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 Research Associate at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

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7 Comments

  1. joy berzabal+dancel2 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.

    Reply
  2. joy berzabal dancel2 months ago

    That’s amazingly great news!

    Reply
  3. Ben KARLIN3 months 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.

    Reply
  4. Ryan3 months 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.

    Reply
  5. leo gerweck3 months 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

    Reply
  6. Zihan Mohammed4 months ago

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

    Reply
    1. leo gerweck3 months 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