Multiplication Center

Is Sub-Saharan Africa the Most Religious Place on Earth?

November 8, 2010

The world seems to get smaller every day as events in one country influence another. A hundred years ago, it was a big operatioin for a missionary to go to, say, the country we know today as South Africa. Today an entire church team fly there on Friday, and on Sunday morning the home church can get an update by video or live Skype conversation.

Even the list of global megachurches we’re compiling at shows how many overseas churches have branches in the United States. Missions is increasingly a two-way street.

Now researchers have identified the most religious place on earth: The area between the Sahara Desert and the southern tip of Africa. Here Christianity, and to a lesser extent Islam, are attracting followers in numbers not seen in more than 100 years. For example, in Soweto, incredible things are happening at Grace Bible Church. The church began in 1983 with a handful of people. It now has more than 15,000 members and 11 satellite churches across South Africa. It is by far the largest church in Soweto. “God said if you seek me you will find me, if you long for me, if you seek me with all you heart,” Pastor Mosa Sono said. “I think Africa is very hungry for God.”

That’s one example of why Luis Lugo, the director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, says people who live south of the Sahara Desert and stretching to the tip of Africa are seeking after God unlike in any other region of the world, making it “clearly the most religious place on earth.” The Pew Forum’s research for this project involved more than 25,000 interviews face to face in 60 different languages around the world.

More than anywhere else, the overwhelming majority of those in the southern part of Africa said religion is very important to them. Most people believe in one God and in heaven and hell. They say the Bible is the literal Word of God. A vast number believe Jesus will return in their lifetime. “From the importance of religion in people’s lives, to attendance at religious services, to belief in God, to prayer, you name it, one after another Africa ranks at the highest level in terms of global comparisons,” Lugo said.

Growth of Christianity, Islam

Lugo said Christianity, in particular, is exploding in this region. In 1900 there were 7 million Christians in sub-Saharan Africa. That number is up 70 times today to a staggering 470 million. Christians now account for 60 percent of the population.

That growth by any global comparison or historical comparison has to be one of the most rapid religious transformations in the history of Christianity in the last 2,000 years.

Muslims have also seen a big rise in their numbers – from 11 million in 1900 to some 234 million in 2010.

But that is not to say that the indigenous African beliefs are not being practiced today on the continent. In fact, the survey found that half of the people questioned in South Africa believed that sacrifices to the ancestors, and even spirits, can protect people from harm.

The Pew survey also shows that despite the dominance of Christianity and Islam, traditional African religious beliefs haven’t diminished. For the full Pew report.


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