Christianity remains World’s Largest Religion

By David M. McNabb

The second edition of the "World Christian Encyclopedia" (Oxford University Press) declares, "Christianity has become the most extensive and universal religion in history," and has a majority of the population in two-thirds of the world’s 238 countries. It also states, "Christianity has become massively accepted as the religion of developing countries in the so-called Third World."

David McNabb

Islam and the non-religious population posted notable increases in the 20th century, however. The unexpected defections from Christianity in the last century are attributed to secularism in Western Europe, Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe, and materialism in the Americas.

With 555 million believers in 1900 (32.2% of the world’s population) and 1.9 billion (31%) in 2000, Christianity began and ended the century as the world’s biggest religion. Counted Christians are divided among 33,820 denominations or similar distinct organizations. About 386 million believers, not counting historic Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant branches, are in "independent" churches. Christians counted as belonging to other groups have quadrupled since 1970, with huge increases noted among Pentecostal and Charismatic movements.

Islam, which grew from 200 million (12.3% of the population) to 1.2 billion (19.6%), ranks second. The non-religious population increased from a mere 3 million in 1900 to today’s 768 million or 12.7% of the world’s population. Other current totals: Hinduism, 811 million; Buddhism, 360 million; Sikhism, 23 million; and Judaism, 14 million.

In the United States, while considerable disagreement exists over numbers for non-Christian religions, the encyclopedia lists 5.6 million Jews, 4.1 million Muslims (a fourfold increase in the last 30 years), 2.4 million Buddhists and 1 million Hindus. There are 192 million Americans in Christian groups.