In the 25 February online edition of “First Things” George Weigel has drawn out some interesting numbers from the annual “Status of Global Christianity” survey published by the International Bulletin of Missionary Research.

Weigel’s article is worth reading in full at: http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/02/world-christianity-by-the-numbers.

Here are a few brief observations with excerpts from the Weigel piece.

We are a religious world.

Of the 7.3 billion human beings on Planet Earth today, 89 percent are religious believers, while 1.8 percent are professed atheists and another 9 percent are agnostics.

But, religious allegiance in the world is shifting.

There were some 267 million Catholics in the world in 1900; today, the world Church counts 1.2 billion members, with a projected growth to 1.6 billion by the middle of the century. Yet in the last quarter of the twentieth century Catholicism was displaced by Islam as the world’s largest religious community, as the global Muslim population grew from 571 million in 1970 to today’s 1.7 billion.

Weigel does not make this observation. But, to put things in perspective for non-Roman Catholic Christians, it was estimated in 2010 in the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that, at that time, there were 800 million Protestants in the world and 260 million people worldwide who were Orthodox Christians.

The geographical distribution of Christians in the world is shifting.

The most extraordinary Christian growth over the past century has come in Africa: home to 8.7 million Christians in 1900, 542 million today, and perhaps 1.2 billion by 2050, when there will be as many African Christians as Latin American and European Christians combined.

Growth in Christianity in Europe is dramatically lower than in other areas of the world, but surprisingly there is still growth.

in a century of dramatic, aggregate Christian growth, European Christianity had the lowest annualized growth rate (0.16 percent), and the European share of world Christian population has shrunk from 66 percent in 1900 to 23 percent today

The theological adherence in Christianity is shifting.

There were 981,000 [Charismatics and Pentecostals] in 1900; there are 643,661,000 of them today; and there are projected to be over one billion Charismatics and Pentecostals in 2050. In raw numbers, then, Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity is the fastest growing phenomenon in world religious history.

To put this in perspective, it is estimated that there are between 70 and 80 million Anglicans currently in the world.

Denominational allegiance continues to splinter.

the number of Christian denominations grew from 1,600 in 1900 to 45,000 today, with projections of 70,000 in 2050.

Christianity is increasingly isolated in the world community.

according to the survey’s projections, only 14 percent of non-Christians today know a Christian.

It is a puzzling picture and difficult to know quite what conclusions to draw.

At the very least it is clear that the peoples of the world continue for the most part to profess some kind of religious faith. Beyond that, the only thing that is really clear is that things are changing.

Change is always unsettling especially for those of us who have an investment in the patterns and structures of the past. The only hope for the future is to pay attention to the present moment and live as responsively as possible to the realities of the situation in which we find ourselves challenged to embody our faith in community.

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