“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)
Despite the widespread apostasy, despite the increasing spread of evil, and despite the downward spiral of love as it grows colder and colder, the end will not come until the Gospel is spread worldwide. This probably seemed like a dauntless task when Jesus commissioned the twelve. Yet within a generation, the Gospel had spread as far as Caesar’s household with the imprisonment of Paul in Rome. By the third century, Constantine had made it the state religion of the Roman Empire.
In the first century, the Roman networks of roads, the Roman peace (pax Romana) and a universal language (Greek) facilitated an explosive growth in Christianity. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, with the advent of radio, television, satellites and social media, new “roads” have been “paved” for an accelerated spread of the Gospel. That being said, one might wonder how we are doing with the worldwide spread of the Gospel in the 21st century.
A recent study of more than 200 countries estimates that there are roughly 2.18 billion Christians of all ages around the world. This is nearly one third of the estimated 2010 global population of 7 billion. Christianity has become so geographically widespread that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity. As recently as a century ago, this was not the case. In 1910, about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe, where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium (the Center for the Study of Global Christianity). Today, only about a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (26%). A plurality (more than a third) is now in the Americas (37%). About one in every four Christians lives in sub-Saharan Africa (24%), and about one-in-eight is found in Asia and the Pacific (13%).
The number of Christians around the world has nearly quadrupled in the last 100 years, from about 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion in 2010. But the world’s overall population has also risen rapidly, from an estimated 1.8 billion in 1910 to nearly 7 billion in 2010. As a result, Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population today (32%) as they did a century ago (35%).
This apparent stability masks a monumental shift. Although Europe and the Americas still are home to a majority of the world’s Christians (63%), that percentage is much lower than it was in 1910 (93%). The proportion of Europeans (from 95% to 76%) and Americans (from 96% to 86%) identifying as Christian also dropped. Over the same time, Christianity grew enormously in sub-Saharan Africa (from 9% to 63%) and the Asia-Pacific region (from 3% to 7%). Unlike a century ago, Christianity is increasingly spreading worldwide. (1)
Then again, is Christianity truly global? Is it a measure of true faith?
• Global – According to the Joshua project, there are 16,709 people groups in the world, of which 7,037 (42%) are unreached. That accounts for nearly three billion souls in a world of over seven billion. (2) A people group is considered unreached when there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to engage in church planting, and where the percentage of evangelical Christians is less than 2 percent. (3)
• Faith – While 80% of Americans say they are Christian, only 45% of Americans say they have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, having confessed their sins and accepted Christ as Savior (The Barna Group). Barna’s study finds that 36-percent of Americans are what he calls notional or nominal Christians. They describe themselves as Christians but do not meet Jesus’ “born again” definition as set forth in the Gospel of John. (4) The reader should note that the terms evangelical Christian and born-again Christian are not always synonymous. There are clearly those within the evangelical community that are not born again, just like there are many within so-called non-evangelical fellowships who are born again.
These statistics imply that there is a long way to go. But they do not necessarily mean that the end is still a long way off. The verse does not necessarily say that the Gospel of God’s grace must be spread to every nation before Jesus can return for His Church (the Rapture) or before the beginning of the Tribulation. It may be the Lord’s return at the end of the age that is in view here. (5) As we have already learned, a vast number of souls will be added to the Kingdom during the Great Tribulation and before the Parousia.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 87). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.