Getting the Big Picture


Stepping back and getting the big picture is something I like to do because I find it helps me gain a better understanding of things. I live in the Bible Belt of the United States. Here one can easily get a very skewed picture of what Christianity looks like. For example; I've had the opportunity to speak to multiple Catholic youth groups in Springfield Missouri over the past decade or so. One of the things I've noticed pretty consistently is how the views of young Catholics in this area are shaped by the immediate world around them. I would ask them what the largest Christian church in the world is. Almost always they would answer "Baptist." A few might answer "Assemblies of God" which is a Pentecostal denomination. This shouldn't be surprising. The Bible Belt of the United States is overwhelmingly Baptist, and Springfield Missouri is the worldwide headquarters for the Assemblies of God. Most of these kids are shocked when I tell them the truth.

While it is true that here in the Bible Belt, the Baptists and Pentecostals are the "big boys" on the block, that only applies to a small segment of the North American continent. Outside of that geographical region, which really isn't all that big, the numbers radically change. The most dominant form of Christianity in North America is Catholicism. The same is true for South America and all of the Americas. In fact, the most dominant form of Christianity throughout the world is Catholicism. Take a look at the bar chart below. The numbers are based on a composite from multiple reliable sources around the Internet; particularly Google, Wikipedia and Here is the breakdown in estimated numbers...
The graph is based on composite numbers from multiple sources. It reflects the number of people
who adhere to Trinitarian Christianity.

Christianity Worldwide
ESTIMATED TOTAL2,425,000,000

In this chart and graph above, I only included those Christian groups with over 1 million members. I grouped the catholic churches toward the top, meaning those with authentic holy orders, sacraments and apostolic origins. The Protestants begin with the "African" churches on down. As I said, these are groups, and many denominations can be part of one group. For example, in this chart, Pentecostal consists of 21 specific denominations that are categorised as Pentecostal in nature. Baptist consists of 40 different Baptist denominations, of which the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest, having 16 million members. Nondenominational consists of 5 mainstream affiliations, of which the Calvary Chapel affiliation is disputably the largest. The so-called Restoration group is commonly known as the Church of Christ, Christian Churches and Disciples of Christ. The Anabaptists are commonly known as the Mennonites and Amish. I did not include non-Trinitarian groups, such as the Mormon (15 million), Jehovah's Witness (8 million), Oneness Pentecostal (6 million), Unitarian Universalist (less than a million), and Christian Scientists (less than a million).

Now keep in mind, these numbers do not reflect actual practising Christians. They merely reflect those who officially identify with a particular type of Christianity. Here are some facts we can glean...
  • There are about 2.4 billion Christians in the world, meaning those who adhere to the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • The Catholic Church is by far the world's largest Christian Church with 1.2 billion members.
  • The Eastern Orthodox churches are a distant second with just 1/4 the members (300 million).
  • Worldwide, the three largest Christian groups are (1) Catholic, (2) Eastern Orthodox, and (3) Pentecostal -- in that order.
  • All Protestant churches combined constitute a total 839 million souls, which is just 3/4 the size of the Catholic Church at 1.2 billion souls.
  • The world's largest Protestant group is the Pentecostals, consisting of dozens of different denominations, comprising 280 million souls. That's less than one quarter of the Catholic Church.
  • Worldwide, there are about the same amount of Baptists as there are Methodists -- 75 million each.
  • Worldwide, there are more Anglicans than there are Baptists.
  • Worldwide, the three largest Protestant groups are: Pentecostal, Anglican and nondenominational.
These are humbling statistics for most of the Christians here in the Ozarks. The Assemblies of God, which is part of Pentecostalism, can take comfort in knowing that it is within the world's largest Protestant group, which leaves the Baptists behind by over 200 million souls. I'm not picking on the Baptists here. Rather, I'm just trying to put things into perspective. When living in the Bible Belt of the USA, one would easily think that Baptists are the majority of the world's Christians. Actually worldwide, they only make up a very tiny minority.

