It is not uncommon for evangelists to measure their success by counting the number of decisions made for Christ, or for pastors to measure their success by the number of people sitting in the pews on Sunday. Both of these are inaccurate measures of success because they indicate little about genuine spiritual life. But on the mission field another variation of the numbers game has developed: counting churches.
Among some advocates of church planting movements (CPM), it is not uncommon to hear reports about how many churches are planted here and there in such-and-such (short) period of time. The rapid multiplication of churches is seen as evidence of the work of God in bringing many people to Christ. Everyone is quick to shout their apparent successes from the rooftops, but neither missionaries, evangelists, nor pastors are as diligent in their reporting when new churches fold, new converts disappear, or attendees make for the back door of the church.
The latest statistics for the growth of Christianity in Thailand have been released by Dwight Martin and his team at the eStar Foundation. The full report can be view online in English or in Thai, but I wanted to give a few highlights here. (For more information about the data, please email Dwight Martin).
The Big PictureAt the end of 2011, the Protestant Christian population of Thailand is 0.58%, up from 0.54% in 2009. The 2011 annual growth rate of Christians in Thailand is 5.22%. The 2011 annual population growth rate in Thailand is 0.57% (source). That means that the number of Christians is growing 9 times faster than the general population.
Statistics don't tell the whole story but can be helpful to get a general idea of what is going on. Missionary Dwight Martin collects data on the Thai church and recently released the data on Thai church growth in 2009. Here is an excerpt from his report, along with some links for more information:
"At the end of 2009 there are 339,048 Christians, which is 0.54% of the total population. Even though this is a very small percentage, the good news is that the percentage of growth is seven times faster than the biological growth rate of the country. The number of churches continues to grow as well. There were 170 new churches started last year (2009). The need is still great in Thailand. Over 47% of the sub-districts in Thailand have no Christian presence at all. This means there are 21,814,049 (about 1/3 of the population) people who have very little opportunity to hear the Gospel Message. Please pray that God's word will penetrate this whole nation.