The Hidden History of Christianity in the Global South

DR. TODD M. JOHNSON

Professor of Mission & Global Christianity


One of the most salient features of Christianity, beyond its theology, ethics and ecclesiastical structures, is the number and location of its followers. These followers are individuals who have distinct ethnic identities, speak identifiable languages, and live in specific geographic locations. Throughout the history of Christianity, the gospel of Jesus Christ has often been embraced by whole villages, tribes or peoples. Consequently, groups of followers, including their ethnicities and languages, can be named, located, listed, counted, mapped and tracked over time.The graph below illustrates the steady decline and then more recent growth in the percentage of Christians in the Global South from the time of Christ to the present.

Christians in the Global South represented at least 50% of all Christians from the beginnings of Christianity until the year 923. Yet, most books or courses on church history tell a Europe-focused story. In recent years, books like Philip Jenkins’ The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died and Thomas Oden’s How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity have challenged this narrative. Nonetheless, for over 1,000 years after that, Christians in the Global North dominated Christian demographics. By the time of the Reformations 92% of all Christians were Europeans. But in the twentieth century a dramatic turnaround resulted in the majority of Christians (since 1981) once again living in the Global South. The current shift more closely matches the proportion of the world’s total population living in the Global South. Today, scholars from Africa, Asia, and Latin America are offering fresh perspectives on Christianity, past, present, and future.

Percentage of all Christians in the Global South, 33–2100 CE

For more on this concept see Todd M. Johnson and Kenneth R. Ross, Atlas of Global Christianity (Edinburgh University Press, 2009).