. Namely, that the Pope and the bishops are infallible.

  2. “i’m a Christian and have attended services of various denominations over the years and not one said that he was God.”

    Interesting! Can you remember specifically what some of those denominations were? Do they teach that Jesus is not divine? What exactly do they teach that He is?

    As for Gnosticism, I don’t think I’m following you. Are you trying to say that a lot of or most Christians were Gnostics, but “some relatively unknown bishops” outnumbered and overwhelmed them?

  3. […] left of center, this will presumably be one more piece of useful evidence for you to consider.  The religion that a third of the world identify with to NPR perhaps might as well be some rare exotic animal in a nature […]

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