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Investigating Global Religious Dynamics of Christians and Muslims

05/2/2011

A statistic I have often cited when speaking about the status of world evangelization is this: that for the past century, Christianity has been stagnant at about 33% of the world. We know that the fastest growing world religion is not Christianity (growing at 1.36% p.a. in AD 2000) but rather Islam (growing at 2.13% p.a. in AD 2000). (I know that we like to compare the growth of evangelicals with that of Islam, but that, in my opinion, is rather like comparing apples to oranges.)

However, saying that the church is stagnant at 33% globally covers over the vast changes that are happening regionally within Christianity, and the reasons for those changes. Likewise, saying Islam is the fastest growing religion worldwide also masks some of the reasons for this. The reasons for these changes are important, because they help us shape our response.

For this purpose I am going to use the AD 2000 statistics from World Christian Trends. There are some more recent updates, but WCT has these statistics in Table 1-2 for every continent in the world and it is available fairly inexpensively for those who wish to explore this further.

Globally

There are two drivers of growth in both Christianity and Islam: natural and conversion. “Natural” growth is not the result of any evangelistic influence within the church: it is basically births in Christian homes, minus deaths, plus Christian immigrants, minus Christian emigrants. Unfortunately I do not have ready to hand anything that separates demographic growth—births minus deaths—from immigration growth. This would be a very interesting statistic and trend to delve deeper into, and perhaps later we will. “Conversion” growth, on the other hand, is conversions minus defections.

These numbers are fairly easily computed. We know, for example, what the AD 2000 and AD 2010 population of Christians is, so we can compute the annual growth rate based on this. And, we know what the global population growth rate is. But of course the natural, secular population growth rate does not have any conversion factor—so we know what the average global population growth rate is for demographics alone. We extract this from the Christian growth rate and the balance is the conversion factor.

Globally, each year, the number of Christians grows by an average of 25.2 million people. Of these, 22.7 million are “natural” and just 2.5 million are “conversion.” Globally, it appears the vast majority of Christian growth has little to do with the conversion efforts of the church.

Islam is in a similar situation: globally, it grows on average by 22.5 million. So, it’s actually adding fewer total people each year: and of these, some 21.7 million are “natural” and just 0.8 million are conversions.

The reason that the growth rate of Islam is faster than the growth rate of Christianity (2.1% for Islam vs 1.3% for Christianity) is that Islam is smaller: in AD 2000 it was roughly 1.1 billion people to Christianity’s 1.9 billion. But, it is adding nearly as many people every year as Christianity is.

Africa

The African continent is growing at a rate of about 2.47% p.a. Christianity is growing at 2.68%, so right away we can see that Christianity is increasing its share in the population. Part of this is “natural”: 7.9 million new births per year. Part is “conversion”: a net of 0.4 million new converts per year.

Islam as of AD 2000 was actually in a slight decline in Africa as a whole (although clearly dominating the northern regions). It was growing at 2.37% p.a. – both less than Christianity and the continental population growth rate. It was adding about 6.5 million new births per year, and making just 0.1 million converts per annum on average. Although Islam is gaining strength in certain key areas of Africa, in the continent as a whole Christianity clearly has the (slight!) upper hand.

Also note the African growth rate of Christianity (2.68%) is higher than the global growth rate of Christianity by a significant margin: thus clearly the church is becoming more African. Something like one-third of Christian births and one-quarter of its net conversions are African!

Asia

Here the reverse of Africa is true. The Asian continent has an annual growth rate of 1.48%: much slower. It has many more people: over 3.5 billion compared to Africa’s 0.7 billion.

Muslims are the largest religious block in Asia: numbering some 751 million in AD 2000. They were adding about 15.6 million per year in new converts—15.1 million “naturally” and 0.4 million through conversion. Islam’s growth rate of 2.1% is greater than the continental growth rate, but less than the Christian growth rate of 2.3%.

However, Christians are only adding about 6 million new believers each year—4 million from births and a staggering 2.3 million through conversion. Globally, there is a net of just 2 million new converts per year, but the conversion rate is exceeded in Africa and Asia. The global number of conversions is offset by losses on other continents.

The bottom line is that there is a staggering conversion rate in Asia, but Muslims are still outgrowing Christians by nearly 2.5 to 1 through births alone. Christianity is may be traveling down the highway at a faster speed, but they have a long way to go to catch up with the Muslims who are far out ahead.

Europe

Europe’s population is growing at just 0.9% p.a. The world is progressively becoming less European. Much of the European population decline is the result of the catastrophic demographic crash in the East.

