by Pastor Mike Middaugh
I think that one of the most compelling and encouraging aspects of our faith is hearing stories about God’s continued work in the world. Sometimes this happens after a disaster and we hear stories of people finding safety and protection that can only be attributed to God’s hand. Other times we hear of a church doing great things in a community, or individual lives changed and renewed by the gospel message. In addition, I like to be reminded on occasion of how God is continuing to spread the gospel to even the far reaches of the planet.
I gave some examples of this in my Sunday message this week, since it was Pentecost. For today, I thought I would share some further some information I dug up with the help of a Pew Forum study. The study itself is already a little more than a year old, so it is safe to see the numbers are slightly outdated, that there are thousands, if not millions of people who have become believers just in the past year. But as of last year, here’s where things stand:
A comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries found that there are roughly 2.18 billion Christians of all ages around the world. This represents nearly a third of the estimated 2010 global population of 6.9 billion. Considering Christianity was a belief system that began in a small corner of the globe 2000 years ago, with 120 people gathered as believers at the time of Pentecost I would say this is pretty incredible growth. What we are seeing as well is that Christians are geographically widespread – so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or nation can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity today.
This aspect of Christianity has changed greatly in just the past century. In 1910, about 2/3 of the world’s Christians lived in Europe, where the bulk of the world’s Christians had been for a millennium. Today, only about 1/4 of all Christians live in Europe, but another 25% of believers live in sub-Saharan Africa, a newly Christianized local. The chart below helps illustrate this trend.
The epicenter of Christianity has shifted greatly as well in the past 100 years. In 1910, 93% of Christians lived in the global North and West. Today, over 37% of the Christian population could be found in the global South and East. An additional, harder to track change, is that even local churches, such as those in North American cities, are now able to witness to people from around the globe in their own backyard, as immigrants continue to pour in from all nations.
All told, we are witness to the greatest worldwide expansion of Christianity our planet has ever seen. Through technology, ease of travel, and immigration, there is greater opportunity to tell the story of Jesus than ever before. And yes, there may be times when it feels like “making disciples” is a challenging prospect, I hope we can find joy in the fact that the Holy Spirit is hard at work, bringing the gospel to more people than has ever happened before.