Are Women the Future of the World’s Largest Religion?

Gina A. Zurlo believes the answer to this is “yes,” and that this is especially true of African women. 

Nigerian women (photo credit: PIXNIO)
Nigerian women (photo credit: PIXNIO)

Zurlo is co-director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She holds a Ph.D. in History and Hermeneutics (interpretation of biblical and philosophical texts) from Boston University School of Theology. In an article in March in The Conversation, “Why the future of the world’s largest religion is female—and African,” she explains why.

Christianity is the world’s largest religion with an estimated 2.382 billion adherents.

“Data from the Pew Research Center shows that, compared to Christian men, Christian women are more likely to attend weekly church services (53 percent versus 46 percent), pray daily (61 percent versus 51 percent), and say religion is important in their lives (68 percent versus 61 percent),” she wrote.

Zurlo points to the changing demographics in Christianity over the past century.

“In 1900, 18 percent of the world’s Christians lived in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania, according to my research. Today that figure is 67 percent, and by 2050, it is projected to be 77 percent. Africa is home to 27 percent of the world’s Christians, the largest share in the world, and by 2050, that figure will likely be 39 percent.”

She compares this with the United States and Canada. In 2020 these two countries accounted for only 11 percent of Christians and this is likely to drop to 8 percent by 2050.

Another factor is that the median age of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa is 19.

Zurlo quotes Kenyan theologian Philomena Mwaura, who believes the church in Africa “has a feminine face and owes much of its tremendous growth to the agency of women.”

Facts and figures she presents to support her opinion include:

  • Catholic sisters outnumber priests and religious brothers in Africa, and on every continent.
  • Mothers’ Union, an Anglican nonprofit, has 30 branches in Africa, including at least 60,000 members in Nigeria. 
  • In Congo, women have advocated for peacebuilding through groups like the National Federation of Protestant Women. 
  • In the Republic of the Congo, Catholic sisters have been at the forefront of providing shelter, education and aid in postwar recovery efforts.

A Nigerian Anglican bishop recently told Zurlo, “If anyone tells you a church in Nigeria is majority male, he’s lying.”

“African women live at the center of the story” Zurlo concludes, “and will continue to do so as healers, evangelists, mothers and the heartbeat of their churches.”


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Christianity demographics Gina A. Zurlo Catholic church