Christianity with 560 million members is the top religion in Europe (although of course there is much debate about how many “Christians” are truly followers of Christ—a debate we won’t focus on here). Christianity adds about 0.9 million believers yearly—0.6 million through births and 0.3 million through conversions.

Islam’s far smaller numbers, with some 31 million total, are growing far more slowly. They are adding about 6,000 new babies per year, yet a staggering 229,000 through conversion. This gives them a growth rate of 0.7% p.a.—some seven times faster than Christianity. Nevertheless, as with Christians in Asia, Muslims in Europe have a long way to go before they come anywhere close to dominating the European scene (although they can be strong in certain areas, as they have proven).

Latin America

As in Europe, Christians with nearly 0.5 billion members are the top religion. They add 7.4 million new children per year—but they have a net loss in “conversions” of 250,000 per year. This is simply the result of massive losses amongst nominal unaffiliated Christians who defect to become non-religious, as well as losses from Roman Catholics. Protestants and others are gaining members through conversion.

Islam, on the other hand, is adding just 20,000 members per year “naturally” and some 9,000 through conversion. It has just 1.6 million members and is not really a threat to Christianity any time soon.

North America

Christianity is the top religion in North America, making up about 85% of the population. It adds 2.3 million new babies—but loses a net of 0.3 million per year through defection. So each year, Christianity in North America is gaining just 2 million.

Islam is growing twice as fast as Christianity in terms of its annual growth rate. However, its numbers are still vastly small. Christians made up some 260 million in AD 2000, while Muslims made up just 4.4 million. They add about 37,000 “naturally” and 26,000 through conversion. In total, Islam grows by just 63,000 per year.

Oceania

Finally, in the Pacific, Christians are again in the top category. The 22 million Christians in the Pacific add 0.3 million per year: 340,000 of these are babies, but there is a net defection rate of 30,000 yearly.

Islam has very small numbers: about 0.3 million total. It adds about 3,000 babies and 5,000 converts per year.

IN SUMMARY

In the places where Islam has a fast conversion growth rate, its total population numbers are nothing to fear. The demographic growth of Christians in these areas far outweighs the conversion growth of Islam at this point. Rather than being afraid, it is time to work from a position of Evangelical strength to evangelize the Muslims who come to these shores.

In Asia, Christians certainly need to be a little more discerning, since Muslims vastly outnumber believers. However, it is clear that Christians are being bold there: their conversion rate is nearly six times that of Islam (although, obviously, not all of those converts are from Islam). The difficult point is that Muslim babies vastly outnumber the religious growth of all other individual religious groups. The only group really close to Islam in Asia is Hinduism.

Africa is perhaps the place where Christianity and Islam are most directly comparable. There, on a continental level, Christianity’s natural growth rates and conversion rates just barely squeak past those of Islam. Significant evangelistic effort is needed here.

Yes, Islam globally is growing faster than Christianity. But the vast majority of the numbers it adds on a yearly basis are babies, not converts. Christians should not fear Muslim conversion rates. We should rather stand boldly on truth and reach out in love to proclaim the Kingdom of God.

 

Read More: The Pew Report on the Future of the Global Muslim Population

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3 Comments

Time to stop fearing an Islamic invasion

12/1/2006

Graeme Fawcett, a New Zealander with 25 years involvement in church planting in Asia, thinks it’s time to stop fearing an Islamic invasion of New Zealand and see the opportunities it presents.

Fawcett says most are not coming because the Saudi Government has sent them to evangelise New Zealand. “The vast majority of Muslims who come to this country come with the intention of adapting and making Kiwi friends. They come because it’s hell at home with bombs flying and they want some peace to bring up their kids.

“They are positive towards New Zealand. It’s when people don’t befriend them, or avoid them, that they draw back into their ethnic community.

Mr Fawcett said it was significant God was bringing all these people here for us to love and share Jesus with, which we would not be able to do in Saudi Arabia. “They may have their purposes, but God has his purpose. If we embrace his purpose rather than the Devil’s purpose, we will be in a better frame of mind to respond.

“I met a guy from Tauranga, where over the road from his church the Lord has arranged for an Islamic training centre to be established. We agreed it was a wonderful place to put it because believers can reach out and love them and communicate Jesus to them.

“But some Christians would be jumping up and down and thinking about a demonic conspiracy. Of all the places to put it, why not put it where Christians can pray for them and love them and storm heaven for them. “It doesn’t mean the enemy does not have a plan, but I think we focus too much on what the enemy’s little plan is and miss what God’s plan is.

“I mean, how easily can you go to Saudi Arabia and share the Gospel? It’s impossible, yet God is bringing them here and they go down to [Cathedral] Square to hang out, where Christians can share with them.

