Christianity 2017: Five Hundred Years of Protestant Christianity


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IBM0010.1177/2396939316669492International Bulletin of Mission ResearchJohnson et al.

Article
Christianity 2017: Five Hundred Years of Protestant Christianity

International Bulletin of Mission Research 1–12
© The Author(s) 2016 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/2396939316669492
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Todd M. Johnson, Gina A. Zurlo, Albert W. Hickman and Peter F. Crossing
Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary,
South Hamilton, MA, USA

Abstract Throughout 2017, Protestants around the world will celebrate five hundred years of history. Although for several centuries the Protestant movement was based in Europe, then North America, from its Western homelands it eventually spread all over the world. In 2017 there are 560 million Protestants found in nearly all the world’s 234 countries. Of these 560 million, only 16 percent are in Europe, with 41 percent in Africa, a figure projected to reach 53 percent by 2050. The article also presents the latest statistics related to global Christianity and its mission.
Keywords Protestantism, Africa, Global South, globalization, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, statistics, distribution, mission, evangelism

This article is the thirty-third in an annual series in the IBMR. The series began in 1985, three years after the publication of the first edition of David Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press). Its purpose is to lay out, in summary form, an annual update of the most significant global and regional statistics relevant to understanding the current status of global Christianity. While the present article focuses on Protestants (table 1), tables 2–6 continue the tradition of the series,
Corresponding author: Todd M. Johnson, Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, MA, 01982, USA. Email: [email protected]

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presenting an overview of statistics related to global Christianity and mission. The information appears in comparative perspective, offering estimates for 1900, 1970, 2000, 2017, 2025, and 2050. In addition, an average annual growth rate for each category is calculated for 2000–2017.

Protestants after five hundred years
Throughout 2017, Protestants around the world will celebrate five hundred years of their history, symbolically springing from Martin Luther nailing his ninety-five theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church in October 1517. Although for several centuries the Protestant movement was based in Europe, then North America, it eventually expanded out of its Western homelands until it had spread all over the world. Today, different types of churches exist within Protestantism, including Anglican,1 Baptist, Brethren, Churches of Christ, Congregational, Disciples, Evangelical, Friends (Quakers), Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Moravian, Pentecostal, and Reformed/ Presbyterian. The World Christian Database reports that in 2017 there are 560 million Protestants found in nearly all the world’s 234 countries (see table 4).
Table 1 shows the continental distribution of Protestants, including Anglicans, from 1600 to 2050. Nearly all Protestants were European in 1600, but by 2017 the European share had dropped to 16 percent. By 2050 it is expected that less than 10 percent of Protestants will be European. In 1900 almost 93 percent of all Protestants lived in Europe and Northern America, but this percentage has fallen to 27.2 in 2017, and by 2050 is expected to fall further, to 17.5 percent. African Protestants were only 1.7 percent of all Protestants in 1900—and these mostly Europeans in South Africa—but in 2017 they represent 40.8 percent of the global total and are projected to reach 53.1 percent by 2050. That is, sometime around 2040 half of all Protestants will live in Africa.
In 1600 Protestants represented more than 10 percent of all Christians worldwide. Their share of global Christians reached its high point around 1900, when it was about 24 percent; in 2017 it stands at 22.6 percent. Protestants will surpass their previous high point by 2050, however, when they are projected to be more than 25 percent of all Christians, due in part to continued significant growth in Africa. If Independent churches are considered as offshoots of Protestantism, then the “wider” Protestants’ share of global Christians is even higher. For example, Protestants and Independents together represent more than 40 percent of all Christians in 2017.

Protestants over one hundred years
Table 4 includes more detail related to the past one hundred years of Protestant history. Protestants numbered 133 million in 1900, nearly doubled to 252 million by 1970, and then more than doubled again in size by the early twenty-first century, reaching 559 million in 2017. Protestants will likely number 626 million by 2025 and surpass 870 million by 2050. By 1900 Protestants had spread to nearly 80 percent of the world’s countries. Also in 1900, Europe was home to more than 60 percent of all reported

Table 1. Distribution of Protestants (Millions) by Continent, 1600–2050.

