Claims to be the fastest-growing religion

Claims to be the fastest-growing religion

Most increase in the population of any religious denomination is simply due to births. Still, the world's largest religions that are showing increases that outrun birth-rate include Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

There is often little coverage of the "No religious denomination" category (which includes deists, agnostics, atheists, and theists) although some evidence suggests they are growing rapidly. In the United States[1] the so-called "Nones" are the fastest growing religious status; Australia, Canada and much of Europe have also seen dramatic increases in the numbers of non-religious people.


Different definitions of "fastest growing"

Religions can grow in numbers because of conversion or because of higher birth rates in a religious group (assuming that children take on the religion of their parents). Religions in particular countries can grow because of immigration. The fastest growing religion could refer to:

  • The religion whose absolute number of adherents is growing the fastest (by whatever means).
  • The religion that is growing fastest in terms of percentage growth per year (by whatever means).
  • The religion that is gaining the greatest number of converts.
  • The religion that is gaining the greatest number of associative members (those associating themselves via survey, effectively a popularity vote)

Measures counting absolute numbers tend to favour the larger religions; measures counting percentage growth the smaller ones. For example, if a religion had only 10 followers, a single addition would be a 10% increase, and would therefore dwarf the percentage growth rates of the larger religions.

The difficulty of gathering data

Statistics on religious adherence are difficult to gather and often contradictory; statistics for the change of religious adherence are even more so, requiring multiple surveys separated by many years using the same data gathering rules. This has only been achieved in rare cases, and then only for a particular country, such as the American Religious Identification Survey[2] in the USA, or census data from Australia[3] (which has included a voluntary religious question since 1911). Worldwide data are more difficult to gather than data on a particular country.

Statistics for rates of conversion are the most difficult to gather and the least reliable as religious statistics in general are unreliable: they are often distorted by social taboos such as the ban on apostasy in Islam, sometimes amplified by governments and policies at social institutions like universities[4][5] or the reporting of commitments where the individual does not persist. This means that a lot of the data on growth of religions is derived from birth and immigration rates.

There are a large number of people who self-identify themselves as associated to a specific religion, but who are not religiously active. If, for example, asked to choose between Christianity and other religions they would say they were Christians; if asked to choose between Christianity, other religions and "Not religious", they would say "Not religious". This may make categorization difficult.

In countries with mandatory religions, official statistics will only reflect the official position of the government

Claims to be the fastest growing religion

Note that it would be an argumentum ad populum fallacy to claim that being the "fastest growing religion" has any logical consequences about the truth of that religion.

While it is possible to find claims that almost any religion is the fastest growing, it is much harder to find ones backed up by scientific data. A selection of the more credible claims are given below, but even these are often contradictory, and most of them only cover a limited period time or a single region of the world.


Lewis M. Hopfe in his "Religions of the World" suggested that "Buddhism is perhaps on the verge of another great missionary outreach".(1987:170)

Buddhism is being recognized as the fastest growing religion in Western societies both in terms of new converts and more so in terms of friends of Buddhism, who seek to study and practice various aspects of Buddhism.[6][7] As in the United States, Buddhism is ranked among the fastest growing religions in many Western European countries.[8]

The Australian Bureau of Statistics through statistical analysis held Buddhism to be the fastest growing spiritual tradition/religion in Australia in terms of percentage gain with a growth of 79.1% for the period 1996 to 2001 (200,000→358,000).[9] However, because Australia is statistically small, no inferences can be drawn from that for the whole world.

Buddhism is the fastest-growing religion in England's jails, with the number of followers rising eightfold over the past decade.[10]

According to a recent report in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Japanese Buddhist sect Nichiren Shoshu of America (NSA) is the fastest growing religion in the United States. Since coming to America in 1960 NSA has launched an aggressive proselytizing program. In 1967 it built a national headquarters and World Culture Center in Santa Monica, California, and has since established offices in most major U.S. cities. According to NSA’s figures the sect, which is part of the Japan based umbrella organization Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society), now claims a half million members in the U.S. - up 100,000 from a year ago.[11]


Globally, The World Christian Database as of 2007 estimated the growth rate of Christianity at 1.38%. High birth rates and conversions in the Southern Hemisphere were cited as the main reasons for the increase.[12]

