"Truth of any kind is food for the soul."

The Rev. Jesse Caswell, 1841

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Statistics of Church Growth in Thailand

Last month, June, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, release a report entitled, "Christianity in its Global Context, 1970–2020."  The report presents a statistical picture of the changing nature of global religiosity, which among other things finds atheism and agnosticism on the decline worldwide even as they grow in Europe and North America.  For our purposes here, the report presents a snapshot of the growth of the Christian religion in Southeast Asia generally and Thailand in particular, which puts Thai church growth in both historical and global context.

According to the report (p. 40), Christianity in Southeast Asia has grown from 50.4 million adherents in 1970 to an estimated 153.2 million by 2020, a three-fold increase in fifty years.  As a percentage of the total population of Southeast Asia, Christianity will have increased from 17.7% in 1970 to an estimated 23.4% in 2020.  The figures for Thailand show 240,000 Christians in 1970 and 946,000 estimated for 2020.  As a percentage of the total Thailand population, Christianity will have increased from 0.7% of the population in 1970 to an estimated 1.3% in 2020.  That is an average annual growth rate of 2.78%, which ranks 7th of the 11 nations of Southeast Asia.  Cambodia had the highest annual growth rate (5.87%) and Vietnam the lowest (2.03%).  It should be noted that Thailand has by far-and-away the smallest percentage of Christians (1.3%) of any nation in Southeast Asia.  Laos (3.3%) and Cambodia (3.6%) are the next lowest in total numbers of Christians as a percentage of the total population.

No one familiar with the church in Thailand will be surprised by these figures.  If they could be adjusted to include ethnic Thais alone, factoring out the tribal churches, the difference between Thailand and the other nations of its region would be even greater.  It remains true today as it has for centuries that Thai culture is quietly and impressively resistant to Christianity.  For as long as Christianity in Thailand remains essentially alien to Thai society (that is infected with Western dualist and exclusivist ideologies) there is not likely to be any change in the level or effectiveness of Thai resistance to it.