The past century has showed unexpected and dramatic growth of the Christianity in some areas of the world, in contrast to discouraging decline in others. However, the faith has overall continued to thrive.
Europe and North America, continents traditionally dominated by Christianity, have grown less religious in recent years. The Enlightenment of the 1700s promoted the use of reason—without religion—to explain the universe, and this movement away from God, “secularization,” has continued since then. With the emergence of ideologies like nationalism, communism, and individualism, traditional religion somewhat faded, becoming just another aspect of life rather than a guiding commitment. Although the majority of Europe still identifies as Christian, the percentage of those that regularly go to church lags behind. For example, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center in 2017, 73% of the citizens of Great Britain identify as Christians, but only 18% of the population attend church services on a regular basis. Another Pew Research Center study asserts that in 2009, 51% of adults in the United States identified as Protestant and 23% as Catholic. Only ten years later, these percentages had decreased to 43% and 20%.
Nevertheless, the growing Christian movements of Africa, Asia, and Korea present an encouraging contrast. Christianity in these three regions experiences significant growth in the mid-1900s, the same time that United States church membership and overseas missionaries increased. Africa’s rapid growth and lack of trained leaders resulted in many different independent churches and sects, such as the Church of Jesus Christ established by Simon Kimbangu, which had 6 million followers in 1980. In South Korea, the Christian population increased from 1% of the total population in 1900 to 29% in 2018, and the country eventually became the second-biggest sender of missionaries, after the US. Other areas of Asia, such as China and India, have also seen their Christian populations increase. China’s Protestant population rose from one million in 1949 to 50 million in 1990, and India reached 14 million Christians by 1974 despite governmental regulations on foreign missionaries.
On the other side of the globe, evangelicalism and Pentecostalism have taken root in Latin America. A period of growth occurred after the end of World War II, and Latin America housed more than 20 million Protestants by the late 1970s. Between 1900 and 1993, the number of Protestants grew from one million to 50 million, about two thirds evangelical and one third Pentecostal. Pentecostals comprise large proportions of the Brazilian and Chilean evangelical populations.
As foreign missions from the West flourished in Third World nations, an issue arose concerning the separation of faith and culture, as well as the difference between meeting spiritual needs and meeting humanitarian needs. This remains an important question for Western Christians today, and we should be careful not to confuse the ideas of democracy or secular individualism with the concept of humans as God’s image-bearers, who should be treated with respect and love.
Cairns, Earle E. Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. Third ed., Zondervan, 1996.
Carter, Joe. “9 Things You Should Know About Christianity in Korea.” The Gospel Coalition, 30 Apr. 2018, www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-christianity-in-korea/.
“In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace.” Pew Research Center, 17 Oct. 2019, www.pewresearch.org/religion/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/.
Sahgal, Neha. “10 Key Findings about Religion in Western Europe.” Pew Research Center, 29 May 2018, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/29/10-key-findings-about-religion-in-western-europe/.
Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language. Updated Third ed., Thomas Nelson, 2008.
De Buyer-Mimeure, Hugues. “Cross in the mountains.” Unsplash, 26 July 2017, unsplash.com/photos/-wT0iS-TSZM. Accessed 18 Apr. 2022.