They take exception to Mark Elliott, "Analysis of World Christian Encyclopedia Figures for Post-Soviet Christians," East-West Church & Ministry Report 4 (Summer 2001), 4-5, and "Making Sense of Russian Church Statistics," Ibid., 16, 9.
The Annual Global Megacensus as Definitive Source
The two-volume World Christian Encyclopedia reports the overall results of the churches' megacensus costing the churches worldwide $1.1 billion every year. In this, the world's 34,000 organized denominations instruct their bishops, clergy, and lay leaders to report each year on the numerical state of their work. Some ten million questionnaires in 3,000 languages are returned to their headquarters quantifying 180 major subject areas. For instance, all Roman Catholic bishops are each required to answer 141 statistical questions annually.
Two Vast Databases Guarantee Credibility
WCE's computational side has been firmly based on two large databases. First is the United Nations Demographic Database, continually updated by statistics on 100 variables for each of the UN's 189 member nations for each year from A.D.1950 to A.D.2050. On top of this, we have built the World Christian Database, itemizing for 238 countries the world's 12,600 ethnolinguistic peoples, 6,600 cultures, 13,500 languages, 7,000 metropolises, 9,900 religions, 250 confessions, 34,000 denominations, 30,000 dioceses, 3,450,000 churches and worship centers, and so on.
The key variable in quantifying Christians is not "active believers," which most churches never measure. The only measurable or quantifiable imperative in Jesus' Great Commission is "Baptize them" (Matthew 28:10, Contemporary English Version). This is the one category employed by all 34,000 organized denominations in the world. We use it therefore throughout WCE as "affiliated Christians (church members)." This means all baptized persons, living and with names written on church affiliation rolls. Virtually all denominations worldwide provide this figure. None pretend that all are "active believers."
Church Leaders Know Their Flocks Best
[On pages 16 and 5 Elliott] ... ignores the megacensus by making the extraordinary claim "Many Orthodox and Protestant estimates typically inflate," "Orthodox hierarchs may sometimes exaggerate," "Russian Protestants may sometimes exaggerate ... for the benefit of Western donors," and [WCE gives] "overly generous figures for Catholics." After speaking over a 40-year period with hundreds of church leaders including bishops, popes, and patriarchs about their enumeration practices and examining their millions of questionnaires, we must assert that the average denominational or diocesan leader is far more likely to know and to accurately return the most believable total of baptized persons under his care than any outsider could. It is their business to know.
The two-volume WCE gives the overall firm totals of the megacensus. Readers wanting to go further to examine WCE's 7,000-item bibliography, methodology, assumptions, sources, and so on will find detailed explanations and documentation in our new 952-page companion volume World Christian Trends (William Carey Library, 2001). This contains a searchable CD of the volume's entire text, tables, photographs, and color maps, plus a spreadsheet for 191 variables in all 238 countries. Of special interest is our series of computerized tables and graphs showing church growth and decline over the entire period A.D. 30 to A.D. 2200. Next to appear will be the full World Christian Database, expected to become available in 2002.
David B. Barrett
Todd M. Johnson
Global Evangelization Movement
Unfortunately, Barrett's and Johnson's argument that "Church Leaders Know Their Flocks Best," is not necessarily the case in post-Soviet societies, at least in terms of numbers. The Russian Orthodox Church reportedly is the largest single church in the World Council of Churches, based on figures submitted to the WCC by the Moscow Patriarchate. However, the statistics that the WCC receives from the Patriarchate--what one Orthodox priest calls "an educated guess"--have to be estimates because individual Russian Orthodox parishes do not typically keep rosters of members' names nor membership totals. (Fr. Viktor Potapov to author, 19/10/01; Fr. Georgi Edelstein to author, 22/10/01; Fr. Michael Roshak to author, 22/10/01; Dr. Dimitri Sidorov to author, 24/10/01; Dr. Nathaniel Davis to author, 31/10/01; Professor Dimitryi Pospielovsky to author, 1/11/01.)
In August 2001 the Russian Public Opinion and Market Research (ROMIR-Gallup International) conducted a survey of 2000 Russians. Of those polled, 73.6 percent identified themselves as Orthodox. However, among respondents who declared their allegiance to Russian Orthodoxy, only 51.3 percent believed in the existence of God ("What Residents of Russia Believe," Mir religii, 7 September 2001, Religion in Russia website, www.stetson.edu/~psteeves). Barrett and Johnson are correct to note the enumeration of baptized members as the only practicable basis for quantitative comparisons of churches and denominations. However, the exercise is quite problematic in post-Soviet settings because, as noted above, membership figures are far from firm and even self-identification can be questionable, as in the case of "Russian Orthodox" who do not believe in God.
While most Evangelicals think different standards should apply (e.g., the number who claim to have accepted Christ as Savior or acknowledge that Christ died on the cross for their sins), these criteria use evangelical Christian markers that would be inappropriate to apply when attempting to discern who is a nominal or devout Russian Orthodox Christian. We probably need to ask committed Orthodox outside the hierarchy, "What criteria do you suggest for identifying committed or even nominal Orthodox Christians in Russia?," and then see what the numbers reveal.
Russian-American Christian University
[Barrett's] figures are all too slippery. My impression when I visit the typical provincial town in Russia is that perhaps one percent of the populace are in churches of all kinds combined--Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox--on a typical Sunday. A couple of years back the Moscow city police did an estimate of the numbers attending Orthodox Easter services: their figure was about 100,000, which of course is pathetically small in a city of ten million. As Philip Walters observed recently, we should not get carried away by the dramatic increases in the number of denominations and congregations legally functioning in Russia. A city can have scores of new religious entities but still be a place in which only one percent of the populace actually attend worship services every week. Like it or not, today's Russia looks a lot more like Sweden than the American Bible Belt. It is a profoundly secularized society.
Director, Keston Institute
Barrett's estimates look wildly optimistic to me. His one [estimate] for Orthodox in Russia must be about 50 percent or so. The official police figure for Easter service attendance in 2000 (including those standing around church buildings) in Moscow was just over 125,000. Even if you allow this figure some leeway, it is still hard to turn it into even a double-figure percentage, and this for the most important Orthodox festival of the year.
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© 2001 East-West Church and Ministry Report