Roman Catholicism by the Numbers

This week Pope Francis will visit Colombia. It has been 31 years since a pope visited the country, and 26 years since the Colombian constitution officially permitted religious pluralism. With that in mind, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at a recent study that puts Roman Catholic commitment in perspective.  

What are the numbers? 

According to the Pew Research Center's landmark 2014 survey/report on Religion in Latin America, "Historical data suggest that for most of the 20th century, from 1900 through the 1960s, at least 90% of Latin America‚Äôs population was Catholic. Today, the ... survey shows, 69% of adults across the region identify as Catholic. In nearly every country surveyed, the Catholic Church has experienced net losses from religious switching, as many Latin Americans have joined evangelical Protestant churches [which have grown from 9% to 19% across the region] or rejected organized religion altogether."

What about Colombia?

The report estimates that Colombia was 80% Roman Catholic in 1910 before growing to 91% in 1950 and a high of 95% in 1970. Since that time, the Roman Catholic affiliated population has declined drastically to 79% in 2014, slightly below the percentage in 1910.

Colombia had the highest percentage of protestants raised in the Roman Catholic church (74%), underscoring that "much of the movement away from Catholicism and toward Protestantism in Latin America has occurred in the span of a single lifetime." 

Why did people switch to protestantism? (median responses)

  • Seeking personal connection with God - 81%
  • Enjoy style of worship at new church - 69%
  • Wanted greater emphasis on morality - 60% (interesting study here)
  • Found church that helps members more - 59%
  • Outreach by new church - 58%
  • Personal problems - 20%
  • Seeking better financial future - 14%
  • Marriage to a non-Catholic - 9%

Much has changed over the last 100 years and the last generation. It is our hope that God will continue to work in the next generation and the next century to bring many not to distorted gospels of works or wonders or worldly prosperity, but to the true gospel of grace rooted in the person and work of Christ.