The island of Ireland is politically divided between the Republic of Ireland, containing 26 counties, and Northern Ireland–part of the United Kingdom–containing 6 counties. The political division is rooted in hundreds of years of religious division. As of 2016, 6.6 million people live in Ireland. Around 4.9 million live in the Republic and 1.8 million live in Northern Ireland.
While Ireland has a reputation of being a very Christian place, this is not entirely rooted in past history or the current times. Ireland enjoyed the Gospel-focused ministry of Patrick in 4th century A.D. that transformed the dark Celtic Ireland. Around 400 hundred years later the Catholic Church moved in and radically changed Ireland away from the simplicity of the true Gospel. While Northern Ireland and much of Western Europe experienced periods of great revival and the Reformation, the Republic of Ireland never did. For almost 1,000 years Ireland has been engulfed in the works-based religion of Roman Catholicism.
Currently, less than 1% of the Irish in the Republic would claim to be evangelical Christians. This number has increased recently, largely because of the 12% of the population who have immigrated to the Republic of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is the least evangelized English-speaking country in the world. It is also the most Catholic English-speaking country of the world. Due to recent scandals of the Catholic Church, many in the younger generations are claiming Atheism and Agnosticism. According to these realities, it could be argued that the Irish are largely an unreached people group. As referenced in a previous article about the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland is in great need of the Gospel as well. While there are several great ministries already in Ireland, there is still a great need for more evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.
Here are some further facts to understand the need and potential:
- In the Republic, 78% claim Catholicism but 48% are non-practicing.
- In the Republic, “No religion” grew by 73% from 2011 to 2016.
- 45% of those in Northern Ireland would identify as Catholic. Few gospel-preaching churches can be found in the sectarian Catholic communities.
- According to Pew Research, only 24% of those in the Republic of Ireland say they “believe in God with absolute certainty”.
- Less than 1% of the Irish in the Republic would identify as evangelical Christian.
- In one generation God used Patrick to turn ancient Ireland upside down with the Gospel! In our generation, God-called people can still be used to change the world around them with Christ’s life changing message!
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Written by Josh Furan