By Todd Johnson, Associate Professor of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Christians and Muslims together will soon make up two-thirds of the world’s population. The relationship between followers of these two Abrahamic religions is impacted by a number of trends in global religious demography, some of them counter-intuitive. We examine trends in four areas: religions, Christianity, Islam, and Christian-Muslim relations.
TRENDS IN RELIGIONS
The world is becoming more religious.
In 1900, over 99% of the world’s population was religious. By 2017 this had fallen to 88%. But this longer trend hides the fact that the high point for the nonreligious was around 1970, when almost 20% of the world’s population was either agnostic or atheist. The collapse of Communism in the late 20th century means that the world is more religious in 2017 than in 1970. This trend is expected to continue for many decades into the future.
The world’s countries are becoming more religiously diverse.
Largely because of migration, most of the world’s countries are becoming more religiously diverse. While Canada and Suriname have the most religions over 0.5% of the population (5), more significant diversity is found in Asia, where 6 countries have 5 or more religions with more than 5% of the population (Vietnam, China, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei). The greatest religious diversity is found in Southeast Asia and Korea.
TRENDS IN CHRISTIAN DEMOGRAPHY
Christianity has shifted dramatically to the South.
We can see that at first glance there has been little change in the status of global Christianity over the past 100 years. For the entire 100-year period, Christians have made up approximately one-third of the world’s population. However, this masks dramatic changes in the geography of global Christianity. While 66% of all Christians lived in Europe in 1910, today only 25% live there. By contrast, less than 2% of all Christians lived in Africa in 1910, skyrocketing to 22% today. The Global North (defined as Europe and Northern America) contained over 80% of all Christians in 1910; this has now fallen to under 40%. Could the shift of Christianity to the Global South open up new possibilities for the life and health of Christianity around the world?
Christianity is fragmented.
Christians are now found in nearly 45,000 denominations. Note that the vast majority of denominations are in the Independent and Protestant traditions. By 2025, there will likely be 55,000 denominations.
TRENDS IN MUSLIM DEMOGRAPHY
Islam has increased by 8 times in 100 years and almost doubled as a percentage of the world’s population. In 1910 there were 221 million Muslims. By 2017 this had grown to 1.8 billion. This represents a growth from 12.6% of the world’s population in 1910 to 23.7% by 2017. Over the century, world population has grown by 1.38% p.a. whereas Muslims have grown at 1.97% p.a.
Most Muslims live in Asia and Africa outside of the Arab World.
Indonesia is the country with the most Muslims followed by India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The 6 countries with the most Muslims are all in Asia. The next 4 are in Africa.
Muslims are a significant minority in a number of important countries.
A list of the countries with the largest number of Muslims living as minorities reveals that one of the world’s largest Muslim countries is India where up to 15% of the population is Muslim. The majority of the population is Hindu. Other countries include Ethiopia, where the majority of the population is Christian, and China, where the majority is nonreligious.
TRENDS IN CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM INTERACTIONS
Most Christian outreach never reaches non-Christians, let alone Muslims.
Over 85% of all Christian evangelism is aimed at other Christians and does not reach non-Christians. Close examination of virtually any Christian evangelistic activity reveals this imbalance. Much Christian ministry is trying to keep up the growth of the churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. What is surprising is how Christians from the Global South have also been drawn into ministry primarily to other Christians. Deployment studies in Nigeria and India have shown this to be the case, although there is a perceptible shift in the past decade toward work among non-Christians.
Christians are out of contact with Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists.
Recent research reveals that as many as 86% of all Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists do not personally know a Christian. This has to be viewed negatively in light of the strong biblical theme of incarnation that is at the heart of Christian witness. In the 21st century it is important to realize that the responsibility for reaching Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists is too large for the missionary enterprise. While missionaries will always be at the forefront of innovative strategies, the whole church needs to participate in inviting people of other faiths to consider Jesus Christ.
Christians lack hospitality and friendship with Muslims.
Christians should know and love their neighbors. The whole church needs to participate in inviting people of other faiths to consider Jesus Christ. Note that Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are now neighbors in formerly “Christian” lands. This includes North America where immigration has brought large numbers of non-Christians into proximity with Christians.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Deepen knowledge of Islam in North American congregations.
Christian-Muslim relations are deeply impacted by the understanding that Christians have of Islam. With much disinformation circulating in churches this is a critical area for improving interactions between Christians and Muslims. Accurate and sympathetic portrayals could start in children’s programs but should extend to adult education.
Empower churches to interact in religiously diverse communities.
Church members living in religiously diverse communities could be trained to interact with co-religionists, and especially with Muslims. North American Christians (and European Christians) lack experience and training in religiously-diverse societies. Christians in Asia (and other religiously diverse regions) should be consulted. Partnerships could be formed between churches and mosques to improve relations.
Train congregations in hospitality and civility.
All Christians in North America should practice hospitality and civility toward Muslims. The single most important initiative is for Christians to invite Muslims into their homes. Christians who are settled in North America could also help recent Muslim immigrants to feel at home.
Outreach to Muslims in North America and around the world is influenced by these wider trends in the world
and in the church. Understanding and taking account of these trends can strengthen our own work in ministry to
Todd Johnson was one of the plenary speakers at COMMA 2017. You can find more resources from Todd Johnson at The Center for the Study of Global Christianity.