Signs of Hope

I heard John Allen, Jr. speak in Denver a couple of years ago. He was great (also had a chance to talk shop with him later that evening, which was cool). In his talk, he pointed out that since most chatter about the Church happens in the media-rich First World, it tends to be dominated by perceptions colored by what’s going on in the First World. So the narrative tends to be one of decline since we tend to assume that Everywhere is Here. But in fact, he said, if you want to know when the Great Age of Evangelism in the History of the Church was, you need only look around because right now, as we speak, the Church is experiencing the most explosive growth in its entire history–and that despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that this is also the period of the greatest persecution of the Church in its entire history.

In the past century, said Allen, the Church globally has grown 7000%. You read that right. 7000%. And despite the bedwetting narratives of doom from people panicking about Islam taking over the world, one of the places the Church is experiencing a population boom is in the heart of the Islamosphere.

The more I look at the election of Francis, who is all about shepherding the Church of the poor and about evangelism, the more convinced I am that this was a stunning providential move by the Spirit. Praised be Jesus Christ.

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  • MitchellJ

    How has the Church grown 7000%? In 1900 there were around a half billion Catholics. Today there is around 1.2 or 1.3 billion. That is a growth-rate of around 150%. I’m not sure about the numbers, why say 7000%? That is such an extraordinary claim with no numbers to back it up.

    • ImTim

      Do you know of anyplace that John Allen has posted that research, Mark?

      • chezami

        Which? the 7000%? No.

        • chezami

          I’m not saying such thing *never* happen. I’m saying, with Sherry, that there are 120 something million Masses every single day and picking out these ridiculous rarites (often from 30 years ago) and Signs fo the End in order to justify rejection (and even blasphemy) of the OF is silly and should stop.

          • Spastic Hedgehog

            I think you meant this for another thread. 😉

          • jaybird1951

            Not 120 million masses every day but every year. There are 410,000 priests and they would be kept extremely busy to achieve that daily number.

            • chezami

              Okay. Faulty memory. But the point is the same. Clown masses are vanishingly rare. Enough with this urban legend.

          • Sherry Weddell

            roughly 350,000 Masses every day.

    • Jared Clark

      My guess is that he’s not counting net growth. If one man is baptized as another dies, the Church has still grown with the new man, who deserves to be counted rather than seen as just a replacement. So the 7000% is probably counting every new Catholic in the past century until today (as best as can be counted)

    • ImTim

      The statistic can be found in: Brian Froehle and
      Mary Gautier, Global Catholicism. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2003

  • ivan_the_mad

    Very encouraging! God bless that king! Also, curious minds want to know if Bishop Ballin has a brother, a Bishop … Dwallin?

    • ImTim

      Lord of the Groans.

  • Sherry Weddell

    Yes! Jered – the Catholic population of the world quadrupled between 1910 and 2010. I’m afraid your half billion Catholics in 1900 figure is not correct. The most staggering growth has been in Africa where growth in the 20th century has been nearly 7000%. Growth in a specific part of the world comes as the result of three dynamics: conversion, birth, immigration vs. those who leave, die, or emmigrate out. In the Persian Gulf – the growth in Christian communities is almost entirely one of immigration in search of work. The most comprehensive source (staggeringly so) is the Atlas of Global Christianity which covers all of this at level of depth, breadth and complexity that I can’t convey in a combox.

    • MitchellJ

      You are right. The half billion number was total Christians across the board not just Catholics. The number for Catholic in 1900 I have found is 266 million. Which to date means there has been around a 400% growth rate world wide in living Catholics. Perhaps in Africa there has been a 7000% growth rate, but that is not the global rate.

  • Paxton Reis

    “In his talk, he pointed out that since most chatter about the Church
    happens in the media-rich First World, it tends to be dominated by
    perceptions colored by what’s going on in the First World.”

    And we, the massive consumers, in the first world are so inward focused…the individual’s feelings and consumption requirements are most important,and moments of peace and silence frowned upon in our pursuit of busyness.