Continent

1600

1700

1800

1900

Africa Asia Europe Latin America
Northern America Oceania Total

Prot.
0.00 0.10 12.57 0.00 0.00 0.00 12.67

%
0.0% 0.8% 99.2% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 100.0%

Prot.
0.01 0.29 22.09 0.03 0.38 0.00 22.80

%
0.0% 1.3% 96.9% 0.1% 1.7% 0.0% 100.0%

Prot.
0.10 0.47 36.63 0.39 5.22 0.08 42.89

%
0.2% 1.1% 85.4% 0.9% 12.2% 0.2% 100.0%

Prot.
2.21 2.63 84.06 1.66 39.47 3.24 133.28

%
1.7% 2.0% 63.1% 1.2% 29.6% 2.4% 100.0%

Note: Protestants include Anglicans; % is percentage of all Protestants in given year. Source: Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden: Brill, accessed July 2016).

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2000

Prot.
142.22 68.56 93.08 45.11 63.52 11.77 424.26

%
33.5% 16.2% 21.9% 10.6% 15.0%
2.8% 100.0%

mid-2017

Prot.
228.30 99.04 90.88 66.84 61.02 13.17 559.26

%
40.8% 17.7% 16.3% 12.0% 10.9%
2.4% 100.0%

2050

Prot.
462.73 143.57
86.51 95.83 66.36 16.64 871.63

%
53.1% 16.5%
9.9% 11.0%
7.6% 1.9% 100.0%

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Protestants, mostly in Western and Northern Europe. Most of the rest lived in Northern America. The United States had more reported Protestants (over 42 million) than Germany (28 million), the birthplace of Protestantism.2
Today Africa is home to four out of every ten Protestants. Asia and Europe are each home to about one-sixth of all Protestants worldwide; one-eighth live in Latin America, and one-ninth in Northern America. These figures reflect the shift of the Protestant center of gravity from the North Atlantic Ocean in 1910 to western Africa in 2010. The United States still has by far the most Protestants (60 million), but Nigeria (45 million) and Brazil (31 million) have passed Britain (down to 30 million) and Germany (down to 26 million) as second and third on the list. The other countries in the top ten are in Africa (two) or Asia (three).
Protestant growth exploded in much of Africa during the twentieth century. Namibia, for example, was home to only 10,000 Protestants (5.7 percent of the population) in 1910, but by 2010 this number had surged to more than 1.2 million (59.4 percent). Primarily before 1970, most African countries embraced Christianity, especially Protestantism, initially because of missionary efforts.
Despite the globalization of Protestantism, the five countries with the greatest proportions of reported Protestants in their populations have changed little.3 For both 1910 and today they are the Nordic countries, where Lutheranism is or was the state religion. However, while four countries were 99–100 percent Protestant in 1910, none is today. Although Protestants globally continue to grow faster than the general population, the most profound changes continue to occur in Latin America and Africa.

Evangelicals as Protestants
The historical origins of modern Evangelicalism4 lie in the search for a “true religion of the heart,” beginning in the first half of the eighteenth century in Europe.5 Englishspeaking Protestantism was renewed by a series of religious revivals, flamed by prominent evangelists like George Whitefield and John Wesley but supported by the lives of “ordinary men and women.”6 Initially, “Evangelical” was simply synonymous with “Protestant,” especially in Germany, where even today German evangelisch is better translated as “Protestant” than “Evangelical” (for which, German prefers evangelikal).7 Among English speakers, many Lutherans in particular still use the term in this sense, as in the “Evangelical Lutheran Church.” Over time, the term “Evangelical” largely came to describe the network of Protestant Christian movements in the eighteenth century in Britain and its colonies, the individuals who were associated with those movements, and a larger pattern of theological convictions and religious attitudes.8
The Protestant Reformation, originating in sixteenth-century Germany, was highly instrumental in the fragmentation of Christianity. Its emphasis on individual reading and interpretation of Scripture, combined with renewed religious freedom, resulted in the development of a multitude of new Christian groups, each an attempt to capture a “purer” version of the faith. As the Reformation expanded in Germany, similar movements began to occur elsewhere in Europe, the beginning of what is known today as

