They certainly have come a long way from their small hometown in the Middle-East. Numbering 2.2 billion people worldwide, Christians make up the world’s largest religion by a margin of one billion, and the religion is still growing apace. Catholicism alone can boast almost as many adherents as there are people in China. Under the Christian umbrella, there are at least as many denominations as there are fish in the sea; this Middle-Eastern born faith is unrivalled in its predominance worldwide with three major continents, plus half of Africa reporting Christian majorities. Europe, which in the not too distant Medieval past went by the name Christendom, claims the majority of the world’s adherents to the faith, with 26% of all Christians hailing from the cradle of Western Civilisation. Conversely, the birthplace of Christianity (not to mention Judaism and Islam), the Middle-East, can boast no more than 0.6% of the earth’s Christians, a mere 12.7 million dispersed over the Middle-Eastern nations.
That Christianity does better away from home is nothing new. Since the Middle Ages about two thirds of the planet’s Christians lived in continental Europe. By 1910, Christianity may have penetrated North and South America and a good chunk of Africa, but still 2 out of 3 Christians lived in historical 'Christendom'.
The figures you're about to read (produced by the Pew Research Centre in 2012) belie the fact that something has been - and is - changing in the global distribution of Christians. Christianity is on the move. Since 1910, the world has changed. Super powers have come and gone, populations have boomed in America, Africa and Asia and declined significantly in Europe. Today Europe can still claim to have the most Christians, spread out over the continent, with over 558.2 million adherents to the faith residing in European nations. Yet, the continent can no longer claim to be the global centre of the faith - not with South America boasting 531.3 Christians, and their neighbours to the North claiming as many as 266.6 million. In fact, of the largest national Christian populations in the world, Europe is represented by only one country. Find out which as we set out to trace the largest Christian populations on Earth.
10 Ethiopia - 52.07 million
The smallest population on our Christian list is also the closest to the faith's birthplace in the Middle East. Ethiopia has been Christian longer than any other country on this list, having adopted Christianity as a state religion as early as the 4th Century AD. Today 62.8% of the population identify as Christian, that is 52,07,000 adherents to the faith of a total population of 82,950,000. Of course this isn’t Ethiopia’s only claim to fame. Leading geneticists agree that this sub-Saharan nation is likely the oldest land of human habitation, the bridgehead from which humans spread across the world. If we look at things that way, then; Ethiopia may host 2.4% of the earth’s Christians, but 100% of the world’s Christians come from Ethiopia!
9 Germany – 56.54 million
No surprises here: The powerhouse of Europe, and the former seat of the Holy Roman Emperor (not to be confused with the slightly less holy pre-Christian emperors of Rome), Germany has been Christian almost as long as it’s been German, today contributing 56,540,000 million Christians to the world total, equivalent to 2.6%. For a long time Germany was also the physical arm of the Catholic Church - ever since the forefather of Germany, Charlemagne, was crowned Emperor of Rome in the 9th Century. The relationship between Germany and the Catholic Church has soured slightly in latter years though; maybe because one of their emperors managed to drown on his way to a crusade, or maybe because another was excommunicated. Whatever the reason, in the 16th Century Germany hosted a little thing called the Reformation, changing the face of Christianity forever. While the Germans may have branched out they still stayed in the realm of the Christian faith, and today 68.7% of the country's population are still Christians, speaking to - if nothing else - their consistency.
8 Democratic Republic of the Congo - 63.21 million
The second largest country in Africa, The Democratic Republic of Congo is also home to Africa’s second largest Christian population, with over 95% of its people identifying as such. Of its 63,210,000 Christians, about half are Catholic, and indeed the Catholic Church, administrator of many of the schools and hospitals in the Congo, has been called the only national institution in the country. The nation's faith is possibly a legacy from the Congo’s time spent as a colony of Belgium, another of which is the French language. French is the official language of the Congo, spoken as a first or second language by at least a third of the population, making it both the largest Francophone nation and the second largest population of French speakers in the world. Making up 2.9% of the world’s Christians, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the 8th most Christian nation in the world today.