    I too love Pope Francis as he is prompting us to look outward beyond our self, beyond our superficial consumerism, our petty divisions and grudges…and to look at the beauty around us in others.

  • Hematite

    Third and first world Catholics need each other: The 1st worlders. having mostly enough to eat, can focus focus more on issues of doctrine and morality, such as the pro-life cause. The 3d world Catholics, on the other hand, understandably worry more about the social and economic dimensions of Church teachings. Faith and charity joining to create hope.

  • Mike

    “the most explosive growth in its entire history”, i don’t doubt this considering how comparatively few people in total there were even 100 years ago, but i wonder what the 2nd most explosive growth was? Where does the conversion of latin america fit, is it second?

  • Lorenz

    Nothing would make me happier to see that there was an explosive growth of converts in the heart of the Islamic world. Reading the article we see:

    The expansion is being driven not by Arab converts, but by foreign ex-pats whom the region increasingly relies on for manual labor and domestic service.
    Filipinos, Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Koreans, and members of other nationalities are becoming the new working poor in some of the world’s wealthiest societies.

    This is not news. The wealthy oil states in the Arabian penninsula have relied on foreign labour for the last 35 years. Most of them are poor and would prefer to stay in their own countries if they had employment. They are often exploited as well. In the end they will eventually return home and get to know the loved ones they left behind.
    In regards to the native populations, conversions are rare and we all have a pretty good idea why.
    The church in Iraq is on the brink of extinction. If Assad falls, the church will suffer a similar fate in Syria. Egyptian Christians live with constant persecution and fear. This is a serious crisis.

    • Sherry Weddell

      The first significant movement of Muslims into Christianity or being “Jesus followers” is happening right now – but almost all are not Catholic but the heirs of evangelical pioneer missionaries. They are building networks and small communities of Muslim Background believers in sub-Saharan Africa, Iran, Bangladesh, north African, China, etc. It is estimated that as many as 1 million MBB’s exist and now we are seeing their children entering into adult leadership in the Christian community. They are not part of western denominations although they are often linked to western missionary networks. But Catholics hardly do this sort of pioneering work

    • Jem

      “In regards to the native populations, conversions are rare and we all have a pretty good idea why.”

      Do we?

      If you’re suggesting that it’s because they face persecution in those countries, then we can come up with a prediction: ‘in more liberal countries, particularly ones with a strong Christian tradition, we should see large numbers of Muslims converting to Christianity’.


  • ImTim

    I emailed John Allen Jr, and he let me know that the 7000% growth rate can be found in: Brian Froehle and
    Mary Gautier, Global Catholicism. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2003

  • Jem

    “In the past century, said Allen, the Church globally has grown 7000%. You read that right. 7000%.”

    If Allen said that, he’s misremembering. I’ve just checked the reference. The original source doesn’t say ‘globally’, it says the Church *in Africa* has grown ‘7000%’.

    There were 291 million Catholics in the world in 1910. If there were seventy times that many now, there would be 20.4 billion Catholics. The entire population of the Earth is seven billion.

    It is therefore utterly impossible that there are seventy times more Catholics globally than there were in 1903.

    The actual number is that there are about three times as many Catholics now as there were a century ago, but bear in mind there are four times as many people in the world now. This …

    … breaks down the historical trend, agrees (roughly) with the growth of Catholicism in Africa and has a global analysis:

    The Catholic Church has seen growth in Africa, and even though it’s from a very low base, that’s impressive. But there is genuine decline elsewhere. Look, for example, at Scotland, where the Catholic Church is a few delayed retirements away from having forty priests in the whole country:

    The proportion of people who are Catholics in the world has fallen from 17% a century ago to 16% now. It’s basically the same number. Or, in other worlds, the staggering growth of Catholicism in Africa is (very slightly more than) offset by the decline elsewhere.

    If Africa is ‘explosive growth’, the rest of the world has seen an ‘imploding collapse’.