Christianity implodes in Europe and explodes in Africa

27 December 2015 8:05 am

Christianity is experiencing an unprecedented boom on the African continent. It now accounts for more than half of Africa’s total population. On the other hand, Christian affiliation and practice continue to ebb in Europe.

Data from the Pew Research Centre has found that Muslims could soon outnumber Christians for the first time in history. Pew research shows that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. The religious group will make up 30 per cent of the world's population by 2050, compared to just 23 per cent of the population in 2010. That means the number of Muslims in the world will nearly equal the number of Christians by 2050. Muslims could outnumber Christians soon after the year 2070.

And the future growth of Christianity might lie in Africa.

The Economist examines this major demographic shift in global Christianity.

It points out that European priests and ministers are preaching to ever-emptier pews. Just 10 per cent of adults in France and Sweden go to church once a month or more. In Ireland, regular attendance fell from 90 per cent in 1990 to 60 per cent in 2009. Shrinking congregations have led the Church of England, one of Britain’s largest landowners, to close 1900 churches since 1969. That’s 11 per cent of the total.

At the same time, sub-Saharan Africans are embracing the gospel with the literal zeal of the converted. According to the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, in 1910 just 9 per cent of the 100m people on the African continent were Christian; today the share is 55 per cent of a population of a billion. Moreover, figures from the World Values Survey (WVS), which covers 86,000 people in 60 countries, indicate they are remarkably devout: across five sub-Saharan African countries for which data are available (Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe), 90% of people calling themselves Christian also said they attended church regularly. If those nations are representative of the region as a whole, then perhaps 469m churchgoers now live in Africa. Another 335m or so churchgoing Christians live in Latin America, three-fifths more than in Europe,

The Economist attributes this to growing secularism in Europe, a trend among the young to favour individual “spirituality” over organised religion and simple economics. The more affluent a country is, the less frequently its citizens attend church, and western Europe is uniformly rich.

“People on the lower rungs of their own country’s economic ladder tend to be more observant than those at the top. America is unusually unequal for a rich country, and its black population is both poorer than the national average and highly devout. Moreover, its immigrants come largely from staunchly Christian Latin America,’’ says The Economist.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is not only home to the world’s most observant Christians; it is also the fastest-growing region on the planet by population. And its entrenched poverty means that even if it enjoys decades of rapid economic development, it is unlikely to reach the levels of wealth that tend to correspond to increased secularisation. As Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, the centre of gravity of the world’s most popular religion is shifting towards the birthplace of humanity itself. “

All this will be a big challenge for organised religion. It will “no longer win simply by cranking out a surplus of indoctrinated babies and will have to compete on an intellectual footing”, writes cultural critic Bob Seidensticker.