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World Map

Religions of the world

Name of the place of worship and local leader;
accuracy of membership data; and rate of
change of membership

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Names of the places of worship and English titles by which local leaders are called:

Religion Place of worship Title of local leader
Christianity Church, Cathedral, Temple, Mission Pastor, priest, minister, elder
Islam Mosque Imam
No religion * None None
Hinduism Mandir, Mandira, Temple, and other names Priest
Buddhism Pagoda, Stupa, Temple Monk
Atheists None None
New Asian religion Various Various
Tribal Religions, Animism In nature Shaman
Judaism Synagogue Rabbi
Sikhism Gurdwaras Granthi (professional reader)
Shamanists In nature Shaman
Confucianism Temple, Shrine, Seowon Unknown
Baha'i Faith House of worship Usually a lay leader
Jainism Temple Priest, Pandit
Shinto Temple Priest
Wicca Circle, Grove, in nature Priestess, Priest, Wiccan
Zoroastrianism Atash Behram, Agiyari, Prayer rooms Mobed, Dastur

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Accuracy of the data:

We receive many Emails from visitors to this web site about the above data; some are quite irate.

bulletMany Emails come from Christians who have the impression that Christianity is rapidly growing around the world and that the number of Christian adherents is steadily growing as a percentage of the world's total population. Christianity certainly is growing. Noted Christian author George Weigel notes that:
"There were only 558 million Christians in the world in 1900 and there will be approximately 2 billion Christians by the middle of this year [2002], a huge increase." However, Christianity has been in a very slow decline for years as a percentage of world population. Weigel states: "...Christians were 34.5 percent of world population in 1900, and will be 33.1 percent in 2002." 1

bullet We receive many Emails from Muslims and Hindus who honestly believe that their religion is the largest in the world. The available data seems to indicate that they are wrong. However, at current rates of change, Islam will overtake Christianity as the world's dominant religion later in the 21st century.

Various information sources are in general agreement that the three largest religions in the world are currently, in order, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

Numbers of adherent, in billions, are listed as:

Data Source Christianity Islam Hinduism
Adherents.com 2 2.1 1.3 0.9
British Broadcasting Corp. 3 2.0 1.2 0.75
Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year (1966) 4 1.9 1.1 0.78
Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year (2003) 5 2.0 1.2 0.8
International Bulletin of Missionary Research 6 2.0 1.2 -
Wikipedia Encyclopedia 7 2.1 1.3 0.9

There is reasonable agreement among information sources about the total number of adherents of the world's largest religions. However, the data should not be considered precise.

Rate of change of Christians and Muslims:

Of the two largest religions, the "market share" of Christianity appears to be fairly constant: 

bulletU.S. Center for World Mission estimated in 1997 that the percentage of humans who regard themselves as Christians rose from 33.7% in 1970 to 33.9% in 1996. 8 Its total number of adherents is growing at about 2.3% annually. This is approximately equal to the growth rate of the world's population. Islam is growing faster: about 2.9% and is thus increasing its market share.

bullet"World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," estimates that as of 2000, Christians make up 33% of the world's population, with close to two billion followers.

bulletAuthor Samuel Huntington disagrees: "The percentage of Christians in the world peaked at about 30 % in the 1980s, leveled off, is now declining, and will probably approximate to about 25% of the world's population by 2025. As a result of their extremely high rates of population growth, the proportion of Muslims in the world will continue to increase dramatically, amounting to 20 percent of the world's population about the turn of the century, surpassing the number of Christians some years later, and probably accounting for about 30 percent of the world's population by 2025." 9

bulletThe UK Christian Handbook has lower figures. They estimate that 28.3% of the world's population identified themselves as Christians in 1990. They expect this to drop to 27.7% by the year 2000, and to 27.1 in 2010. 10They attribute the drop to the lower birth rate among Christians compared to followers of other religions.

Within Christianity, not all denominations have the same growth rate. Some annual growth rates are:

bulletPentecostals: 8.1%
bulletEvangelicals: 5.4%;
bulletAll Protestants: 3.3%
bulletRoman Catholics and Others: 1.3%

Since the overall growth rate of humanity is above 1.4%, the "market share" of Roman Catholicism and others appears to be slowly dropping.

Missiologist Ralph Winter estimated in early 2001 that there are 680 million "born again" Christians in the world, and that they are growing at about 7% a year. This represents about 11% of the world's population and 33% of the total number of Christians. 1

Reference books on world religion:

The ultimate reference book is the two volume monumental set, World Christian Encyclopedia, released in mid-2001, by Oxford University Press. It contains 1699 pages with information about religion in the 238 countries of the world:

bulletDavid Barrett et al, "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," Oxford University Press, (2001). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

Related essay on this web site:

bullet Numbers of adherents of major religion, their geographical distribution, date founded, sacred texts, & numbers of members

bulletDescriptions of dozens of religions and ethical systems

bulletThe religious makeup of each country in the world

References used in the above essay:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Based on the UN projected world population of 6.301 billion  for mid-2003.
  2. "Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents," Adherents.com, at: http://www.adherents.com/
  3. "Your guide to the religions of the world," BBC World Service, at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/
  4. "Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year, 1966," cited in many Internet web sites, including http://religion-cults.com/ and http://tangents.home.att.net/
  5. Data from the World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004, Page 612. Derived from the "Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year, 2003.
  6. "Statistical Table on Global Mission," International Bulletin of Missionary Research, discussed at: http://www.the-tidings.com/
  7. David B. Barrett, et al., "World Christian Encyclopedia : A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World," Oxford University Press, (2001). Read reviews or order this book
  8. Greg H. Parsons, Executive Director, "U.S. Center for World Mission," Pasadena, CA; quoted in Zondervan News Service, 1997-FEB-21.
  9. Samuel Huntington, "The Clash of Civilizations and the remaking of world order," Touchstone Books, (1998), Pages 65 to 66. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. This is a controversial book which correctly predicted that world divisions and conflicts in the future will be based on culture, ethnicity and religion.
  10. Quoted in Religion Today's Current News Summary for 1999-OCT-19.

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Copyright © 1997 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-SEP-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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