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01
Mar

Challenge and Opportunity

Posted by on in General Secretary's Blog
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Christians everywhere should analyze carefully the study on "The Global Religious Landscape" recently released by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The report is available at:

http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/globalReligion-full.pdf                                                     

The study is based on data from censuses and other demographic sources, collected from 232 countries and territories and reflecting people's self-identification. It reveals that eight in 10 people in the world identify themselves with a religious group -- a sign that people are still engaged in the search for meaning in life.

The 2.2 billion people who self-identify as Christians comprise 31.5 percent of the world's population. Christianity continues to be the faith group with the largest number of adherents, with Muslims at 23.2 percent.

According to the study, in 2010, 26 percent of Christians lived in Europe, down from 66 percent in 1910, with 24 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 24 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, 13 percent in Asia and the Pacific, and 12 percent in North America. It is noteworthy that almost one in four Christians alive today resides in sub-Saharan Africa, where the 21st Baptist World Congress will be held in 2015.  

The 1.1 billion Catholics make up 48 percent of those who self-identify as Christians -- up from an estimated 291 million in 1910. Thirty-seven percent of the Christian population is Protestant and 12 percent comprise people of Greek and Russian Orthodox persuasion. Christians, the report states, have a median age of 30 years.

Significantly, 16 percent of the population -- 1.1 billion people -- declare themselves unaffiliated with any religion and they make up the third largest group, coming behind Christians and Muslims. Seventy five per cent of these persons reside in Asia -- 700 million in China and 72 million in Japan -- and 50 million are United States residents.

The large number of the so-called "nones" suggests that believers in Christ have a major challenge, but also a great opportunity. We need to share our faith with those who have not yet been incorporated into Christ's body, the church. Notably, some of the 1.1 billion who claim no religious affiliation say that they believe in God or in a higher power. The percentage of unaffiliated groups holding belief in God is, for example, seven percent among Chinese adults, 30 percent among French adults and 68 percent among U.S. adults.

While the Pew study does not examine trends, a comparison of its findings with other available data shows the continuing decline in the number of Christians residing in the Middle East, the birthplace of the faith. What might we do to help change this sad situation?

From the welter of data provided by the Pew Study on "The Global Religious Landscape," there is much to challenge Christians who are deeply committed to fulfilling the mission God has assigned the church. As we are reminded of the many people who have not yet discovered their true identity in Christ, let us make use of every opportunity we have to know Christ Jesus and to make Christ known.

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Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.

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