There are about 2.5 billion Christians in the world. That’s more than 35 percent of humanity.
So why do so many Christians feel like they’re in the minority?
Part of it is perception. Part of it is relative to one’s own community or culture. And part of it is the sprawling division that segregates and compartmentalizes Christians around the globe.
The Big Three Branches of Christianity
The easiest way to break down Christianity–the capital “C” Church–into smaller parts is along the lines of the primary three Christian communities: Orthodox, Catholicism, and Protestantism.
Orthodox Christians, centered primarily in the global East, are the smallest of the three contingents, with about 350 million adherents.
Catholics make up the biggest subset of the Church. At about 1.3 billion people, there are about as many Catholics as there are people affiliated with the other two branches of Christianity combined.
And Protestants, the newest category of Christian, coming out of the schisms of the 16th century Reformation, claim just shy of a billion individuals.
So, that’s the general breakdown.
But what if we want to go further?
Most people know that there are thousands of denominations within Protestantism, separated on matters of doctrine and church governance and how to live out the faith. But Catholics and Orthodox, too, though far more monolithic, have their own divisions and schools of thought.
Breakdown of the Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church has two major branches, each with a number of smaller churches within. The two groups that make up Orthodox Christianity are the Eastern Orthodox Church (270 million members), which exists mostly in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the Oriental Orthodox Church (86 million members), which is focused more in northeastern Africa, the Middle East, and India.
The Eastern Orthodox Church is the largest single communion after the Catholic Church. The largest churches within Eastern Orthodoxy are the Russian Orthodox Church (150 million members), the Romanian Orthodox Church (23 million members), the Church of Greece (15 million members), and the Orthodox churches of Serbia and Bulgaria (both with about 10 million members). Ukraine also has a large Orthodox population, though it is not universally recognized by the rest of the Eastern Orthodox community.
The Oriental Orthodox Church is smaller. It’s largest members are the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (48 million members), the Coptic Church in Egypt (about 15 million members), the Armenian Apostolic Church (9 million members), and the Syriac Orthodox Church (7 million members), which is partly in the Middle East, but actually has a large population in India.
Breakdown of the Catholic Church
The Catholic Church can be broken down into six main “rites,” with a variety of movements and groupings within them. The biggest rite, by far, is the Latin Rite (1.25 billion members), which is sometimes also called the Western Church. The other rites are as follows:
- Byzantine Rite (7.6 million members)
- Chaldean Rite (4.2 million members)
- Antiochian Rite (3.6 million members)
- Alexandrian Rite (600,000 members)
- Armenian Rite (400,000 members)
While the Latin Rite has a variety of movements within it, it is a fairly unified body, not to be broken down into too many distinct subsets.
As for the other rites, there are a number of smaller churches within them.
The Byzantine Rite contains the Greek Catholic Churches of Ukraine (4.3 million members), Romania (700,000 members), and Hungary (300,000 members), among others–along with the Melkite and Ruthenian Greek Catholic Churches (1.3 million and 500,000 members, respectively).
The Chaldean Rite contains the Orthodox Church in India, called the Syro-Malabar Church (3.8 million members), and the Chaldean Catholic Church (400,000 members), rooted in Iraq.
The Antiochian Rite includes the Maronite Catholic Church (3.1 million members), which is the largest church in Lebanon, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church (400,000 members), and the Syriac Catholic Church (100,000 members).
The Alexandrian Rite is the umbrella rite over the Ethiopian Catholic Church, the Coptic Catholic Church, and the Eritrean Catholic Church, each of which has about 200,000 members.
And, finally, the Armenian Rite is the exclusive rite of the Armenian Catholic Church, which claims about 400,000 members.
Breakdown of the Protestant Church
The Protestant Church is tough to bread down simply because there are so, so, so many different subdivisions. Of the billion or so Protestants in the world, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Baptists, and Lutherans are the largest groups, but because there is so much schism-ing, reuniting, and overlapping, it’s difficult to keep track of the numbers.
While there are hundreds or thousands of possible denominational subsets of Protestantism, looking at the top ten to twenty will account for the vast majority.
Among the largest denominations are Pentecostals (280 million members), Anglicans (165 million members), Baptists (90 million members), Lutherans (80 million members), non-denominatioanl evangelicals (80 million members), and Methodists (70 million members).
Other large Protestant groups include the Reformed (Calvinist) churches like the Presbyterians (45 million members), Continental Reformed (25 million members), and Congregationalists (5 million members).
There are also African Initiated Protestant churches (60 million members), Chinese Independent churches (10 million), and Anabaptists (4 million members).
Ecumenism: All Together Now
Now that we’ve seen the three main branches of Christianity broken down individually, what does it look like to see each of these subsets together in a single chart?
Below, I’ve arranged the various subdivisions, rites, and denominations of Christianity’s Big Three all together, in order to see how they stack up proportionally in terms of membership. Generally, the Orthodox churches are shades of green; the Catholic churches are shades of blue; and the Protestant churches are shades of yellow, gold, and red.
The smallest of the denominations aren’t even legible in the lower right corner. And every other sub-group is dwarfed by Latin Rite Catholics–though Pentecostals, the Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans hold their own, in terms of numbers.
The important thing–and the goal of ecumenism–is to maintain bridges between the churches for the purpose of standing united for the glory and purposes of God. All churches that love the truth and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ can find a home in the larger Church, and together at the family table of faith.