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denominationalism. Reformed Christianity, based on the teachings of John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, developed in Switzerland. Presbyterianism, influenced by John Knox, grew out of Reformed Christianity in the Scottish context. In 1534 England’s King Henry VIII split from Roman Catholicism and brought the Church of England into the Reformation. The Church of England would be the root of the Episcopal Church in the United States, as well as of Methodism, based on the teachings of John Wesley.
With these and other developments, denominational affiliation became the foundation of Protestant Christian group identity. This is particularly true in Europe and Northern America, but with the spread and continued growth of Christianity worldwide—notably through the vast denominationally oriented enterprises of Western missionaries—it also characterizes the Global South.
Today, because Evangelicalism is a movement without a magisterium (a teaching authority like in the Catholic Church), it is generally described in terms of adherents’ denominational affiliations, self-identification on surveys and polls, or theological leanings: that is, defining the movement from the bottom up rather than from a prescriptive set of criteria. Additionally, significant overlap exists between Evangelicalism and the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. It is important to note that Classical Pentecostals are normally considered Evangelicals, whereas Charismatics in mainline churches and Independent Charismatics are usually not. This is because the Evangelical minorities within mainline churches generally are not identical to the Charismatic minorities in terms of self-identification. For their part, Independent Charismatics often see Evangelicalism as part of the denomination from which they are breaking away.
In 1900 fully 45 percent of all Protestants were Evangelical. This figure rose to 46 percent by 2010 and is expected to rise further to over 50 percent by 2050 as Evangelicalism shifts to the South. In 1900 approximately 82 percent of all Evangelicals were Protestants, and most of the rest were Independents and unaffiliated. Today it remains at 82 percent. Table 4 shows that the global population of Evangelicals numbers 342 million today, with projected growth to 581 million by 2050.9

Pentecostals as Protestants
Pentecostal Christians are members of Protestant denominations whose major characteristic is a new experience of the energizing ministry of the Holy Spirit that most other Christians have considered to be somewhat unusual.10 This experience is interpreted as a rediscovery of the spiritual gifts of New Testament times and their restoration to ordinary Christian life and ministry. Classical Pentecostalism is usually held to have begun in the United States in 1901.11 For a brief period Pentecostalism expected to remain an interdenominational movement within the existing churches, but from 1909 onward its members increasingly were ejected from mainline bodies and so were forced to begin new organized denominations.12 Pentecostal denominations that are part of Protestantism include the Assemblies of God, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and the Church of God of Prophecy. There are also many subcategories of Pentecostal denominations, such as Oneness, Baptistic, Holiness, Perfectionist, and Apostolic.

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Pentecostal denominations hold the distinctive teachings that all Christians should seek a postconversion religious experience called baptism in the Holy Spirit and that a Spirit-baptized believer may receive one or more of the supernatural gifts known in the early church: the ability to prophesy, to practice divine healing through prayer, to speak in tongues (glossolalia) and interpret them, to speak words of wisdom and words of knowledge, to discern spirits, and to perform miracles. In addition, Pentecostals value receiving dreams and visions, singing and dancing in the Spirit, praying with upraised hands, and experiencing power encounters, exorcisms (casting out demons), resuscitations, deliverances, and other signs and wonders.
From 1906 onward, the hallmark of explicitly Pentecostal denominations, by comparison with Holiness/Perfectionist denominations, has been the single addition of speaking with other tongues as the “initial evidence” of one’s having received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, whether or not one subsequently experiences regularly the gift of tongues.13 Most Pentecostal denominations teach that tongues-speaking is mandatory for all members, but in reality today not all members have practiced this gift, either initially or as an ongoing experience.14
Table 4 reports a figure of approximately 669 million Pentecostals/Charismatics globally in 2017. This figure includes large numbers of non-Protestants, mostly Catholics and Independent Charismatics. Two kinds of Protestant Pentecostals can be distinguished. One group, those who belong to Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God (denominational Pentecostals), number just under 100 million in 2017. The second type, individual Protestants who identify as Pentecostals or Charismatics but belong to non-Pentecostal denominations, number just under 70 million. Together, then, there are approximately 170 million Protestant Pentecostals/Charismatics in 2017.

Conclusion
Many studies have highlighted the demographic shift of Christianity from the Global North to the Global South. Global Christianity is already a majority-South tradition and will be, within a short time, an African-majority tradition. Protestantism has followed a similar path. From its localized origins in western Europe it has become a global movement with a wide variety of denominations, now well over 11,000.15 In addition, Evangelical and Pentecostal movements have deeply impacted Protestant churches. Protestantism of all kinds continues to grow around the world, taking it far from its Western cultural origins. The five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation provides a fitting opportunity to reflect on demographic changes within the movement and how they might impact its future.
Funding
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Table 2. Global Population, Global Cities, and Urban Mission, 1900–2050.

