Here's where it gets interesting.
The Atlas of Global Christianity lists three basic sources for Christian gains in a specific country: births, conversions, and immigration. And there are three corresponding sources of Christian losses: deaths, defections, and emigration.
For instance: In 2010, in the world there were 45.2 million Christian births and 16 million conversions. There were also 21.8 million Christian deaths and 11.6 million defections. The end result was a global net gain of roughly 27.8 million Christians in the year ending tomorrow.
But unless we ask what kind of gain or loss is going on in a specific country or area, we can seriously misunderstand the significance of the numbers before us.
For example: 99.9% of Jamaica's Christian gain in 2010 was by births while Mongolia's gain was 70% conversion and almost all of Singapore's gain was through immigration.
Defections account for 31% of Christian losses overall in 2010 but there are different kinds of defection.
The highest rate of defection was in the United Arab Emirates, a startling 68.8%, which represents the defection of Muslim family members from Christianity back to Islam. Most defections from Christianity this year were to agnosticism as in New Zealand (where defections were 58.5% of all losses), Canada (57.4%), France (57.3%), Australia (56%), and Sweden (54.3%)
Iraq has the lowest defections of any Christian community but that could mask the fact that 86% of Iraq's Christian losses in 2010 were through emigration.
Conversions accounted for 24.5% of Christian gains this year. Below are the countries where conversions made up the highest percentage of the Christian community's growth in 2010. The conversions in Asia were primarily from agnosticism or Buddhism while the eastern European nations are still seeing people return to Christianity from agnosticism or atheism in the aftermath of the fall of communism.
China (65.6%), Azerbaijan (61.3%), Cambodia (57.3%), Estonia (56.1%), Belarus (52.0%), Hungary (50.5%), Jordan (50.1%), Canada (49.6%), Latvia (49.1%)
Canada is interesting because it has relatively high percentages of both defections (437,000) and conversions (634,000). The atlas doesn't say what faith or lack thereof the converts are coming from.
So does the US: 5,698,000 conversions and 3,595,000 defections in a single year. Imagine: over 9.293,000 people moved in and out of Christianity in a single year in our country! (For perspective, it helps to know there were 976,413 new American Catholics in 2009.)
That's 3.1% of the American people. An average of 25,460 Americans making critical spiritual decisions during every day this year. 1,060 decisions an hour. That means that an average of 17.7 Americans became Christian or left the faith during every second of 2010.
If 3% do so in one year, no wonder that Pew found that something like 53% of American adults have left the faith of their childhood at some point in their life. Americans, as the Pew Forum surveys have found, are in constant spiritual motion; being drawn closer to God or moving away in spiritual despair.
But how many of us have the eyes to see it? How many of us are ready, able, and available to be a friend and companion to those few of these 9 million spiritual wanderers who come our way? A wonderful question to ask ourselves at the dawn of a new year!
Begin the New Year with a New Attitude: The Weight of My Neighbor's Glory.