The Spread of Christianity Through the Ages

A Snapshot of World Mission, From the book of Acts to 1800

The events are listed by centuries. You can look up a country or person by using the Find feature on your computer (CTRL-F). The numbers at the end of entries are years, sometimes approximate. To see 8 pages of detail, start here.

The Book of Acts includes contacts with Palestine, Syria, Greece, Italy, Ethiopia, and today’s Turkey, as well as the other countries listed in Acts 2.

Paul’s missionary journeys in Turkey and Greece took place round the years 46, 50, and 53-57. Paul is thought to have gone to Spain later.

Some Christians in India, called the Thomas Christians, believe they were started by Christ’s apostle Thomas around the year 52.

The church in Armenia believes it was started by the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus.

Christianity is spreading in Spain, Europe, and North Africa incl Egypt

Christianity has spread throughout the Roman Empire, despite persecution. Paris gets a bishop iin 250.

A missionary named Frumentius is sent to organize the believers in Ethiopia. In 301, Armenia is the first country to make Christianity its state religion. In 380, Christianity is proclaimed as the state religion of the Roman Empire\

Patrick goes to evangelize Ireland. 432.
The Roman Empire loses control of Europe, and because the invaders destroy the existing churches and oppress the Christians,  Europe will have to be evangelized over again.
The King of the Franks (Clovis) accepts Christianity. 486.

Christians from Ireland begin to re-evangelize England.
Pope Gregory I sends missionaries (including Boniface) to England. 596
The King of Spain accepts Christianity, 596

Alopen leads a group of Nestorian Christians to China. 635 (In Chinese, the church is called Jing Jiao, the pure teaching.)
Muslims capture most of the middle east, and the Christians there decrease year by year.

EIGHTH CENTURY The pope sends missionaries (including Boniface) to evangelize the Germans.
Charlemagne forces conquered tribes (such as the Saxons) to accept Christianity.

The emperor of China (Song dynasty) oppresses foreign religions (Christianity and Buddhism).
845 The Eastern Orthodox church sends two missionaries (Cyril and Methodius)  to the Slavic people; they devise an alphabet for them.  863

The King of Denmark accepts Christianity. 945
The King of Norway accepts Christianity 994
The ruler of the Russian people declares they will accept Christianity (eastern orthodox) 998

the King of Sweden accepts Christianity.


New orders of traveling monks (Dominicans 1216, Franciscans 1223, Augustinians 1256) preach throughout Europe, and after 1500 will evangelize in other countries.

A missionary from Italy (John of Montecorvino) comes to China (Yuan dynasty) 1294. The Nestorians are also allowed to worship openly again.

Six thousand Chinese are baptized by 1305 into the Catholic church (In Chinese, the Catholic Church is called Tian Zhu Jiao, Heavenly Lord Teaching). Later, China again prohibits Christianity (1368, early Ming Dynasty).

King of Kongo is baptized (1482) as Portuguese bring clergy with them when they set up trading stations in Africa.

The Spanish Conquerors of the southern Americas bring clergy with them and a number of native Americans become Catholic, starting from 1519, when Cortes conquers Mexico.

A Roman Catholic group, the Jesuits, is founded in 1540, and  they evangelize in the countries touched by European expansion, as do the Dominicans and Franciscans.

Jesuits enter India in 1542; a number of the existing Christian groups are brought under Catholic administration by 1599. Jesuits including Francis Xavier enter Japan around 1549.
Catholic missionaries (notably the Dominicans) arrive in the Philippines. 1565.
Portuguese establish a base at Macao (southern China), bringing clergy and building churches. (Macao is returned to China in 1999).
A Jesuit named Matteo Ricci enters China in 1583; he lives in Beijing from 1600 to 1610 (late Ming Dynasty).

Japan declares Christianity to be illegal in 1614 (it is legalized again after 1868).
Emigrants from England set up Protestant Christian churches in North America (Jamestown, Virginia, settled in 1607 favors the Church of England; Puritans establish the Congregational church in Massachusetts from 1620.
John Elliott, one of many who evangelize among the American Indians, begins his 50 years of work in 1631.

