August 12, 2014

6 facts about South Korea’s growing Christian population

29% of South Koreans were Christian in 2010

Pope Francis will travel to South Korea this week for Asian Youth Day, making his third international trip as pontiff. He’ll be visiting a country that has experienced considerable religious change in recent decades. Here are six facts about Christianity in South Korea:

1South Korea has no majority religious group. Its population includes a plurality of people with no religious affiliation (46%) and significant shares of Christians (29%) and Buddhists (23%). South Korea’s current president, Park Geun-hye, is an atheist with connections to Buddhism and Catholicism, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Christian share of South Korea's population2In 1900, only 1% of the country’s population was Christian, but largely through the efforts of missionaries and churches, Christianity has grown rapidly in South Korea over the past century. In 2010, roughly three-in-ten South Koreans were Christian, including members of the world’s largest Pentecostal church, Yoido Full Gospel Church, in Seoul.

3The majority of Christians in South Korea belong to Protestant denominations, including mainline churches such as Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches as well as various Pentecostal churches. Since the 1980s, however, the share of South Korea’s population belonging to Protestant denominations and churches has remained relatively unchanged at slightly less than 1-in-5. Catholics have grown as a share of the population, from 5% in 1985 to 11% as of 2005, according to the South Korean census. The growth of Catholics has occurred across all age groups, among men and women and across all education levels.

86% of South Koreans have a favorable view of Pope Francis4Only about 11% of South Koreans are Catholic, but a survey we conducted in March found that the population has a positive view of Pope Francis. More than eight-in-ten South Koreans (86%) said they have a favorable opinion of the pope, higher than the share of Americans (66%) who had a favorable view of him in February. (Among U.S. Catholics, 85% said they have a favorable view of the pontiff.)

5The share of Christians in South Korea (29%) is much smaller than the share of Christians among Korean Americans living in the U.S. Nearly three-quarters of Korean Americans (71%) say they are Christian, including 61% who are Protestant and 10% who are Catholic.

Religious breakdown of Korean Americans and South Koreans

Religious restrictions in South Korea6As of 2012, South Korea had low levels of government restrictions on religion and social hostilities toward or among religious groups, based on our most recent analysis. In fact, religious restrictions in South Korea are lower than in the U.S., and significantly lower than the median level of religious restrictions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Category: 5 Facts

Topics: Buddhists and Buddhism, Christians and Christianity, Religious Affiliation, Religious Leaders

  1. Photo of Phillip Connor

    is a former research associate focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

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13 Comments

  1. anonymous1234563 months ago

    As far as I have read about south korea on internet ..as of today the atheists or agnostic ones(neither believe or disbelieve in god and religion ) form the majority .The figure stating christianity is 29 percent may be perhaps also due to the fact that south koreans always love in taking western life styles and they seem to adore white skinned people a lot ..There is in fact a general complaint that the present day south koreans are too much adapting to western culture giving up their own traditional culture ..They might have perhaps taken to christianity more to show their adoration for the west because today it is largely a western religion…and hence they seem to think would be following the foot steps of western counterparts if they take to christianity .
    .However There is strong foot hold of Buddhism and confucian principles in south korea even today.( for example annual ancestor worship etc).As far as China is the concerned majority of chinese do not believe in any religion or god ( atheist .)…or at the most agnostic( neither believe nor disbelieve in god and religion)..But by rituals many seem to follow Buddhism or Confucianism .(for example annual ancestor worship) .The rise of christianity perhaps is mainly not in china today but in Hong kong which was earlier under British control but now under chinese government ……Other south east asian countries like singapore ..taiwan etc.also have christians in sizable numbers… again due to the fact that these were all colonised by the british some time back and britishers must have brought in their religion too ….As such though the chinese population is majority in these countries like hongkong singapore etc yet they have adapted more to western life styles and western culture and hence tend to follow a now more predominant western religion namely christianity .. ..However inspite of that in all those countries where chinese dominate Buddhism/confucianism is still present in sizable numbers..So in conclusion all religions seem to be present ..

    Reply
  2. A. S. Mathew4 months ago

    The growth of Christianity in South Korea from 1% of the population to 29% in 2010 is an amazing growth. Likewise, in China too, Christianity is growing very rapidly. Now South Korea is second to the U.S. in sending missionaries overseas. Also, the believers are trained to reach-out their friends in the work place, many of the South Korean professionals in the foreign countries like the GCC countries are missionaries along with their regular secular profession.

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  3. Meguosatuo rio5 months ago

    South Korea is doing a lot in spreading gospel all around the world.

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  4. Julian6 months ago

    As well Christianity is not growing in Korea according to recent several surveys. Precisely, Catholicism has relatively grown over the years but many of Protestant denominations have lost the faithful.

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  5. Julian6 months ago

    It’s important to acknowledge, in South Korea, distinguishing those two churches as separate religion: Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. The way people see those Christian churches is very different from here in the West. Most Koreans do not use or perceive the word “christianity” as an inclusive term, and statistics and surveys conduct them as completely different religion.

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  6. joy berzabal+dancel12 months ago

    I believe that because since the last decade up to now, we have witnessed numerous, dedicated Korean Christians coming in our country not only to spread the Gospel but also to share their blessings to the ‘poor’ Filipinos. They serve as inspirations to the Pinoy pastors and congregations here.

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  7. joy berzabal dancel12 months ago

    That’s amazingly great news!

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  8. Ben KARLIN1 year ago

    I wonder that South Korea’s high levels of repeated imprisonment of young men who are Jehovah’s Witnesses does not deserve mention. Korea’s stance is increasingly rare among the world’s governments. Failing the acceptance of conscientious objectors to military service, this situation seems doomed to continue. You can get a look at the issues and statistics in the News section of JW.ORG.

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    1. Kim H2 weeks ago

      Oh are you a JW? Well, still lots of people in South Korea think refusing to be conscripted is undoubtly outlaw and should be punished. Many people think conscious objectors as those unpatriotistic and cowardly due to governmental education that military service is a natural duty for men without physical and mental disorder. I personally think my state should provide an alternative conscription program for conscious objectors. Fortunately, some judges in Korea sentenced not guilty to objectors (although they would be sentenced guilty at the supreme court/ in korea, jurors cannot determine one’s guilty but judges can.) and media reports on conscious objection are getting milder than before. I hope 600 conscious objectors who are in jail now be released soon.

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  9. Ryan1 year ago

    The title is a bit misleading. Christianity in South Korea has stagnated the past 15 years and faces an inevitable decline since the younger generations are less interested. Christianity has mostly likely peaked and the narrative of growth needs to be revisited in my opinion.

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  10. leo gerweck1 year ago

    Very nice; informative article.
    Pew societal and demographic reports are highly informative; could potentially dispel many politically motivated myths. Unfortunately, most aren’t sufficiently reported in mainstream media.
    Thank you

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  11. Zihan Mohammed1 year ago

    These is effects of human soal need. Religious .violence must stop all over the world. Speacialy against muslims.

    Reply
    1. leo gerweck1 year ago

      Yes, I can understand some issues that would justifiably antagonize and anger Muslims. Yet, it is most distressing to me that the greatest repressors and killers of Muslims are Muslims. Distresses and makes one wonder and lose hope. It is my hope that Western countries don’t emulate the many, but certainly not all, Muslim countries that mistreat people of other faith, and don’t allow people to choose the religion they believe in.

      Reply