Although Christianity is the largest religion in the world and
there are massive missionary efforts under way, its overall rate
of growth is slower than that of some other faiths and of the world
population as a whole. While the population of the world grows
at roughly 1.25% per year, Christianity is growing at about 1.12%
per year. By contrast, Islam is growing at 1.4% per year.
Not all people identified as Christians accept all, or even most,
of the theological positions held by their particular churches.
Like the Jews, Christians in the West were greatly affected by
The Age of Enlightenment in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Perhaps the most significant change for them was total or effective
separation of church and state, thus ending the state-sponsored
Christianity that existed in so many European countries. Now one
could be a free member of society and disagree with one's church
on various issues, and one could even be free to leave the church
altogether. Many did leave, developing belief systems such as Deism,
Unitarianism, and Universalism, or becoming atheists, agnostics,
Others created liberal wings of Protestant Christian theology.
Modernism in the late 19th century encouraged new forms of thought
and expression that did not follow traditional lines.
Reaction to the Enlightenment and Modernism triggered the development
of literally thousands of Christian Protestant denominations, Roman
traditionalist splinter groups of the Roman Catholic Church that
do not recognize the legitimacy of many reforms the Roman Catholic
Church has undertaken, and the growth of hundreds of fundamentalist
groups that interpret the entire Bible in a characteristically
Liberalism and Secularism
In the United States and Europe, liberalism also led to increased
secularism. Some Christians have long since stopped participating
in traditional religious duties, attending churches only on a
few particular holy days per year or not at all. Many of them
recall having highly religious grandparents, but grew up in homes
where Christian theology was no longer a priority. They have
developed ambivalent feelings towards their religious duties.
On the one hand they cling to their traditions for identity reasons;
on the other hand, the influence of the secular Western mentality,
the demands of daily life, and peer pressure tear them away from
traditional Christianity. Marriage between Christians of different
denominations, or between a Christian and a non-Christian, was
once taboo, but has become commonplace. Some traditionally Roman
Catholic countries have largely become agnostic.
Liberal Christianity grew rapidly during the
early 20th century in Europe and North America, by the 1960s
gaining the leadership
of many of the larger US and Canadian denominations. However, this
trend has reversed. At the turn of the 21st century, though secular
society tends to consider the more accommodating liberals as the
representatives and spokesmen of Christianity, the "mainline" liberal
churches are shrinking. This is partly due to a loss of evangelistic
zeal, partly due to drift of their membership to conservative denominations,
and partly due to the failure of one generation to pass on Christianity
to the next. Among the larger Protestant denominations in the USA,
only the conservative Southern Baptist is growing. Evangelical
para-church organizations have grown rapidly in the last half of
the 20th century. The liberal Christian Century magazine has shrunk,
while being replaced by its challenger, the rapidly growing evangelical
The Enlightenment had much less impact on the Eastern Churches
of Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy. Having to face a much more hostile
secular society, especially during the rise of Communism, the church
clung to ancient beliefs, even as its membership eroded.
Eastern Europe Christian Revival
Today in Eastern Europe and Russia, a renewing trend is taking
place. After decades of Communism and atheism, there is widespread
interest in Christianity, as well as religion in general. Many
Orthodox churches and monasteries are being rebuilt and restored,
filled beyond capacity; Protestants of many denominations are
pouring in to evangelize and plant churches; and the Roman Catholic
church is revealing once secret dioceses and undertaking other
steps to support Roman Catholic churches more openly.
In South America and Africa, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity
form rapidly growing movements that are increasingly sending missionaries
to Europe and North America. This is also true of Asia where many
of the underground house churches intend to send hundreds of thousands
of missionaries out over the next decade.
As Modernism developed into Consumerism during
the second half of the 20th century the Megachurch phenomenon
developed – catering
for skeptical non-Christians by providing "seeker sensitive" presentations
of Christian belief. The Alpha Course can be viewed as an example
one such presentation of Christianity.
Since the development of Postmodernism with its rejection of universally
accepted belief structures in favor of more personalized and experiential
truth, organized Christianity has increasingly found itself at
odds with the desire many people have to express faith and spirituality
in a way that is authentic to them. What has thus far been known
as the Emerging Church is a by-product of this trend, as many people
who broadly accept Christianity seek to practice that faith while
avoiding established Church institutions.
Another reaction of some Christians to Postmodernism is the advent
of what might be called Postmodern Christianity.
A large and growing movement within the Christian
church, especially in the West and most visible in the United
States, is the Evangelical
movement. Most mainstream Protestant denominations have a significantly
active Evangelical minority, and, in some cases, a dominant majority
(see Confessing Movement). Evangelicals are "trans-denominational" and
are more willing to have formal and informal relationships with
Evangelicals from outside their denomination than to have the same
sort of relationship with non-Evangelicals within their denomination.
Some Evangelicals have been schismatic within various church organizations,
leaving to form their own denominations. More often they are forced
out. It was only by dint of sheer determination that John Wesley,
founder of Methodism, was able to remain an Anglican priest against
intense opposition. His followers separated in America, and in
England after his death. Some Evangelicals claim that their beliefs
are no less than true Christianity itself and that those within
the church who differ from them may not be true believers. This
attitude has led to much disunity amongst churches, especially
those with a large modernist influence. Evangelicals cannot be
easily categorized, but almost all will believe in the necessity
of a personal conversion and acceptance of Jesus as savior and
Lord, the eventual literal return of Christ, a more conservative
understanding of the Bible and a belief in the miraculous. There
are many different types of Evangelicals including Dispensationists,
Reformed Christians, Pentecostals, Charismatics and Fundamentalists.