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  • Writer's pictureShane Schaetzel

How Many Catholics Are There?

Updated: Jan 25

A Catholic Procession in Springfield, Missouri

Christianity is a worldwide religion that can be divided into different groups, and each has its own origin and religious history. Catholic Christianity is the oldest, reaching back to the time of Jesus and the Apostles. Many new Christian churches were formed in later centuries. All of them branched off the Catholic Church at some point. If we divide Christianity into three main groups, they would be: (1) Catholic at 1.329 billion, (2) Orthodox at just under 300 million and (3) Protestant at about 900 million.

Baptist, Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, Evangelical, Nondenominational, and most of the types of Christian communities we see here in the Ozarks, would fall under the Protestant heading. They come from Protestantism, which broke away from the Catholic Church about 500 years ago. The Baptist churches began after John Smyth organized groups of English Puritans and Congregationalists who were heavily influenced by the Anabaptists (Amish and Minnonites). All the Baptist churches today can trace their origins to this group, which started in Amsterdam in 1609. While Pentecostal, Assemblies of God and most Nondenominational churches are products of the twentieth century.

As you can see, Catholics make up over half of all Christians worldwide. However, you would never know that living here in the Ozarks. That’s because most Christians here in the Ozarks are Baptist, Pentecostal and Nondenominational. These fall under the Protestant heading and while they make up less than 36% of all Christians worldwide, they constitute about 70% of Christians here in the Ozarks. In contrast, Catholics make up over half of all Christians worldwide. Yet, we only constitute 6% of Christians here in the Ozarks. So, the Ozarks, like most of the southern regions in America’s Bible Belt, is a unique area of the world, where Baptists and Pentecostals vastly outnumber Catholics. Throughout most of the world, and even in most of the United States, the opposite is true, where Catholics outnumber all other Christian denominations.

There are over 2 billion Christians in the world. Just over half of them are Catholic. Here in the Ozarks, however, the number of Catholics is very small. At just 16% in Missouri, and about 8% in Arkansas, for about 12% on average between the two states in total. That’s why we Catholics seem so small here in this area of the United States. It’s because we are. However, we’re part of a much bigger worldwide Church, that constitutes more than half of all Christians, but here in the Ozarks, we’re just a tiny minority (for now). We are growing though, and according to the U.S. Census, we're growing very rapidly in this area. Some of our growth comes from Catholics moving to the area from the Northeast and West Coast. However, local statistics show the majority of our growth comes from local conversions.

In this image of the United States, you can see how that works. The dark green states show where most Christians are Catholic. The light green states show where most Christians are non-Catholic...

In the religious composition of the United States, the largest Christian Church is the Catholic Church at 70.4 million members. The second largest organized church is the Southern Baptist Convention at 13.6 million members. However, when you lump all Baptists together, from their dozens of denominational groups, they constitute about 50 million total. The third largest religious group in America is the Methodists at about 13 million. All other churches in America have less than 10 million members. So even in the United States, the Catholic Church is the largest church. However, most of these people can be found in the darker green areas in the map above.

This next maps shows the global distribution of Christianity (Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy) worldwide, in relation to non-Christian religions. Catholic Christianity is represented in red. Protestant Christianity is represented in blue. Orthodox Christianity is represented in purple. (Green is Islam. Brown is Hindu. etc.) As you can see, some of the most populated regions of the Western world are Catholic. While the Protestant blue regions seem to occupy a lot of land mass, the population in those regions tends to be lower.

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