The number of Christian martyrs worldwide has fallen by half in a decade, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Although 800,000 Christians were killed in the 2010s, that was significantly lower than the 1.6 million Christians killed in the 2000s, according to the center’s most recent report.

When it comes to tracking global trends in Christianity, the center leads the field. Since it was founded as the World Evangelization Research Center in Kenya in 1965, and then relaunched as the Center for the Study of Global Christianity in 2003, CSGC has monitored a range of global trends, including changes in denominations, populations, conversions, and martyrs.

The good news about the decline of martyrs will be met, however, with skepticism. CSGC’s calculations result in a much higher total than those of other groups that track these numbers. Open Doors, for example, reports 4,305 Christians were martyred in 2019. A researcher with the International Society for Human Rights estimated the number is about 10,000 annually.

CSGC puts annual deaths at approximately 90,000.

The difference is due to competing definitions. Open Doors and others define persecution as “any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Jesus Christ.” CSGC, by contrast, defines martyrs as “believers in Christ who have lost their lives prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility.”

The critical question is why a person was killed. Whereas many evaluate the motive of the persecutors, CSGC’s definition prioritizes the motive of the person who is killed.

“For us,” said Todd Johnson, codirector of CSGC, “the important ...

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