Pentecostalism, described by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life as a group of charismatic movements,[13] has grown, according to researchers, from 72 million in the 1960s to 525 million in 2000, though some have criticized these numbers as defining Pentecostalism too broadly.[14] According to a 2005 paper submitted to a meeting of the American Political Science Association, most of this growth has occurred in non-Western countries and concludes the movement is the fastest growing religion worldwide.[14]

In Vietnam, the US Department of State estimates that Protestants in Vietnam may have grown 600% over the last decade.[15] In Nigeria, the numbers of Christians has grown from 21.4% in 1953 to 48.2% in 2003. In South Africa, Pentecostalism has grown from 0.2% in 1951 to 7.6% in 2001. In South Korea, Christianity has grown from 20.7% in 1985 to 29.2% in 2005 according to the Pew Forum.[16][17]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints show membership growth every decade since its beginning in the 1830s. Following initial growth rates that averaged 10% to 25% per year in the 1830s through 1850s, it grew at about 4% per year through the last four decades of the 19th century. After a steady slowing of growth in the first four decades of the 20th century to a rate of about 2% per year in the 1930s (the Great Depression years), growth boomed to an average of 6% per year for the decade around 1960, staying around 4% to 5% through 1990. After 1990, average annual growth again slowed steadily to a rate around 2.5% for the first decade of the 21st century, still double the world population growth rate of 1.2% for the same period.


The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) survey, which involved 50,000 participants, reported that the number of participants in the survey identifying themselves as deists grew at the rate of 717% between 1990 and 2001. If this were generalized to the US population as a whole, it would make deism the fastest-growing religious classification in the US for that period, with the reported total of 49,000 self-identified adherents representing about 0.02% of the US population at the time.[2]

Falun Gong

No reliable data are available for the number of adherents of Falun Gong but as this religion was only established in 1992 most of the growth must have been by conversion. Estimates for the number of adherents for 1999 range from 2 million[18] to 100 million.[19]


Some 80% of the population of the Republic of India are Hindus, accounting for about 90% of Hindus worldwide. Their 10-year growth rate is estimated at 20% (based on the period 1991 to 2001), corresponding to a yearly growth close to 2% or a doubling time of about 38 years.[20] However, the percentage of Hindus in the population of India has decreased by 3 percentage points since 1961, dropping from 83.5% in 1961 to 80.5% in 2001[21] In addition to 80.5% of the population,that identify themselves as Hindus, there are approximately 40 million people (3%)that practice Jainism and Buddhism which evolved from Hinduism. The tradition, practices and goals of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism are very similar. Ancient India had two philosophical streams of religious thoughts: the Shramana and the Vedic. These religions have shared paralleled beliefs and have existed side by side for thousands of years.[22]

In a 2009 Newsweek article entitled, "We Are All Hindus Now," Lisa Miller notes that although the vast majority of Americans continue to identify with Christianity, at the same time we "are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity." [23] These are pivotal issues, and more and more westerners are coming to view the Hindu understanding of them as both rational and appealing. This does not mean there will be a large number of western converts to Hinduism anytime soon, but it does show the significant effect that Hindu thinking is having on the west. The growing Indian Hindu community in America is also helping to bring about a more realistic view of the tradition. In reincarnation, central to Hinduism, selves come back to earth again and again in different bodies. The article also pointed out that this is another way in which Americans are becoming more Hindu: 24 percent of Americans say they believe in reincarnation, according to a 2008 Harris poll.[23]


According to Guinness Book of World Records, Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion by number of conversions each year: Although the religion began in Arabia, by 2002 80% of all believers in Islam lived outside the Arab world. In the period 1990-2000, approximately 12.5 million more people converted to Islam than to Christianity.[24] In 1990, 935 million people were Muslims and this figure had risen to around 1.2 billion by the year 2000, meaning that around this time one in five people were followers of Islam. According to the BBC, a comprehensive American study concluded in 2009 the number stood at 1 in 4 with 60% of Muslims spread all over the Asian continent: A report from an American think-tank has estimated 1.57 billion Muslims populate the world - with 60% in Asia.[25][26] The report was done by the Pew Forum Research Centre.[26] The forum also projected that in 2010 out of the total number of Muslims in the world 62.1% will live in Asia.[25]