The emperor of China (Qing Dynasty) proclaims religious toleration in 1692 (how to pronounce Q in Chinese).

In 1698, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge was founded in Britian. It has distributed over 30 million books and provided the means for translating the Book of Common Prayer into more than 200 languages.  It sent the first printing presses to India, opened the first British schools for poor children, gave equal education to girls, sent the first printed books to Australia, established libraries for clergy and missionaries in many countries, and published the first Braille books. (website


The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts was esablished in England in 1701 and sent Anglican missionaries to British possessions overseas.

The Chinese emperor in 1706 forbad all groups except the Jesuits to work in China (because the pope had forbidden the Jesuit’s acceptance of ancestor worship).

Two German Pietist missionaries arrive in India in 1706, sent by the King of Denmark. (this is called the Danish-Halle mission). This begins Protestant mission work outside the European colonies. Moravians (another group of German Pietists) send missionaries to South America, Africa and Greenland starting from 1732, under leadership of Count von Zinzendorf, who also visits Pensylvania and native Iroquois in 1741.

William Carey, an English Baptist, advocated foreign mission work by English Protestants and took his family and two other missionary families to India in 1793.
Korean scholars send representatives to Beijing China to receive baptism. 1784.
The Jesuits were oppressed in most countries in 1773 (restored in 1814).

Nineteenth Century Missions. , Background,The period 1792 to 1914 is often called The Great Century , because in 1792 Baptist William Carey founds a mission society and goes to India, starting the massive involvement of European Protestants in mission, and then, 1914 was the beginning of World War I,  bringing mission work to a temporary halt.

Initials of the 19th Century Mission Groups:

These abbreviations are used in the chart following themThe symbol (L) means it is a Lutheran organization

ABCFM —  American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (1810, from the “haystack meeting” at Williams College, Massachusetts)

ABS — American Bible Society

AIM —  Africa Inland Mission (faith mission, est. 1895)

Basel mission Society (Switzerland, Reformed, est. 1815); by 1882 had trained oveer 1000 missionaries.

CIM  —  China Inland Mission (founded by Hudson Taylor in 1865)
Now called OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship)

CMS —  Church Missionary Society (founded 1799; Anglican-evangelical)

GMS — Gossner Mission Society (L) founded in Germany; sent missionaries to India in 1845 whose work resulted in 1919 in the Gossner Lutheran Church in India.

LCMS — The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod

LMS —  London Missionary Society (multi-denominational, founded 1795)

Rhenish (German, Lutheran, 1828)

SIM —  Sudan Interior Mission (faith mission, est. 1893)

SPCK  —  Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (Anglican, founded 1698)

SPG  —  Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (Anglican, 1701)

SVM —  Student Volunteer Movement “evangelize the world in this generation” (1888, John Mott)

TEAM — The Evangelical Alliance Mission”  (founded in U. S. in 1890)

Here are major developments arranged by continent.The abbreviations used are listed right after the chart.  Protestant work is in this type , Catholic work in italics,    

Europe Asia Africa Americas Other
1792 French republic, then Napoleon
1795 LMS founded
1797 Netherlands Mission Society
1799 CMS founded
1784 Koreans send to China for books about Christianity
1792 William Carey leaves for India
1787 Sierra Leone founded
1800.Mission training sem in Berlin (L)1804 British Bible society
1808 Britain ends slave trade
1814 Napoleon defeated
1814 Jesuits restored (1773),
Roman Catholic missions have new start
1815 Basel miss son formed
1821 Danish miss. soc.