Now lets break it down to the United States. In the United States there are about 108 million Protestants of various groups and only about 57 million Catholics. This clearly makes the United States a Protestant country. In spite of that, however, the Catholic Church remains the largest united Christian body, with the Baptists coming in at a distant second with about 36 million members of multiple denominations. The largest "unified" Protestant denomination in the United States is the Southern Baptist Convention with a membership of nearly 16 million. So if we want to look at unified Christian churches alone in the United States, it would be (1) The Catholic Church with 57 million, then (2) The South Baptist Convention with 16 million, and finally (3) The United Methodist Church with nearly 8 million. Here is the full breakdown, based on groups as a graph and table chart...
Christianity in the United States

While the numbers tell part of the story, they don't tell the whole story. A lot of our perceptions are based upon where we live, and the concentration of particular denominational groups to specific regions. The United States is highly compartmentalised by religion, as the following map from the 2010 census will illustrate...

As you can see from this map, it tells quite a story which is interwoven with America's turbulent religious history, much of which is centred around national origin. While one can easily find members of all different denominations in every part of the country, this map reveals their concentration. As you can see, Catholics occupy most of the country as reflected in the demographic numbers above. As for non-Catholics, the most significant concentration is in the Bible Belt, in red, which is essentially Baptist. It stretches from north Texas and Oklahoma eastward, jotting up and filling most of the states of Missouri, Kentucky and Virginia, filling in every state southward, with only the southern tips of Florida, Louisiana and Texas left to Catholics. This Bible Belt region is made up by people originating from British and African descent. It is deeply connected to the geographical boundaries of the Old South or Dixie. Just above the (Baptist) Bible Belt in red, we have the Methodist Belt in green. It's not nearly as pronounced but definitely present. It stretches from Kansas and Nebraska, jotting up over Missouri, through Iowa, and then back down across Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia. These are areas of the United States settled primarily by British and Germans. In the upper north-central region of the United States we have the Lutheran Quarter. It encompasses Minnesota, North Dakota, and small segments of Montana and South Dakota. This area was primarily settled by Germans and Scandinavians. The last notable area is the Mormon Quarter. While not Trinitarian, and therefore not historically "Christian" in a doctrinal sense, it is noteworthy that this group occupies such a large region of the United States. It consists of Utah, Idaho, half of Wyoming, as well as large swaths of Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon. The vast majority of Mormons in the United States are of European descent, but it is difficult to ascertain what parts of Europe their ancestry originates from. Statistically speaking, British and German would be the highest likely demographic. Mormonism is truly an "American religion" having been founded and formed entirely in the United States. There are no Old World connections, neither to Catholicism nor Protestantism.

So we can see how where you live in the United States affects your views of religion in the world. A child growing up in the Bible Belt is likely to think the majority of Christianity is Baptist, or something akin to Baptist, regardless of what religion that child is.  Likewise, a child growing up in the Methodist Belt might think the majority of Christianity is Methodist, or something akin to that. While a child growing up in the Lutheran Quarter might be inclined to think the same about Lutheranism. A child growing up in the Mormon Quarter might be inclined to think the same about Mormonism. Statistically and demographically speaking, the majority of the Christian world is Catholic. Protestants make up a minority, and when put all together, they still don't measure up to 3/4 the size of the Catholic Church. However, putting them together is just a statistical game. Protestants are generally not unified and a good number of them do not associate with each other. When we break it down to actual Protestant groups, meaning those groups that generally do associate and identify with each other, even the Eastern Orthodox churches (which are essentially catholic) outnumber the largest Protestant group. When I say the majority of the Christian world is catholic, I mean the overwhelming majority. It's something most Americans just don't grasp, especially those in the Bible Belt. As of recent years, I've heard a lot of Protestants talk about working toward unity with other Christians. This is commendable, but I would like to remind those Protestants that unless this unity involves some kind of reconciliation with Catholics, it won't be much of a unity at all.


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