Interactive Map:  The Protestant Population in
Mexico and Central America


After decades of research on the Mexico-Central America region, the PROLADES Team has compiled a series of reports on each country that document the origin, growth and development of the Protestant movement, as well as of other religious groups.

Also, see Ethnic and Religious Diversity in Central America: An Historical Perspective.

To find out more about the situation in each country, click on the countries on the map.



1 Mexico

Mexico is one of the largest countries in Latin America, with a total population of over 112 million in 2010, but with a very small Protestant population.  According to the 2010 Census, the Roman Catholic population was 82.8% of the national population, Protestants were 7.9%, other religions were 1.9%, and those with no religion or undeclared were 7.4%.

Previous censuses reported the Protestant population to be 5.8% in 2000, 4.9% in 1990, 3.3% in 1980 and 1.8% in 1970.  By comparison, the size of the Protestant population in Mexico is much lower than in the counties of Central America where Protestants are between 20-45% of the national population of each country.

See the following documents and maps for more information.

return to map


2 Belize
   

The country has an area of 8,867 square miles and a population estimated at 304,100 in 2010.

Belize is one of the smallest countries on the American continent, but historically it has had one of the highest percentages of Protestant population due to its unique British heritage.  Protestantism arrived in British Honduras with the arrival of Anglican chaplains in the 18th century, and St. John's Anglican Cathedral became the first Protestant church constructed in the Central American region in 1815.

However, groups of nonconformists or dissenters (meaning non-Anglicans) began arriving in British Honduras during the early 1800s, which led to a decline of Anglican influence. English Baptist and Methodist missionaries were sent to the Colony in 1822 and 1825, respectively, and Scottish Presbyterians also began work in Belize City during the 1820s. By 1856, the Protestant community of Belize City, where most of the inhabitants of the Colony resided, included 2,500 Anglicans, 500 Baptists, 500 Methodists and Presbyterians, in addition to 1,000 Catholics and 2,600 "others," out of a total population of 7,000 people of many races and nationalities.

According to a 2010 Census, Roman Catholics now constitute 40.4% of the population and the Protestant population 38.5%.  Currently, Pentecostals are 8.5%, Seventh-day Adventists 5.5%, Anglicans 4.6%, Mennonites 3.8%, Baptists 3.6%, Methodists 2.9% and Nazarenes 2.8%.  About 5.2% of the population are affiliated with other religious groups.  These include adherents of Animism, Baha'i Faith, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Judaism, Mormonism and Rastafarianism.

Except for the Mennonites, who mainly live in the rural districts of Cayo and Orange Walk, most members of these religious groups tended to live in Belize City and other urban centers. In 2010, Roman Catholics were numerous throughout the country and constituted the majority faith in all but two of the country's six districts, Belize and Cayo, where they held a plurality of the population but did not constitute a majority.

In 2010, approximately 16% of the national population identified themselves as nonbelievers or declined to answer the question about their religious affiliation.

See the following documents and maps for more information.


3 Guatemala
The country has an area of 42,043 square miles and had a population of approximately 13.6 million in July 2010.

During the period 1960-1980, Guatemala became a "showcase" for the growth of the Protestant movement in Latin America, but the enthusiasm of Evangelical leaders regarding continued high rates of church growth in Guatemala often exceeded the reality. A series of public opinion polls taken between 1990 and 2001 in Guatemala helped to correct some of the erroneous growth projections made by Evangelical leaders: CID- Gallup reported that the Protestant population was 26.4% in May of 1990 and 25% in April of 1996. Early in 2001, SEPAL conducted a study on religious affiliation in Guatemala that showed Protestants to be 25.3% of the national population. Therefore, it seems clear that the size of the Protestant population did not change significantly in Guatemala in more than a decade (1990-2001), although the number of Protestant congregations has continued to increase: from about 6,450 in 1980, to 9,298 in 1987, to about 18,000 in 2001. It seems logical to assume that if the number of Protestant congregations grew significantly between 1980 and 2001 that the total membership had probably increased by a similar rate of growth. So why has the size of the Protestant population remained relatively stable at about 25%? At this moment, this is an unsolved mystery that awaits further investigation and analysis.

One possible explanation is that there may have been "a great falling away" (desertion or exodus) of Protestant adherents in Guatemala during the 1980s-1990s due to discouragement about the performance of Evangelical politicians, such as Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (military dictator during 1982-1983) and Jorge Serrano (president during 1990-1993), as well as disillusionment over the financial and sex scandals regarding popular Evangelical TV personalities, such as Jim and Tammy Bakker (1987) and Jimmy Swaggart (1991). It is easier for "adherents" to desert the church when things go badly, but it is harder for committed baptized church members to abandoned ship during stormy weather, so it may be true there was "a falling away" of the less committed churchgoers during these hard times in Guatemala.