However the report also included a statement saying While the global Muslim population is expected to grow at a faster rate than the non-Muslim population, the Muslim population nevertheless is expected to grow at a slower pace in the next two decades than it did in the previous two decades. From 1990 to 2010, the global Muslim population increased at an average annual rate of 2.2%, compared with the projected rate of 1.5% for the period from 2010 to 2030.[25] The report also made reference to the fact that Muslims are estimated to make up 23.4% of the total global population in 2010 (out of a total of 6.9 billion people) and that by 2030 Muslims will represent about 26.4% of the global population (out of a total of 8.9 billion people).[25]

According to the Christian Plain Truth magazine (Issue 2 February 1984) and also published in an edition of the Readers Digest magazine, shows statistics of the growth of the major world religion, with Islam at the highest increase at 235% with Christianity second place at 46%. This data was acquired by comparing numbers from 1934 to 1984, across half a century.


  • The American Religious Identification Survey gives Wicca an average annual growth of 143% / 11,454 for the period 1990 to 2001 (8,000→134,000 - U.S. data / similar for Canada & Australia).[2][27]


  • The American Religious Identification Survey gave Non-Religious groups the largest gain in terms of absolute numbers - 14,300,000 (8.4% of the population) to 29,400,000 (14.1% of the population) for the period 1990 to 2001 in the USA.[2][27]
  • In Australia, census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics give "no religion" the largest gains in absolute numbers over the 15 years from 1991 to 2006, from 2,948,888 (18.2% of the population that answered the question) to 3,706,555 (21.0% of the population that answered the question).[28]
  • Reuters describes how a study profiling the "No religion" demographic found that the so-called "Nones", at least in the U.S., are the fastest growing religious affiliation category. The "Nones" comprise 33% agnostics, 33% theists, and 10% atheists.[1][29]
  • According to INEGI, in Mexico, the number of atheists grows annually by 5.2%, while the number of Catholics grows by 1.7%.[30][31]
  • According to statistics in Canada, the number of "Nones" more than doubled (an increase of about 60%) between 1985 and 2004.[32]

World Christian Database

The World Christian Database (WCD) and its predecessor the World Christian Encyclopedia contains large amounts of data on numbers and growths of religions. It is used as a source for many web and newspaper articles. The following is a tabulation of their results: (Note: The annual growth in the world population over the same period is 1.41%). However the World Christian Database does not cite sources in obtaining the data.

1970-1985[33] 1990-2000[34] 2000-2005[12]
3.65% - Bahá'í Faith 2.65% - Zoroastrianism 1.94% - Islam
2.74% - Islam 2.28% - Bahá'í Faith 1.70% - Bahá'í Faith
2.30% - Hinduism 1.44% - Islam 1.62% - Sikhism
1.67% - Buddhism 1.87% - Sikhism 1.57% - Jainism
1.21% - Christianity 1.69% - Hinduism 1.52% - Hinduism
1.09% - Judaism 1.36% - Christianity 1.38% - Christianity
1.09% - Buddhism
0.91% - Judaism
Estimated 2000 Projected 2025 Projected 2050 50 Year Projected Growth 2000-2050
Religion Adherents % of world Adherents % of world Adherents % of world New Adherents % Growth
Christianity 1,999,563,838 33.0% 3,016,670,052 33.4% 3,651,564,342 35.3% 1,052,000,504 52.61%
Islam 1,188,242,789 19.6% 2,184,875,653 26.1% 2,629,281,610 28.0% 1,041,038,821 87.61%

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace using the 2000-2005 edition of the World Christian Database, concluded that high birth rates were the reason for the growth in all six; however, the growth of Christianity was also claimed to be attributed to conversions.[12]

Encyclopædia Britannica

The following table has been quoted as taken from the 2005 Encyclopædia Britannica.[36] Its figures for percentage growth come from the 1990 to 2000 version of the World Christian Database given above.[36]

