Christians in the Global South Report Higher Levels of Religious Commitment
By Helen Gibson
Various politicians and pundits have long referred to America as a Christian nation.
However, a recent study from the Pew Research Center shows that American Christians aren’t necessarily the most committed to their faith when compared to believers across the globe.
The study, which analyzed 84 countries with “sizable Christian populations,” found Christians in many African and Latin American countries tend to report significantly higher levels of religious commitment than their American counterparts.
“Christians in Africa and Latin America tend to pray more frequently, attend religious services more regularly and consider religion more important in their lives than Christians elsewhere in the world…,” notes Joey Marshall, a research associate for Pew, in an article summarizing the findings.
Religious Commitment Around the World
In 35 of the 84 countries analyzed, at least two-thirds of all Christians said religion is very important in their lives, and all but three of these 35 countries are located in Latin American or sub-Saharan Africa.
In Ethiopia, for example, 98 percent of Christians said religion is very important in their lives, while 89 percent of Christians in Ghana, 82 percent of Christians in Nigeria, and 79 percent of Christians in South Africa said the same.
In the Latin American country of Honduras, 94 percent of Christians said religion is very important in their lives. Eight in 10 (80 percent) of Christians in Columbia and Ecuador agreed, while 77 percent of Brazilian Christians, 74 percent of Peruvian Christians, and 73 percent of Bolivian Christians said the same.
In some other Latin American countries, however, Christians responded with lower levels of religious commitment. These include Mexico, Chile, and Argentina, where less than half (48 percent) of Christians said religion was very important in their lives.
The Philippines, Malaysia, and the United States were the three outliers in terms of religious commitment, or the three countries outside of Africa and Latin America where at least two-thirds of Christians said religion was very important to their lives.The United States remains an outlier among wealthy countries in terms of its relatively high levels of religious commitment.More than 9 in 10 (91 percent) Christians in the Philippines said religion is very important in their lives, while 67 percent of Malaysian Christians said the same.
And while American Christians report lower levels of religious commitment — 68 percent of American believers say religion is very important to their lives — they still seem to be significantly more committed to their faith than Christians in many European countries.
“… The United States remains an outlier among wealthy countries in terms of its relatively high levels of religious commitment,” Marshall writes.
“In the U.S., more than two-thirds of Christians say religion is very important in their lives, compared with significantly lower levels in rich democracies. For instance, only 12 percent of Christian adults in Germany and 11 percent in the United Kingdom say religion is very important in their lives.”
Across Europe, levels of religious commitment vary — with anywhere from 9 percent of Christians in Denmark saying religion is very important in their lives to 58 percent of Christians in Greece saying religion is very important.
Understanding Worldwide Religious Commitment
Craig Featherstone, director of LifeWay Global, acknowledged a growth in evangelical Christianity in developing nations around the world.
“There is tremendous growth in Christianity in the global South,” Featherstone said. “That would include Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.”
He warned against trying to pinpoint one single cause for a nation or region’s religiosity, saying that each country is incredibly complex and faces its own challenges and pressures when it comes to the spread of the gospel.
However, Featherstone did suggest that increased persecution or hostility to the gospel may lead to higher levels of religious commitment.“One of the things you observe across time — and it’s been this way with the church historically — is that where there has been persecution, you see the growth of the church.”“One of the things you observe across time — and it’s been this way with the church historically — is that where there has been persecution, you see the growth of the church,” Featherstone said. “The Lord, in His sovereign grace, gives people the strength they need, the courage they need to keep walking in faith.”
Eva Uria, LifeWay’s director of operations in Mexico, lives in a country where she says there are unique barriers to the spread of evangelical Christianity, such as economic issues, the influence of violence and drugs, deeply held Catholic beliefs, and family and societal pressures, among others.
“It’s really complex to be [an evangelical] Christian in Mexico, and it’s even harder to go and preach the gospel,” Uria said.
But, she said she thinks these kinds of challenges can lead to higher levels of religious commitment among true believers.
“If you want to share the gospel in Mexico, you know that you are giving everything, and you are so committed that you would not even care about your life,” Uria said. “… In this country, you need to depend 100 percent on God, and that makes the commitment stronger.”
She suggested that countries facing similar challenges might see higher levels of religious commitment among Christians.
And while Featherstone said it’s exciting to hear numbers and stories about the spread of Christianity, he wants to see the Christian faith of individuals around the world deepen, too.
“I think everyone gets excited on the raw numbers of conversion, but there’s got to be far more attention and much better frameworks created to advance healthy disciple-making models worldwide.”
That’s what he, Uria, and other members of the LifeWay Global team say they’re trying to accomplish. Last year alone, LifeWay distributed Bibles, Christian books, and Bible studies to more than 160 countries and licensed content in more than 60 languages, Featherstone said.
“Between our publishing and distribution and licensing, it’s likely that in some way, shape, and form we may be reaching people in every nation in the world,” Featherstone said. “We’ve just got to figure out a way to reach more people in these countries, so that’s our ambition.”
HELEN GIBSON (@_HelenGibson_) is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.