The world is getting more religious


I saw an interesting article in the paper this past week headlined, “Study: World Is Turning More Religious; Atheism Declining.”[1] It says,

A new study says the world is more religious now than it was four decades ago, and this trend will continue to 2020 and perhaps beyond even as the global share of the nonreligious is likely to witness a sustained decrease.

The percentage of the world that is religious [that is, any sort of religion] continues to increase, according to the study titled “Christianity In Its Global Context, 1970-2010,” conducted by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts.

In 1970, nearly 80 percent of the world’s population was religious, and by 2010 this had grown to around 88 percent, with a projected increase to almost 90 percent by 2020, the report states. The growth of religious adherence can largely be attributed to the continuing resurgence of religion in China . . .

In 1970, agnostic and atheist populations together claimed 19.2 percent of the world’s total population, largely due to communism in Eastern Europe and China.

So, these officially Marxist countries were classed as non-religious. It says,

However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, large numbers of the nonreligious returned to religion.

I have seen personally in the former Soviet Union, in Russia, the massive turning to God and back to the Orthodox Church in particular after the fall of the Iron Curtain. This is happening as well in Eastern Europe. And in China, as the restrictions have eased, there has been a tremendous growth in the Christian church in China.

The report says,

“If this trend continues, agnostics and atheists will be a smaller portion of the world’s population in 2020 than they were in 2010,” says the report. “Although the number of atheists and agnostics continues to rise in the Western world, the current growth of a variety of religions in China in particular (where the vast majority of the nonreligious live today) suggests continued future demographic growth of religion."

Christianity and Islam dominate religious demographics and are expected to continue that dominance in the future, according to the report, which notes that the two religions represented 48.8 percent of the global population in 1970, and by 2020 they will likely represent 57.2 percent. The study also predicts that there will be 2.6 billion Christians by 2020.

That is Christians in name-only, well, not only but it includes nominal Christians as well as ardent, Bible-believing Christians. It says,

. . . the fastest-growing religions over the next decade are likely to be . . . Islam at 1.6 percent, . . . Christianity at 1.2 percent, and Hinduism at 1.2 percent. Each of these is growing faster than the world's population at 1.1 percent.

What is missing from this report is the fact that evangelicals are growing worldwide at a rate of around 3 percent which is way in excess of the world’s population growth and far ahead of these religions in general. So the evangelical branch of Christendom is growing at an enormous rate worldwide.

It says,

The report also takes note of the great shift of Christianity to the global South in the twentieth century, a trend that is expected to continue into the future. While 41.3 percent of all Christians were from Africa, Asia, or Latin America in 1970, the figure is expected to increase to 64.7 percent in 2020.

So, again, In 1970, about 41 percent of Christians were in the third-world countries, in the global South – Asia, Africa, Latin America. By 2020, that is going to be nearly 65%. So a huge demographic shift in Christian faith going on to those countries.

It goes on to say,

Between 1970 and 2020, all major Christian traditions are likely to grow more rapidly than the general population in the global South, according to the report. However, at the same time, Christianity is declining as a percentage of the population in the global North “at a dramatic rate.” This can be attributed to birth rates in many European countries . . . being below replacement level, and aging populations.

One would have to add to that not only the fact that these European countries are not replacing their traditional Christian populations adequately but the influx of Islamic immigrants from Muslim countries is changing the demographics of Europe, particularly in countries like France where the native French population growth rate is so low that the influx of Muslim immigrants is going to change the complexion of France over the next century in unprecedented ways

So this is both a challenge and an encouragement, I think, for those of us who are watching trends. We see Christianity growing worldwide and yet still the tremendous challenge that we face in the Western world in North American and Europe to ask the Lord to revive the church and to bring renewed growth rates in our sector of the world.[2]

[1] Anugrah Kumar, “Study: World is Turning More Religious; Atheism Declining”, Christian Post, July 20, 2013. See (accessed August 26, 2013).

[2] Total Running Time: 7:15 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)