Persecution of Christians in 2016

In the last week, several news organizations reported on the persecution of Christians around the world and cited our figure of 90,000 Christian martyrs in 2016. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity has done extensive research on Christian martyrdom, both historical and contemporary. We estimate that between 2005 and 2015 there were 900,000 Christian martyrs worldwide—an average of 90,000 per year. We published our methodology and findings in the journal Society under the title, "Christian Martyrdom as a Pervasive Phenomenon," which is available upon request by emailing

We take into consideration historical, sociological, and theological arguments in quantifying Christian martyrdom throughout time. Our definition of "martyr" highlights two important aspects: (1) the motivation of the killed rather than the killer; and (2) the inclusion of Christians who have died as a result of mass killings and genocides. Martyrdom is a broad-based phenomenon not limited to state persecution that profoundly affects Christians experiencing civil war, genocide, and other conflicts. 

Our definition of a Christian martyr is, "Believers in Christ who have lost their lives prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility." This definition has five essential elements:

  1. "Believers in Christ". These are self-identified individuals found within all of global Christianity, including Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Protestants, and Independents.
  2. "Lost their lives". Martyrs are Christians who have actually been put to death by another human being, not those who have died from natural or other causes.
  3. "Prematurely". Martyrdom is typically sudden, abrupt, unexpected, and unwanted. The definition includes those who are starved, die from mistreatment, and die as the result of torture.
  4. "In situations of witness". "Witness" in this definition is not restricted to public testimony concerning belief in Jesus. It refers to the individual's entire lifestyle, regardless of whether or not he or she was actively proclaiming at the time of death.
  5. "As a result of human hostility". This takes a variety of forms including war, conflict, random killing, and genocide, and includes acts by both individuals or groups (such as governments). This excludes deaths through accidents, crashes, illness, or acts of nature.
Our estimate of 90,000 martyrs appears in our annual status of global Christianity table, available for free download. If you have any questions regarding how we quantify Christian martyrdom, please contact us at or (978) 468-2750.


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