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Counting heads in Jamaica

November 2006 | by Glenroy Lalor

The Christian church in Jamaica has strong colonial roots. The Spanish colonisers of the sixteenth century were followed by Roman Catholic priests; their English successors by Anglican clergymen. During the eighteenth century, Moravians, Baptists and Methodists became established; ministering mainly to the slave population.

The population census of 2001 collected data on denominational affiliation in Jamaica (including Catholics and Christian cults). It shows that 1,952,774 persons, or 75% of the population, saw themselves as belonging to a ‘Christian’ group (see table 1).

Although there was no single predominant denomination — the Seventh Day Adventist had the largest affiliation (10.8%) — over 25% of the population belonged to churches comprising the Pentecostal movement (e.g. New Testament Church of God, Other Church of God, Pentecostal). Nearly 17% belonged to the mainline established churches (Anglican, Baptist, Moravian, Roman Catholic, United Church).

Over the 41 years between the 1960 and 2001 censuses there were significant relative changes in the memberships of the various denominations (see table 2).

Table 2 reveals a marked decline in numbers in all the older denominations. The Baptists had the lowest rate of decline (down 38% compared to 1960) and the Anglicans the highest (down 71%). In contrast, the Pentecostal Church increased by 1579% and the Church of God by 223%.
Unaffiliated

The 2001 census also showed that 21% of the population (543,902 persons) had no denominational affiliation, whereas in 1960 only 188,738 were in this category. The unaffiliated total in 2001 was twice the size of any of the largest individual church groups.

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Jamaica