“I don’t think the best way to reach Muslims is to argue with them on the street, but it’s an opportunity to befriend people who are looking for friendship.”

Looking for opportunities to befriend Muslims is a way of life for Mr Fawcett. He left New Zealand in the late 1970s, working first for five and a half years in Malaysia before spending 17 years church planting in Japan. From there he and his Chinese-born wife, Lucy, moved to Mozambique to work among the Muslim Koti people.

Although they have been back in New Zealand three years, they plan to return to central Asia in February, where they expect to spend the next 20 to 30 years.

Mr Fawcett said around the world many Muslims were turning to Christ. “Islam was not the fastest-growing religion. The world’s population was increasing at 1.6 per cent a year, Islam at about 2.7 per cent a year—almost entirely by biological growth—and the number of Bible-believing Christians was growing at 6.9 per cent a year.” [Most researchers, when saying Islam is the fastest growing religion, would compare Islam to Christianity as a whole, and not strictly to Evangelical believers. —Ed.]

More Muslims had come to Christ in the past 10 years than in the previous 1200 years. Hundreds of thousands had been saved in Bangladesh alone. In the 1970s, Idi Amin had dedicated Uganda to Islam but today Uganda was about 80 per cent Christian. In Kampala, 80 to 90 per cent of people were evangelical Christians. In Iran, the Government acknowledged 250,000 Christians but Christians say there are far more than that.

Radio and the internet were having a big impact. Mr Fawcett quotes the example of a radio programme in North Africa which talked about Muslims having dreams and which received thousands of letters in response. “There is an Arabic internet chat room which has 20,000 hits a day from people enquiring about Christianity.”

Mr Fawcett said Muslims were drawn to Christ because they were so God-conscious. “They may not be attracted to Christianity as a religion, but they are attracted to Jesus. Because of their background they have a soft heart towards God and it’s very easy to engage them in a conversation about faith. If you are open and looking for opportunities to reach out, you’ll find they are more open than anybody else on the planet.”

However, he pointed out that while they were attracted to Jesus, they were not attracted to the Western Church. That required a different approach. “Our approach is to say fairly quickly, ‘This is not about becoming a Christian, but about becoming a follower of Jesus. You can become a follower of Jesus without leaving your community, without identifying with a church’. “I tell Christians reaching out not to try to take them to church.

“If they become a Christian, they can become an outcast or killed so evangelism ends with that one person. It’s better if they can stay within the community—although in some cases that may be impossible.

Mr Fawcett quoted Building Bridges, by Fouad Elias Accad, which says there are Muslims trusting Christ in Muslim lands who do not consider they have become Christians, a word which has negative political connotations. Instead they see themselves as having become truly Muslim (the word Muslim means “surrendered to God”).

Mr Fawcett said he was not ignoring the political side of Islam or the problems that uncontrolled immigration could bring. “Reckless embracing of people from a totally different heritage without requiring them to make any attempt at adapting to our way of life is as dumb as you can get.

“If they come here they should take off their burqas, they should adapt to New Zealand society. Those things should be addressed to them before they come.

“But I need to put that aside when I meet an Iranian with a burqa or scarf or whatever. They may be here through Government policies that I think are daft, but God has brought them and I need to reach out to them in love and not allow my political take to cloud things.

“Internationals generally are crying out for Kiwis to show a bit of interest, to invite them into their homes. We have to separate the political from our call as believers to love and reach people.”


Majority Christian countries (where C% is greater than 50%) and Muslims number over 2,000. Source: World Christian Database

 

