Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Demographics of Heaven

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ “ Rev 7:9-10, ESV, emphasis mine.

When you picture heaven, what do you think of? Well of course like most people you associate spending eternity with family and friends, so the odds are pretty good that when you think about heaven, you tend to picture people who look like you--such as seen in the painting to the right. (So much diversity!) So if you are an American, you probably think of heaven as something like 60-80% white, and mostly Protestant.

As I have said before, and will say again…there are going to be a whole lot of surprised people in heaven.

What will heaven really look like? Well to picture that let’s just take a look at the demographics of the global church today. If the Lord returned tomorrow, what would heaven look like? Who would be there with us? As we see in the above passage, there will be an uncountable number from every nation and race (“tribe and peoples”) and language.

You think America is the great melting pot? Please. America’s got nothing on New Jerusalem. When the Kingdom of God is instituted on the new earth, all cultural and ethno-centric boundaries will be reversed. God is shown as putting everything back to pre-Fall conditions…no pain or hurt or death, no Tower-of-Babel caused separation of peoples, and no entropy (as I discussed in my new book, available today on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle!).

So I did some research to get a picture of this. I have taken the number of people from each country who claim to be Christians, to create a proportion of Christians who come from each country. Of course not everyone who claims to be a follower of Christ truly is one; however, this probably happens in a similar ratio in each country, so while the quantity of Christians will be different than my math, the ratio/percentage from each country is probably pretty fair.

So let’s pretend that the world ends tomorrow. God brings down New Jerusalem. You move into your new house and decide to meet the neighbors, so you throw a block party for the 100 people in your neighborhood. Here is who shows up (hint: serve tapas, not appetizers):

• 27 Latin Americans, including 9 Brazilians;
• 21 Africans from all over, the most (3) being from Nigeria;
• 17 from former British colonies, including 12 Americans (6 white, 4 black, 2 Latino); the rest are from UK, Canada, and Australia;
• 10 from former USSR states, half coming from Russia (Protestant) and Poland (Catholic);
• 10 from Europe, one or fewer per country;
• 10 from Asia, mostly from China and the Philippines;
• 5 from the Middle East and Central Asia, with no more than 1 from any country (even India).

So yeah…heaven is going to be a lot more diverse than you think. Despite what most American church-goers picture in their heads, about 25% of the people in heaven will have black skin; about 27% will be Latino; about 15% will be Middle Eastern or Asian; and only about 37% will be white--with most of those being non-American. Only about 3% of heaven will be comprised of white, evangelical, Americans.

Think about this next time you are at church, and thank God for the diversity we will have. And maybe even take the time to try to reach out to some of your future neighbors…

PS—When considering these numbers, it is hard to miss the fact that our missionary efforts to the Middle East and Asia have to be a major priority for us as Christians. Compared to our populations, heaven will be well represented in the western hemisphere and Africa. But the ten most under-represented countries, those in most need of Christian missionaries, are: China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Japan, Turkey, Iran, Thailand, Vietnam. In every case they are either Middle East or Asian countries. So please prayerfully consider supporting mission-work in these areas.

PPS—I should also note that the sobering reality is that even if everyone who identifies as a Christian is a real and true believer, only about 1 in 4 people in the world will be in heaven. Considering that at least half of those probably are not, then perhaps 1 in 6 or 1 in 8 people will be in heaven. This must absolutely be seen as unacceptable to us all, and should be a major burden on our prayer lives and financial support.


  1. It's becoming a reality in the world today, too, as the Western church continues to shrink. While I am thrilled about the Church's growth in South America, Africa, and Asia, I think it's sad that the European church is all but gone, and the American church seems to be headed the same direction.

    From what I hear, there are a lot of problems with syncretism in the Latin American and African church. I pray that believers in these countries will be able to access the knowledge produced by the Western church in their own languages (although, given that most of these cultures are more akin to the Bible's than our own, perhaps historical context and individualist bias won't be so much of a problem!)

    I live in Japan, and it's still a country that by and large doesn't know the Gospel. But many barriers to the faith in the past (like family pressure and traditional expectations) are coming down, and I think it won't be long until Japan is ripe for the harvest. We will see.

  2. Kyle, I think you hit on a very important point here for the next century or more of the Church. Culturally, I think that the Asian and Middle Eastern cultures are more similar to the Biblical cultures (kinship, patronage, honor/shame outlook, etc.), and thus in those ways they can interpret the Bible well. But in so many cases, the Bible is simply not available in their native language and not taught by anyone competent!

    This is going to be the western Church's big challenge for the next century of our faith: how can we ensure that proper exegetical techniques and proper core doctrinal understanding is shared with all of these new believers? How can we be sure that they are not just converted, but discipled? (And this flies in the face of many modern missionary organizations, who act in a more drive-by evangelism fashion than a true focus on discipleship.)

    One of the things I hope we focus on are missions like the Wycliffe translation group, who embeds seminary-trained translators in local cultures for decades as they translate carefully to ensure that nuance is not lost. And that we focus on long-term pastoral training. Otherwise we may grow in numbers, yet weaken spiritually.