1828 Swedish (L) miss to Lapps

1807 Morrison, a Protestant from England, arrives in Macau to learn Chinese, later translates the Bible into Chinese
1812 Judson to Burma
1814 India gets native Anglican bishop1828 Karl Gutzlaff (L) sent from Berlin
1818 Zulu empire
1822 Liberia founded
1806 Haystack meeting, leads to:
1810 ABCFM
1816 ABS founded1824 Finney revivals inspire many to become  missionaries
1830 revolts against established governments
1833 Britain ends slavery1840 Leipzig mission takes over Danish-Halle mission1844 YMCA1848 revolts against established governments
1839 Opium War (China)
1847 Lutherans to China1845 GMS sends missionaries to India
1843 Swedish (L) Hans Schrueder rites grammar book of Zulu 1845. US Gen synod (L) sends to Liberia, India1849 Wm Loehe (L) est. mission to German immigrants and founds Fort Wayne seminary . 1849 Neuendettelsau (L) sends to Australia & New Guinea
1854-6 Crimean War (against Russia)
1855 YWCA
1861 Italy independent
1868 Founding of White Fathers (later, White Sisters)
1870 French-German war
1870 Papal infallibility announced
1871 Germany unites
1853-62 Tai Ping rebellion in China1854 Japan/US treaty1856-60 2nd Opium War in China1859 Church of England to Japan (Williams)1865 Hudson Taylor starts CIM: first “Faith mission”
1868 Meiji emperor of Japan, Christianity legal in Japan
1864 Nommenson sent by Rhenish 
doc., becomes “apostle to the Batak”
`1853 Ludwig Harms (L) sends colonists to S. Africa 1856 Rufus Anderson writes about 3-self
1861 Women’s Union Missionary Society
1865 US ends slavery
1864 Breklum mission(L);sent missionaries to New Guinea.
1884 Colonial Conference1890 Brussels conf ends slave trade 1888 C&MA founded; mission-based church
1891 Hauge mission (norwegian lutherans in U.S.) to China and Japan

1892 Arcot Luth Ch founded in India from Danish messions.
1895 Japan beats China
1895 LCMS to India
1883 Finnish mission (L) bears fruit in S Africa1892 Bleckmar mission (L)
1893 SIM
1895 AIM
1888 SVM, John Mott
1890 TEAM founded
1893 Moody holds meetings that inspire many to missions
1894 Zwemer to Arabia
1910 World Missionary Conference 1900 Boxers
1912 LCMS to China (Arndt)
1908 Belgian Congo 1999 Maryknoll mission organization founded

Details about Slavery –

1808 – Britain makes slave trade illegal
1833 – slavery abolished in British Empire
1865 – U. S. Constitutional amendment against slavery.
1890 – Brussels conference: int’l agreement to abolish slave trade.

LCMS Mission Work during the “Great Century” (1792 to 1914)

  1. LCMS to India.  5 people working in India with a German mission society left it and became LCMS; LCMS had just formed a mission board in 1893; accepted them, brought them to USA for commissioning, then sent them back to India.  They worked with Tamil-speaking people in the South-east of India.  Two of them were named in the reference material: Karl Gustav Theodor Näther and Franz Edward Mohn.  Näther died in India of bubonic plague in 1904.  Mohn continued ‘til 1913, then became a pastor in S. Dakota, died in 1925.  The India Evangelical Lutheran church was organized in 1958.
  2. LCMS to China.  Missionary Arndt from Concordia St. Paul becomes first LCMS missionary to China.  Edward Louis Arndt was an ordained LCMS pastor, teaching biology at CSP.  Because he had a heart for reaching the people of China, he formed a mission society of local Twin Cities churches and individuals, and they sent him to China in 1912.  In 1917 the LCMS Mission Board took up sponsorship of his work.  (source: Lutheran Cyclopedia)

For more detail, see the chapters in this site’s church history part three


Europe Asia Africa Americas Other
1924: 9 (now 12) Luth denom form United Ev L Ch in India


Europe AsiaAmericas Africa Americas Other

Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions. (Middlesex England, Penguin Books: 1964 and later reprints.)

Rudnick, Milton L., Speaking the gospel through the Ages. (St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House: 1984.

Tucker, Ruth A., From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, a Biographical History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House: 1983). Includes one-to-three page vignettes of the life and work of individual missionaries.

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