We continue our Next Christendom Discussion picking up in Chapter 5.
This next section deals with demographic trends---a subject that is very relevant to the study of religion but is often overlooked or not talked about.
Overall, the bulk of the world's population lives in underdeveloped or developing areas and this trend is projected to continue into the foreseeable future. Countries in Europe like Italy, Russia, and England are seeing steep population decline. Outside of Europe, Japan is declining at a very fast rate. Meanwhile, India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Uganda are rising quickly despite the toll AIDS has taken on these nations. The highest fertility rates are in Yemen, Uganda, Afghanistan, and Angola. Chad, Iraq and Bolivia are also fast growing populations.
Trying to decipher which religion people follow in countries is not so easy. In countries such as Poland, everyone is overwhelmingly baptized into the Catholic Church whether they practice the faith or not. If they leave the faith, this is never counted by the church. "A mother church doesn't abandon her errant children." So the numbers of believer or practicing Christians can be very wrong.
Furthermore in many countries (like Brazil), people may mix their Christianity with other folk religions such as Santeria. Jenkins says that oddly, figures about practicing Christians are probably more likely to be accurate in a place like Nigeria than in Romania because there is no established church.
So which countries will have the largest Christian Communities by the year 2050:
1. United States
6. Democratic Republic of the Congo
He singles Uganda out as a country where Christianity has grown so much that it is one of the "triumphs of the missionary movement." The Philippines which was introduced to Christianity by the Catholics in the 1500's, also has a huge Christian presence as does Brazil-which he suggests may be primarily Evangelical as opposed to Catholic in the future.
Europe is the area where it is most secular with 44% of British people not affiliating with any religion whatsoever, with 2/3rd of young people not practicing any faith. In Eastern Europe, the Eastern Orthodox church will lose a lot of followers since so many countries where the Orthodox church is strong are seeing huge population drops. New immigrants to Europe, however, do tend to be very religious.
The same is true in the United States where Latin Americans and new Asian immigrants. The infusion of growth into American Christianity will most likely come from immigrant communities and other ethnic groups. White America is secularizing quickly in the United States, but that is not the sum total of America's religious experience.
He makes a final good point that a lot of Middle Eastern countries have more religious diversity than the United States where only 4 to 5% of the population does not adhere to some form of Christianity.
This chapter is especially helpful for Americans who are often in a panic about Christianity disappearing from the United States. It is white America that is seeing a pretty steep decline and that skews people's perspective. But the US is still a place filled with religious dynamism. Many of the older institutions and mainline communities (and newer institutionalized denominations like ours) are in serious trouble. It's no coincidence that some of the greatest dynamism we see comes from Mexican immigrants who often become die-hard evangelicals and church planters. I got to meet some in Baltimore while making "Mosaic." Any denomination would be lucky to have them--and they work toward becoming legal if they are illegal. Law-abiding, Evangelical, new citizens of the United States.
Consequently, it's very ironic when Christians in America get in such a panic about Mexican immigration. They may be one of the last bulwarks against total secularization. And furthermore, Mexican immigration is dropping very fast as Mexico's economy takes off. It's increasingly not worth the effort to work in low-wage American jobs when there are many more opportunities in Mexico.
As with the economy, the US's Christian future is being challenged. But as with the economy, the answers can all be easily found within our own borders and within our own structures. Reform and re-calibration are completely possible--it's just a matter of will. Not so for some the countries in the rest of the world where they are in serious trouble.
The faith will become mover diverse, however. And this is true across the board--hence the importance of this book and the work 3W is trying to do. Christianity, which has often been represented by the theology and the media of one particular culture is now becoming more diverse. If any country has the opportunity to really navigate this it is the United States where there are so many opportunities to experience that diversity in a safe environment--as opposed to much of the rest of the world.
Our discussions will continue here at the three worlds diary...