How Christian is Europe?

I’ve lived in Europe nearly my whole life (except for one year in Africa), most of it in the UK and now a growing portion in Sweden where we are planting a church. I’ve recently been giving some thought to the situation of Christianity in Europe and decided to write a short series on it, sharing resources, need and some of the successes and challenges. The focus will be almost entirely on mainland Europe.

The first challenge is to figure out exactly how ChristianEurope is in the first place and what do they actually tell us.

Pew Research has some excellent resources that are very easily accessible. Here is what they say about Europe:

“Roughly a quarter of the world’s Christians (26%) live in Europe.9 This makes Europe the region with the second-largest share of the world’s Christians, following the Americas. Russia has the largest absolute number of Christians in Europe (105 million). Despite the Communist government’s attempts to minimize religion in the country for much of the 20th century, more than 70% of Russians are Christian, primarily Orthodox Christian.10 Russia alone accounts for about 19% of Europe’s Christians and nearly 5% of the world’s Christians. Russia and the other nine countries with the largest number of Christians in Europe (Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, France, Ukraine, Spain, Poland, Romania and Greece) collectively are home to one-in-five (20%) of the world’s Christians.”

So on the surface, there is no problem. 70% of the population are already Christian and although that is on the decline, still 70%! However pretty much everyone (Anglicans included) would agree, for example, that there really aren’t 45 million Christians in the UK and the same goes for every other country. The numbers are essentially census numbers as they explain:

“Readers should bear in mind that the definition of Christian in this report is very broad. The intent is sociological rather than theological: We are attempting to count groups and individuals who self-identify as Christian. This includes people who hold beliefs that may be viewed as unorthodox or heretical by other Christians. It also includes Christians who seldom pray or go to church.”

So you could be a raving loony heretic who never goes to any church but because you call yourself a Christian then you’re counted. Which is why there are so many Anglicans. So the first problem is not actually counting the number of Christians but defining what a Christian is.

Operation World estimates that the number of regular churchgoers in Europe would be less than 10% of Europe’s population and around 4% would be evangelical. These numbers would also not be evenly spread across the continent. So while no one really knows how big the actual number is, we do know it’s not as big as the numbers we do have. Got that straight? Good.

The numbers tell us that the heritage and history of Europe is profoundly shaped by Christianity but is it a diminishing force or are there signs of life?

Photo by Andi Campbell-Jones

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