1900

Global Population Total population Adult population (over 15) Adults, % literate
Global Cities and Urban Mission Urban population (%) Urban poor Slum dwellers Global urban population Christian urban population Cities over 1 million Under 50% Christian New non-Christians per day1

1,619,625,000 1,073,646,000
27.6
14.4 100 million 20 million 232,695,000 159,600,000
20 5 5,200

1970
3,682,488,000 2,297,647,000
63.8
36.6 650 million 260 million 1,348,387,000 660,800,000
144 65 51,100

2000
6,126,622,000 4,279,131,000
76.7
46.6 1,400 million
700 million 2,855,035,000 1,218,397,000
361 226 132,000

% p.a.* mid-2017

2025

1.21 7,515,284,000 8,141,661,000

1.58 5,581,897,000 6,134,853,000

0.50

83.4

84.3

0.98

55.0

58.0

3.09 2,350 million 3,000 million

3.37 1,230 million 1,600 million

2.20 4,131,023,000 4,723,656,000

1.60 1,595,879,000 1,781,875,000

2.19

522

616

1.62

297

357

0.39

141,000

145,000

2050
9,725,148,000 7,652,243,000
88.0
66.1 4,100 million 1,900 million 6,424,456,000 1,998,008,000
880 450 163,000

1New non-Christians per day migrating to urban centers. *Column % p.a. Trend. Average annual rate of change, 2000–2017, as % per year. Sources: World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision (New York: United Nations, 2015); World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision (New York: United Nations, 2014); UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2005–2013) and Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden: Brill, accessed July 2016).

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Table 3. Global Religion, 1900–2050.

Global Religion Religious diversity1 Religionists Christians Muslims Hindus Buddhists Chinese folk-religionists Ethnoreligionists New Religionists Sikhs Jews Nonreligionists Agnostics Atheists

1900

1970

2000

0.27 1,616,370,000
558,131,000 199,818,000 202,973,000 126,956,000 379,974,000 117,437,000
5,986,000 2,962,000 12,292,000 3,255,000 3,029,000
226,000

0.43 2,973,311,000 1,230,688,000
568,628,000 463,334,000 234,544,000 221,706,000 168,897,000
39,382,000 10,668,000 13,500,000 709,177,000 544,020,000 165,156,000

0.45 5,334,853,000 1,986,007,000 1,288,715,000
822,690,000 450,094,000 427,894,000 223,191,000
61,960,000 19,980,000 13,745,000 791,769,000 655,788,000 135,981,000

% p.a.*
–0.07 1.33 1.31 1.93 1.34 0.93 0.11 1.06 0.28 1.62 0.33 0.31 0.36 0.05

mid-2017

2025

0.44 6,681,390,000 2,479,563,000 1,784,443,000 1,031,722,000
527,183,000 436,273,000 267,079,000
65,020,000 26,258,000 14,533,000 833,894,000 696,854,000 137,041,000

0.44 7,301,565,000 2,732,240,000 2,044,778,000 1,109,602,000
566,326,000 418,869,000 267,396,000
64,168,000 29,484,000 15,000,000 840,096,000 707,857,000 132,239,000

2050
0.43 8,897,179,000 3,443,696,000 2,766,130,000 1,268,620,000
586,752,000 372,805,000 280,609,000
60,568,000 34,706,000 16,728,000 827,969,000 698,244,000 129,724,000

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Note: Religions do not add up to the total because smaller religions are not listed. 1(0–1, 1=most diverse). The Religious Diversity Index methodology is described in Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim, The World’s Religions in Figures (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell), chapter 3. *Column % p.a. Trend. Average annual rate of change, 2000–2017, as % per year. Source: Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden: Brill, accessed July 2016).

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Table 4. Global Christianity by Tradition, 1900–2050.

Total Christians, % of world Affiliated Christians
Roman Catholics Protestants1 Independents
African Asian European Latin American Northern American Oceanian Orthodox Unaffiliated Christians Evangelicals2 Pentecostals/Charismatics3 Denominations Congregations

1900
34.5 521,683,000 266,263,000 133,276,000
8,859,000 40,000
1,906,000 185,000 33,000
6,673,000 22,000
115,855,000 36,448,000 80,912,000 981,000 1,600 400,000

1970
33.4 1,120,475,000
658,537,000 251,987,000
96,373,000 17,569,000 16,494,000
8,299,000 9,452,000 44,022,000
537,000 143,967,000 110,212,000 105,864,000 62,689,000
18,800 1,408,000