However, according to public opinion polls taken between 2001 and 2011 in Guatemala, there has been an increase in the Protestant population, from 25.3% in 2001, to 30.7% in 2006 and to 32.5% as of July 2011. On the latter date, the Roman Catholic population was 47.9%, other religions were 9.3%, and those with no religion/no response was 10.3%, according to the National Institute of Statistics (December 2011).

See the following documents and maps for more information.


4 El Salvador

The country has an area of 8,108 square miles and an estimated population of approximately 6.7 million.

A series of public opinion polls taken between 1988 and 2009 give a contemporary picture of religious affiliation in the nation. The first was conducted in 1988 by researchers at the University of Central American (UCA) in San Salvador, which revealed that 67.1% of the total population was Roman Catholic, 16.4% Protestant, 4.8% other religions, and 14.7% no religion/no response. The second was done in 1995 by CID-Gallup and showed that Catholics were 67.8% of the population, Protestants 16.8%, other religions 2.3% and no religion/no response 13%.

These two studies revealed that no significant changes had taken place in religious affiliation in the period 1988-1995, although an Evangelical study published in 1993 claimed that the Protestant population was over 30% of the total population and consisted of more than 4,200 congregations and 514,286 baptized members.

An October 2003 survey by the Technical University's Public Opinion Center found that 57.1% of the population was Roman Catholic; 21.2% was Protestant, 2.3% was affilated with other religions, and 16.8 percent was not affiliated with any religious organization or were undeclared (no response).

Another poll by UCA in November 2006 revealed that the Catholic population had declined to 54.7%, the Protestant population had increased to 28.2%, other religions and those with no religion/no response were 18.8%. Two years later, a May 2008 poll by UCA verified that the Protestant population was growing rapidly, to 34.4%, and that the Catholic population had declined to 50.9%; those affiliated with other religions or no religion/no response were 14.7%.

Finally, in June 2009, another public opinion poll by UCA discovered that 50.4% of the population was Catholic, 38.2% was Protestant, 2.5% was affiliated with other religions, and 8.9% had no religious affiliation/no response. This confirmed that the Protestant population had more than doubled between 1988 and 2009, from 16.4% to 38.2% in 21 years or an combined average annual rate of growth of 4.11%, which is very significant but most of that growth had taken place during the 2000s.

See the following documents and maps for more information.

return to map


5 Honduras

The country has an area of 43,278 square miles and a population of 7.8 million in 2010.

A series of public opinion polls taken between 1997 and 2012 indicates that the Protestant population of Honduras has grown from 21% to 43.9%, or a combined average annual growth rate of 5.04% in 15 years, which is a very high rate of growth.  The latest CID-Gallup poll for September 2012 reported the following:  43.8% of respondents identified themselves as Roman Catholics, 43.9% as Protestants/Evangelicals, 3.0% as affilated with other religions, and 9.3% as "none" or provided no answer.  

One Protestant denomination in particular has reported spectacular church growth since 1980:  the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.  This Pentecostal denomination arrived in Honduras in 1952 and began evangelistic efforts in the capital city and in the Departments of Cortes, La Paz, Santa Barbara and Valle, in addition to Francisco Morazan, where Tegucigalpa is located. By 1960, there were seven organized churches and 18 preaching points with 310 members and about 1,000 adherents; by 1978, the total membership had grown to 1,870 members. In 1986, this denomination reported 149 churches and 42 missions with about 6,000 members.  According to the latest annual report, there are now a total of 250 churches and missions with a total membership of about 57,000.

One of this denomination's most successful efforts has been with pastors Misael Argeñal and his wife Maria Elena, who began a new church in 1977 in San Pedro Sula that has grown to a congregation of about 25,000 members in late 2007, known as The Harvest International Ministry; in addition, this church has helped to establish 70 affiliated churches in Honduras, one in El Salvador and three in Atlanta, Georgia.

See the following documents and maps for more information.

return to map


6 Nicaragua

The country has an area of 49,998 square miles and a population of approximately 5.9 million in 2010.

The 1995 National Census listed 72.9% of the population as Roman Catholic, 16.6% as Protestant, 2.0% was associated with other religious groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and Jehovah's Witnesses. Approximately 8.5% professed no religious affiliation or did not answer the question.

