Oddly enough, this Christian growth occurred after the period of European conquest and colonialism ended. The old boys in pith helmets are long gone, but the faith that first came with them has endured and now thrives without them. It’s just like the early times of Christianity. After Constantine converted and Theodosius proclaimed Christianity the state religion toward the end of the fourth century, Christianity was carried by the Roman empire. Yet the faith spread fastest after the collapse of that empire, and soon all of Europe was Christian. We’re witnessing a comparable pace of growth for Christianity in the rest of the world.
A century ago, less than 10 percent of Africa was Christian. Today it’s nearly 50 percent. That’s an increase from 10 million people in 1900 to more than 350 million today. Uganda alone has nearly 20 million Christians and is projected to have 50 million by the middle of the century. Some African congregations have grown so big that their churches are running out of space. While Western preachers routinely implore people to come every Sunday to fill the pews, some African preachers ask their members to limit their attendance to every second or third Sunday to give others a chance to hear the message.
Central and South America are witnessing the explosive growth of Pentecostalism. As David Martin shows in his study Tongues of Fire, partly this is a shift within Christianity: millions of South American Catholics have become evangelical Protestants. In Brazil, for example, there are now 50 million evangelical Protestants whereas a few decades ago there weren’t enough to count. The movement of Catholics into Protestant evangelicalism should not be considered purely lateral, however, as the conversion of lackadaisical nominal Catholics to an active, energized evangelicalism can perhaps be con- sidered a net gain for Christianity. Even within Catholicism there is an expanding charismatic movement that has grown in response to the success of the Protestant evangelicals. This charismatic Catholicism emphasizes many of the same themes as “born again” Christianity, including a personal relationship with Christ. And the Catholic numbers remain huge: Brazil had 50 million Catholics in 1950, but now it has 120 million.