7 China – 68.41 million
The largest total population on earth and one of the top 5 largest countries in the world by land area, perhaps China was always going to make this list - even though over half of its population do not identify with any religion. The largest religion in China is composed of a number of Folk faiths that predate the introduction of Christianity to China. Although just 5.1% of China's population of 1,341,340,000 are Christian, China has the world’s seventh largest Christian population. The 68,410,000 Chinese Christians make up 3.1% of adherents to the faith worldwide.
6 Nigeria - 78.05 million
Nigeria boasts the largest Christian population in Africa. The introduction of Christianity to Nigeria - and indeed much of Africa - during the 19th Century forms the major subject matter of Nigeria’s (and perhaps Africa’s) most famous novel worldwide; Chinua Achebe’s The Second Coming. While the events of that novel don't exactly put the brightest spin on the introduction of the Christian faith to Nigeria, this doesn't seem to have slowed its growth there in the least. 49.3% of all Nigerians - about 78,050,000 people - identify as Christian, 3.6% of the world total. Nigeria is Africa’s largest nation by population, and it might be the only nation to identify with the Irish holiday of Saint Patrick's day: Nigerian Christians can claim a link to Irish Christians, as they share a Patron saint in the person of none other than St. Patrick himself.
5 The Philippines - 86.37 million
Comprising 4% of the world’s Christians, there are 86,370,000 members of the Christian faith spread across the Philippine’s 7,107 islands making the Philippines Asia’s largest Christian country. The seventh most populous nation in Asia with a total population of 93,260,000, The Philippines get their name from the Spanish King Philip, who established a colony, and a religion, there in the mid-15th Century, a religion that must have caught on, with over 92% of its people identifying as Christian. Perhaps in the spirit of their colonizer, most of them are Catholic.
4 Russia - 107.5 million
The largest country in the world, taking a whole eight of the planet’s space into its boundaries, Russia straddles continents, making it, in some sense, the largest Christian country both in Asia and Europe. Out of its population of 142,960,000, 73.3% are Christian, showing that winter might have slowed down the armies of Napoleon and Germany but not that of the Christian missionaries. Unique to this list most of Russia’s 104,750,000 Christians are members of the Orthodox tradition, making them the largest population of Orthodox Christians in the world and the only Orthodox population to make it on our 10 Largest Christian populations list, contributing 4.8% of the World’s Christians.
3 Mexico - 107.91 million
Although Mexico’s first brush with Christianity during the tyranny of the Conquistadores will hardly be remembered as an example of international compassion, nevertheless this former colony of Spain, much like the Philippines, now makes up a substantial part of the world’s Christian population. A whole 5% of all Christians live in Mexico. These 107,910,000 adherents are overwhelmingly Catholic, in the tradition of their colonizer. They also make up the largest population of Spanish speakers in the world, no doubt contributing to the association of Hispanic peoples in North America with Catholicism. Mexico has the third most Christians in the Americas, as well as the third most Christians in the world, highlighting a recent trend in the distribution of Christians worldwide.
2 Brazil –173.3 million
Brazil is not only the largest country in South America, it is also home of the world’s largest population of Catholics, and the second largest Christian country in the world, with over 173,300,000 members of the faith. A Catholic haven, this country illustrates better than any the shift of Catholicism from its traditional home in Italy, a fact attested to by the fact that the newest pope is a native of Argentina, making Pope Francis the first South American pope, attesting to Catholicism’s great migration. Brazil, an international power and a founding member of BRIC, is the perfect example of this shift to the Americas, with over 88.9% of its population identifying as Christian, making up a whole 8% of the world’s Christian population.
1 USA - 243.06 million
Was there ever any doubt? With 243,060,000 adherents across fifty states, the United States of America is home to the world’s biggest population of Christians, making up 11.2% of the world's total. Which should come as no surprise considering its history. Back when the states were first been carved out by English landowners, many were founded to act as Christian havens. Pennsylvania was to be a sanctuary to threatened denominations such as the Anabaptists, who survive today in the form of the Amish communities of the US. Similarly Maryland, named after Mary Tudor of England, was a nice place for the British to send their excess Catholics, while almost the entire east bay became the home of Puritan protestants, seeking a new holy land away from the Catholic powers of Europe. Today, a smaller percentage of Americans are Christian than in the 19th Century - only 78.3% of the entire country - but considering that that the U.S. population exceeds 310,380,000 people, that's still an enormous number of Christians.