However, during the next 10 years significant changes occurred in the religious environment.  According to the 2005 National Census, 58.5% of respondents were Roman Catholic, 23.2% were affiliated with Protestant/Evangelical churches, 2.6% were affiliated with other religious groups, and 15.7% claimed no religious affiliation or did not answer the question. These studies indicated that the Protestant population had increased from 16.6% in 1995 to 23.2% in 2005, which is significant increase.

However, the biggest surprize was yet to come, when in September 2012, the CID-Gallup organization conducted a national public opinion poll that revealed the following: 55.7% Catholic, 30.4% Protestant, 2.3% affilated with other religions, and 11.6% with no religion/no response. This means that the Protestant population in Nicaragua increased from 16.6% in 1995, to 23.2% in 2005, and to 30.4% in 2012, which is a combined average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 3.62% for the period 1995 to 2012 (17 years.) If we examine the period 1980 to 2012 (32 years), the Protestant population grew by 3.77% AAGR, which is very significant.
See the following documents and maps for more information.

return to map


7 Costa Rica

The country has an area of 19,730 square miles and a population of approximately 4.3 million in 2010, according to the National Institute of Census and Statistics.

According to a 2001 poll by Demoscopia, 70.1% of the population identified themselves as Roman Catholics, 18.0% said they were Protestants/Evangelicals, 10.1% reported they did not have a religion, and 1.8% said they belonged to "another religion."

A September 2003 CID-Gallup poll found that about 69% of the population was Roman Catholic, with 40% of that figure actively practicing Catholicism.  About 18% belong to non-Catholic Christian churches (Orthodox, Protestant and others). Approximately 1% practiced non-Christian faiths and 12% practiced no religion at all. A third CID-Gallup poll in August 2009 revealed that the Catholic population was 71%, the Protestant population was 20.0%, those affilated with other religions were 2.0%, and those with no religion/no response were 8.0%.

These studies indicated that the Protestant population in Costa Rica had reached a plateau of between 18-20% of the national population between 2001 and 2009. However, by September 2012, a CID-Gallup national poll revealed that the Protestant population had increased to 22.9%, the Catholic population had declined to 63.4%, those affiliated with other religions were 3.6%, and those with no religion/no response were 1.0.%. Compared to Honduras and El Salvador, Protestant growth in Costa Rica between 1991 and 2012 has been much slower, about 3.74% AAGR (21 years), but similar to that of Nicaragua.

The largest Protestant denominations are:  the Assemblies of God, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), Rose of Sharon Christian Mission, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, the Association of Costa Rican Bible Churches (related to the Latin America Mission), the Evangelical Association of Central American Churches (related to the Central American Mission) and the Pentecostal Holiness Church.

See the following documents and maps for more information.


8 Panama

The country has an area of 30,193 square miles and a population of approximately 3.4 million in 2010. 

A 1996 CID-Gallup national poll revealed that the Roman Catholic population was 86.4%, the Protestant population was 7.3%, other religions were 2.1%, and those with no religion/no response were 4.2%. Two additional polls, in 1998 and 2000, revealed that the Protestant population had increased slightly to about 10.0%.

However, in 2003, another CID-Gallup poll indicated that 61% of the population was Roman Catholic, 24% was Protestant, 4% other religions, and 12% no religion/no answer. The largest Protestant denominations were reported to be the following:  the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (about 50,500 members), the Assemblies of God (40,000), the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (31,000), the Baptist Convention (12,000), Methodist Churches (12,900), Churches of Christ (6,600), New Tribes Mission (6,000), Church of God-Cleveland, TN (5,200) and the Anglican/Episcopal Church (5,000).

Other religious groups included the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) with an about 35,000 members, Jehovah's Witnesses (about 33,000), Muslim and Jewish communities with approximately 17,000 and 10,000 members respectively, Hindus (Asian-Indians, population size unknown) and Buddhists (mainly Chinese, an estimated population of 100,000).   The Baha'is of Panama maintain one of the world's seven principal Baha'i Houses of Worship, located near Panama City.

The most recent CID-Gallup national poll, conducted in September 2012, revealed the following: Catholic population 66.8%, Protestant population 21.3%, other religions 4.7%, and those with no religion/no response 7.2%. This seems to indicate that Protestant population growth in Panama had reached a plateau of between 22-24% between 2003 and 2012. Nevertheless, the Protestant population in Panama grew by 6.92% AAGR between 1996 and 2012 (16 years), which is one of the highest rates of Protestant growth in the Central American region.

See the following documents and maps for more information.

Source:  Religion-In-The-Americas (RITA) Database Project
www.prolades.com