Frequently Asked Questions

about the World Watch List
How is the WWL compiled?

The World Watch Research (WWR) team distinguishes two main expressions of persecution: squeeze (the pressure Christians experience in all areas of life) and smash (plain violence). While smash can be measured and tracked through incidents of violence, squeeze needs to be tracked by discerning how Christian life and witness is being squeezed in different areas of life. Different persecution engines and drivers become identifiable from the answers to country questionnaires covering the reporting period 1 November – 31 October. A final score is calculated for each country which is then used to determine the order of countries from position 1 to 50 on the annual WWL.

What are persecution engines?

A persecution engine describes the reason why Christians are persecuted in a particular area or setting. WWL lists eight such persecution engines.

  1. Islamic oppression: Tries to bring the country or the world under the ‘House of Islam’ through violent or non-violent actions.
  1. Religious nationalism: Tries to conquer the nation for one’s religion. Mainly Hinduism and Buddhism, but also orthodox Judaism or other religions.
  1. Ethnic antagonism: Tries to force the continuing influence of age-old norms and values shaped in tribal context. Often comes in the form of traditional religion or something similar.
  1. Denominational protectionism: Tries to maintain one’s Christian denomination as the only legitimate or dominant expression of Christianity in the country. In most cases this Christian denomination is the majority Christian denomination.
  1. Communist and post-Communist oppression: Tries to maintain Communism as a prescriptive ideology and/or controls the Church through a system of registration and oversight that has come from communism.
  1. Secular intolerance: Tries to eradicate religion from the public domain, if possible even out of the hearts of people, and imposes an atheistic form of secularism as a new governing ideology.
  1. Dictatorial paranoia: Does everything to maintain power, not specifically focused on realizing a vision.
  1. Organized corruption and crime: Tries to create a climate of impunity, anarchy and corruption as a means for self-enrichment.
What are the "Spheres of life" used for the WWL scoring and what sort of pressure is being measured?

A ‘five spheres concept’ has been developed to track the various expressions of persecution in the different areas of a Christian’s life.

Private life: How free has a Christian been to relate to God one-on-one in his/her own space?
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with conversion, private worship, possession of religious material, freedom of expression, e.g. in spoken word and writing, through images and symbols, access to information and media, privately sharing a belief with others, freedom of private assembly, and isolation of Christians.

Family life: How free has a Christian been to live his/her Christian convictions within the circle of the family, and how free have Christian families been to conduct their family life in a Christian way?
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with the forced allocation of religious identity, registration of civil affairs, weddings, baptisms, burials, adoptions, child rearing, indoctrination of children, harassment of or discrimination against children, separation of families, isolation of converts, pressure to divorce, custody of children, and inheritance rights.

Community life: How free have Christians been individually and collectively to live their Christian convictions within the local community (beyond church life), and how much pressure has the community put on Christians by acts of discrimination, harassment or any other form of persecution? 
The questions in the WWL questionnaire deal with threat or obstruction to daily life, dress codes, monitoring of Christians, abduction and forced marriage, access to community resources, community ceremonies, participation in communal institutions and forums, pressure to renounce faith, access to health care, access to and disadvantages in education, discrimination in employment and obstruction in business, and policing issues (fines, interrogations, forced reporting).

National life: How free have Christians been individually and collectively to live their Christian convictions beyond their local community, and how much pressure has the legal system put on Christians, and how much pressure have agents of supra-local national life put on Christians by acts of misinformation, discrimination, harassment or any other form of persecution?
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with national ideology, constitution, registration of religion in IDs, conscientious objection, travel within a country and abroad, discrimination by authorities, barring from public office or professional progress, policy interference with businesses, expression of opinion in public, Christian civil society organizations and political parties, reporting about religious or social conflicts, smear campaigns, toleration of public disrespect, religious symbols, blasphemy accusations, impunity, equal treatment in court, monitoring of trials.

Church life: How have restrictions, discrimination, harassment or other forms of persecution infringed upon these rights and this collective life of Christian churches, organizations and institutions?
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with the hindrance in gathering of Christians, registration of churches, monitoring or closing of unregistered churches, church building and renovation, expropriation and non-return, disturbance or disruption of services, prevention of activities inside or outside churches or among youth, acceptance of converts, monitoring of preaching and published materials, election and training of leaders, harassment of leaders or their families, Bibles and other religious materials and their printing, importing, selling or dissemination, and confiscation, broadcasting and Internet use, interference with ethical convictions (regarding family and marriage) and personnel policy of Christian institutions, Christian civil society organizations and social activities, interaction with the global Church, and the denouncing of persecution by government or social actors.

Is Christianity the most persecuted religion in the world?

Yes, research confirms this clearly. Many say Christianity is the most persecuted religion simply because it is the largest religion in the world. However, when you look at the numbers of Christians compared to the total populations of the countries in which they are persecuted, these are often countries with minority Christian populations.

How many Christians are killed for their faith annually?

There is an ongoing debate about the number of martyrs or Christians killed for faith-related reasons. While some organizations publish numbers often as high as 100,000 Christian martyrs per year, or ‘one Christian killed every 5 minutes’, WWL research reveals much lower numbers:

WWL 2014: 2,123 Christians killed for faith-related reasons and 1,111 churches attacked.
WWL 2015: 4,344 Christians killed for faith-related reasons and 1,062 churches attacked.
WWL 2016: 7,106 Christians killed for faith-related reasons and 2,425 churches attacked.
WWL 2017: 1,207 Christians killed for faith-related reasons and 1,329 churches attacked.
WWL 2018: 3,066 Christians killed for faith-related reasons and 793 churches attacked.

The numbers listed above are likely much lower than reality, but they are based on what has been reported. It is very difficult to get complete data, especially in situations of civil conflict and war. 

How many Christians are persecuted worldwide?

Approximately 215 million Christians in the WWL 2018 Top 50 countries experience ‘high’ levels of persecution for their faith.

This means that globally there are more Christians who are persecuted. It would however involve too much guess-work to include them if the countries they live in are not thoroughly investigated through the WWL methodology.

We regret we cannot provide more specific details of the calculations, because persecuting governments and movements will use the intelligence to launch further crackdowns.  They especially covet details about the underground Muslim Background Believer (MBB) church in many countries.