Religion Births Conversions New adherents per year Growth rate
Christianity 22,708,799 2,501,396 25,210,195 1.36%
Islam 21,723,118 865,558 22,588,676 2.13%
Hinduism 13,194,111 -660,377 12,533,734 1.69%
Buddhism 3,530,918 156,609 3,687,527 1.09%
Sikhism 363,677 28,961 392,638 1.87%
Judaism 194,962 -70,447 124,515 0.91%
Baha'i Faith 117,158 26,333 143,491 2.28%
Confucianism 55,739 -11,434 44,305 0.73%
Jainism 74,539 -39,588 34,951 0.87%
Shinto 8,534 -40,527 -31,993 -1.09%
Taoism 25,397 -155 25,242 1.00%
Zoroastrianism 45,391 13,080 58,471 2.65%
Global population 78,860,791 N/A 78,860,791 1.41%

This table illustrates that, globally, one of the largest factors of absolute increase in number of members is simply population growth. This table also neglects the number of conversions to the "No religion" category.

See also


  1. ^ a b American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population A Report Based on the American Religious Identification Survey 2008
  2. ^ a b c d American Religious Identification Survey, Key Findings The Graduate Center of the City University of New York
  3. ^ "2006 Census Tables : Australia".,%202001,%202006%20Census%20Years)&producttype=Census%20Tables&method=Place%20of%20Usual%20Residence&topic=Religion&. 
  4. ^ Affolter, Friedrich W. (January 2005). "The Specter of Ideological Genocide: The Bahá'ís of Iran". War Crimes, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity 1 (1): 59–89. doi:10.1016/0048-721X(89)90077-8. 
  5. ^ Reuters (May 3, 2006). "State to appeal ruling that favours Egypt's Baha'is". Khaleej Times. Retrieved October 15, 2009. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Year Book Australia, 2003 Australian Bureau of Statistics
  10. ^ Beckford, Martin (2009-08-05). "Buddhism is fastest-growing religion in English jails over past decade". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b c "The List: The World's Fastest-Growing Religions". Foreign Policy (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace). May 2007. 
  13. ^ "Pentecostalism". Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Retrieved March 26, 2010. 
  14. ^ a b Barker, Isabelle V. (2005). "Engendering Charismatic Economies: Pentecostalism, Global Political Economy, and the Crisis of Social Reproduction". American Political Science Association. pp. 2, 8 and footnote 14 on page 8. Retrieved March 25, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2005 - Vietnam". U.S. Department of State. 2005-06-30. Retrieved 2007-03-11. [dead link]
  16. ^ Religious Demographic Profiles - Pew Forum
  17. ^ Pew Forum - Presidential Election in South Korea Highlights Influence of Christian Community
  18. ^ Falun Gong Is a Cult Embassy of the People's Republic of China
  19. ^ Answers to Commonly Asked Questions about Falun Gong Falun Dafa
  20. ^ "Census of India.". Census of India. Census Data 2001: India at a glance: Religious Composition. Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 2008-11-26.  The data is "unadjusted" (without excluding Assam and Jammu and Kashmir); 1981 census was not conducted in Assam and 1991 census was not conducted in Jammu and Kashmir.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Y. Masih (2000) In : A Comparative Study of Religions, Motilal Banarsidass Publ : Delhi, ISBN 8120808150 Page 18. "There is no evidence to show that Jainism and Buddhism ever subscribed to vedic sacrifices, vedic deities or caste. They are parallel or native religions of India and have contributed to much to the growth of even classical Hinduism of the present times."
  23. ^ a b
  24. ^ Guinness World Records. 2003. Guinness World Records. 2003. p. 102. 
  25. ^ a b c d "The Future of the Global Muslim Population". Pew Forum Research Centre. 
  26. ^ a b "One in four is Muslim, study says". BBC News Website. 2009-10-08. 
  27. ^ a b American Religious Identification Survey, Full PDF Document The Graduate Center of the City University of New York
  28. ^ [1]
  29. ^ Faith World, “No religion” segment of U.S. population profiled
  30. ^ [2]
  31. ^ Catholic News Agency
  32. ^ StatsCan, "Who is Religious?" by by Warren Clark and Grant Schellenberg
  33. ^ International Community, Bahá'í (1992), "How many Bahá'ís are there?", The Bahá'ís: 14, .
  34. ^ Barrett, David A. (2001). World Christian Encyclopedia. p. 4. .
  35. ^ FASTEST GROWING RELIGION quotes numbers from the World Christian Database
  36. ^ a b FASTEST GROWING RELIGION quotes numbers from Encyclopedia Britannica

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