2000
32.4 1,887,867,000 1,025,928,000
424,256,000 301,634,000
76,318,000 94,395,000 17,371,000 32,743,000 79,854,000
953,000 256,808,000
98,140,000 239,460,000 460,698,000
34,200 3,400,000

% p.a.*
0.10 1.35 1.08 1.64 2.21 2.39 2.94 1.88 1.95 1.24 1.64 0.61 0.57 2.12 2.22 1.89 2.90

mid-2017
33.0 2,371,416,000 1,231,050,000
559,258,000 437,418,000 113,940,000 154,380,000
23,824,000 45,474,000 98,543,000
1,257,000 284,704,000 108,146,000 341,904,000 669,177,000
47,000 5,527,000

2025
33.6 2,620,530,000 1,317,841,000
625,974,000 513,397,000 135,800,000 188,668,000
27,178,000 52,364,000 107,976,000 1,411,000 291,868,000 111,710,000 400,076,000 795,734,000
55,000 7,500,000

2050
35.4 3,332,193,000 1,609,011,000
871,630,000 699,234,000 191,921,000 288,362,000
33,499,000 66,455,000 117,338,000 1,659,000 301,332,000 111,504,000 581,134,000 1,091,314,000
70,000 9,000,000

Note: Categories below do not add up to affiliated Christians because of double-affiliation (between traditions). 1Including Anglicans. Past tables have listed Anglicans separately. 2Churches and individuals who self-identify as Evangelicals by membership in denominations linked to Evangelical alliances (e.g. World Evangelical Alliance) or by self-identification in polls. 3Church members involved in the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Independent Charismatic renewal in the Holy Spirit, also known collectively as "Renewalists". *Column % p.a. Trend. Average annual rate of change, 2000–2017, as % per year. Source: Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden: Brill, accessed July 2016).

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Table 5. Christian Affiliation by Continent and Christian Mission and Evangelization, 1900–2050.

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Christian Affiliation by Continent Africa (5 regions) Asia (5 regions) Europe (including Russia; 4 regions) Latin America (3 regions) Northern America (1 region) Oceania (4 regions)
Christian Mission and Evangelization National workers (citizens) Foreign missionaries Foreign mission sending agencies Christian martyrs per year1 % in Christian countries2 Non-Christians who know a Christian (%) Unevangelized population3 Unevangelized as % of world population World evangelization plans since 30 CE4

1900
8,736,000 20,774,000 368,254,000 60,027,000 59,570,000
4,323,000
2,100,000 62,000 600 34,400 95.0 5.6
880,122,000 54.3
250

1970
114,723,000 91,604,000 467,640,000 263,589,000 168,477,000 14,442,000
4,600,000 240,000 2,200 377,000 76.0 13.6
1,650,954,000 44.8
510

2000
359,637,000 271,445,000 545,620,000 481,879,000 208,302,000
20,984,000
10,900,000 420,000 4,000 160,000 59.2 17.7
1,840,175,000 30.0
1,500

% p.a.* mid-2017

2025

2.88 582,372,000 721,645,000 2.14 388,777,000 461,788,000 0.09 554,198,000 541,703,000 1.21 591,094,000 633,162,000 0.59 230,277,000 235,777,000 0.96 24,698,000 26,456,000

1.00 0.54 1.67 –3.33 –0.65 0.23

12,900,000 430,000 5,300 90,000 53.0 18.4

14,000,000 550,000 6,000 100,000 52.9 19.2

0.88 2,136,536,000 2,318,317,000

–0.32

28.4

28.5

2.80

2,400

3,000

2050
1,253,035,000 588,290,000 494,958,000 704,585,000 258,540,000 32,785,000
17,000,000 700,000 7,500 100,000 52.0 19.9
2,742,657,000 28.2
4,000

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1Ten-year average. World totals of current long-term trend for all confessions. See David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, World Christian Trends (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2001), part 4, "Martyrology." 2Percentage of all Christians living in countries ≥80% Christian. 3Defined in World Christian Trends, part 25, "Macroevangelistics." 4Grand total of all distinct plans and proposals for accomplishing world evangelization made by Christians since 30 CE. See World Christian Trends, part 27, "GeoStrategies." *Column % p.a. Trend. Average annual rate of change, 2000–2017, as % per year. Source: Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden: Brill, accessed July 2016).

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Christianity 2017: Five Hundred Years of Protestant Christianity