Country Pop 2005 Muslims M% C%
Argentina 39,305,547 765,279 1.95% 92.06%
Armenia 3,042,663 76,493 2.51% 83.31%
Australia 20,088,024 331,172 1.65% 76.60%
Austria 8,120,243 239,903 2.95% 82.35%
Barbados 272,214 2,057 0.76% 96.31%
Belgium 10,359,127 371,636 3.59% 84.44%
Belorussia 9,808,724 25,946 0.26% 70.14%
Botswana 1,800,577 4,978 0.28% 64.13%
Brazil 182,797,708 180,325 0.10% 91.27%
Britain 59,598,039 1,336,074 2.24% 81.52%
Bulgaria 7,763,459 913,489 11.77% 83.77%
Burundi 7,318,712 100,874 1.38% 92.08%
Cameroon 16,564,191 3,243,608 19.58% 56.55%
Canada 31,972,474 536,923 1.68% 76.90%
Cape Verde 481,873 13,348 2.77% 95.05%
Central African Rep 3,961,846 574,197 14.49% 65.11%
Chile 16,185,450 69,859 0.43% 88.48%
Colombia 45,600,244 22,481 0.05% 96.74%
Congo-Brazzaville 3,920,514 49,376 1.26% 89.57%
Congo-Zaire 56,079,226 615,370 1.10% 95.17%
Croatia 4,405,173 112,277 2.55% 91.14%
Cuba 11,353,321 9,196 0.08% 54.21%
Cyprus 623,080 6,876 1.10% 93.70%
Denmark 5,385,540 114,176 2.12% 87.76%
Equatorial Guinea 520,833 21,083 4.05% 88.48%
Estonia 1,294,143 4,302 0.33% 65.13%
Ethiopia 74,188,932 25,278,158 34.07% 54.87%
Fiji 854,471 58,565 6.85% 57.04%
Finland 5,223,605 15,763 0.30% 90.38%
France 60,711,094 4,984,297 8.21% 69.28%
Gabon 1,375,223 63,594 4.62% 89.44%
Georgia 5,025,885 982,548 19.55% 64.17%
Germany 82,559,636 3,694,435 4.47% 74.90%
Ghana 21,832,963 4,332,117 19.84% 57.48%
Gibraltar 27,271 2,337 8.57% 85.44%
Greece 10,978,487 510,447 4.65% 92.89%
Guyana 768,003 63,123 8.22% 51.34%
Haiti 8,549,254 2,018 0.02% 95.29%
Honduras 7,257,281 10,630 0.15% 96.71%
Hungary 9,784,352 23,081 0.24% 87.59%
Ireland 4,040,185 21,144 0.52% 96.35%
Italy 57,252,557 685,268 1.20% 82.06%
Country Pop 2005 Muslims M% C%
Jamaica 2,700,868 3,257 0.12% 83.95%
Kenya 32,849,169 2,307,265 7.02% 79.93%
Latvia 2,264,965 8,510 0.38% 67.17%
Lithuania 3,401,459 6,378 0.19% 87.51%
Luxembourg 464,904 4,689 1.01% 92.51%
Macedonia 2,075,805 589,663 28.41% 64.16%
Madagascar 18,408,559 358,186 1.95% 50.78%
Malawi 12,572,372 1,956,148 15.56% 76.77%
Mexico 106,384,786 208,278 0.20% 95.89%
Moldavia 4,258,650 233,717 5.49% 69.36%
Namibia 2,032,315 7,940 0.39% 90.88%
Netherlands 16,299,745 804,364 4.93% 70.55%
New Caledonia 236,979 6,469 2.73% 86.68%
New Zealand 3,931,823 12,267 0.31% 74.83%
Norway 4,565,738 87,921 1.93% 94.59%
Panama 3,234,654 143,500 4.44% 87.49%
Philippines 82,808,513 5,326,765 6.43% 89.35%
Poland 38,515,955 5,061 0.01% 95.97%
Portugal 10,080,174 24,533 0.24% 92.03%
Reunion 776,888 32,372 4.17% 87.58%
Romania 22,227,813 162,332 0.73% 94.01%
Russia 141,552,786 10,709,501 7.57% 59.69%
Rwanda 8,606,604 1,103,026 12.82% 77.66%
Serbia & Mont. 10,513,058 1,876,697 17.85% 66.42%
Slovenia 1,979,244 25,577 1.29% 90.79%
South Africa 45,323,008 1,101,528 2.43% 81.88%
Spain 41,184,085 426,939 1.04% 91.30%
Sp. North Africa 131,941 34,028 25.79% 68.33%
Suriname 442,351 60,397 13.65% 51.12%
Swaziland 1,086,813 7,089 0.65% 87.61%
Sweden 8,894,851 178,539 2.01% 67.01%
Switzerland 7,156,665 307,459 4.30% 84.91%
Tanzania 38,364,837 11,536,966 30.07% 53.27%
Timor 857,405 27,051 3.15% 84.17%
Trinidad & Tobago 1,311,259 94,201 7.18% 62.73%
Uganda 27,623,190 1,476,806 5.35% 88.96%
Ukraine 47,782,268 816,910 1.71% 80.12%
USA 300,037,902 4,657,005 1.55% 84.12%
Venezuela 26,639,527 87,644 0.33% 94.56%
Zambia 11,043,312 117,646 1.07% 83.30%
Zimbabwe 12,963,496 94,961 0.73% 68.31%

John McNeil, a veteran of 40 years of newspaper and radio journalism, is South Island editor for Challenge Weekly, New Zealand’s non-denominational, independent national Christian newspaper. This article first appeared in ASSIST News Service.

 

2 Comments