We’re told incessantly by popular culture and secular intellectuals that the world is becoming more irreligious. But nothing could be further from the truth. Americans and Europeans remain just as religious as always. In other regions, religion – and Christianity in particular – is making a major comeback!
These trends bear out in the data. Proportionally, fewer people identify as non-religious now than ever. Pew Research Center projected in April 2015 that “as a share of all the people in the world, those with no religious affiliation are projected to decline from 16% in 2010 to 13% by the middle of this century.”
But for now, I want to highlight three places where Christianity specifically has been experiencing a comeback through growth and renewal. While this shouldn’t be taken as an all-inclusive list, these three locations have seen some of the most impressive comeback stories within Christendom:
(1) China. After communists decimated the religious landscape in China, faith has made a comeback in the country so it’s now stronger than ever. Many Chinese still fear government oppression, so practice their faith quietly. But perhaps in excess of 100 million Chinese follow Christianity.
At current rates of increase, there could be 250 million Christians in China by 2030, predominantly Evangelicals, according to Purdue sociologist Fenggang Yang as reported by The Washington Post. If this projection holds true, China would contain more Christians than any other country in the world.
And it’s not just working class Chinese coming to Christ. College-educated Chinese are actually the most likely to identify as Christians, and even non-believing Chinese in this demographic have expressed an interesting in learning more about Christianity. Rodney Stark demonstrates this remarkable trend in The Triumph of Faith:
“A number of observers have noticed the high rate of conversion to Christianity taking place among Chinese graduate students at American universities,” Stark writes. “Many have also remarked on the very Christian climate that prevails at the leading Chinese universities, where many students as well as many faculty openly express their faith.”
(2) Latin America. The Roman Catholic Church has maintained a longstanding presence in Latin America. Since the seventeenth century most in the region have identified as Catholic. However, deep-seated Christian faith has made a comeback on a large scale more recently.
This revival contains a strong streak of Pentecostalism. I wrote a blog post last year about how the Western Church had much to learn from the Latin America (and the Global South as a whole) about pursuing the work of the Holy Spirit. In that post I quoted Pastor John Piper:
In Europe, which was once the center of evangelicalism, today is very small. Whereas at the beginning of the 20th century, probably 5% of Africa [was Evangelical], and today it would be close to 50%. You see the same thing in South America and the same thing again in Asia. But if you ask, “What is the nature of that evangelicalism?” it is mainly Pentecostal.
Stark credited this to the widespread emergence of Protestant missions around the turn of the twentieth century. Ironically, this movement not only spread Evangelical Protestantism, but also reinvigorated Catholicism by forcing Catholic parishes to respond “quickly and energetically.” In contrast, Liberation Theology organic to the Catholicism fell flat during the 1950s. Thus, strong ecclesiastic competition proved to be more of a boon to Catholicism than radical reinvention from within.
“Where Protestants have been most successful, the Catholic response has been more energetic,” Stark writes.
(3) India. Although it remains a predominantly Hindu nation, India has emerged as one of the largest Christian countries in the world. Officially, only about 2 percent of the population (25 million) in India identify as Christian.
“That’s a tiny minority amid 1 billion Hindus, but still sizable enough to rank among the 25 countries with the most Christians, surpassing ‘Christian countries’ such as Uganda and Greece,” Jeremy Weber wrote in a special report for Christianity Today published in October 2016.
Some estimates, however, place the number of Christians in India far higher. Operation World places the number of Christians there at 71,011,000. However, in their print edition, Operation World says it could closer to 110 million.
However many Christians there actually are in India, what’s clear is that Indians from all castes are flocking to the Church. They decide to become Christians despite persecution from Hindu nationalists.
Currently six states have outlawed “proselytizing” via anti-conversion laws. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, head of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has threatened to impose a nation-wide anti-conversion law.
Notable violence against religious minorities has occurred since India became independent. Muslims, Christians, and others have been violently attacked by extremists at least as recently as 2015.
Instead of buckling under this persecution, Christianity has gained new followers in unprecedented numbers. Weber reported that “evangelical leaders across India agree that their biggest challenge is not restrictions on religious freedom, but training enough pastors to disciple the surge of new believers from non-Christian backgrounds.”