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  • Writer's picture Peter Kupisz

Impact of Christian Missionaries on Cultures

Do Christian missionaries have an overall positive effect on the countries they serve in or a negative effect? Critics of Christianity have often attacked missionary efforts as imperialistic and harmful. However, the extensive research of Dr. Woodberry reveals that Protestant missionaries have, overall, had a positive effect on the countries they served in. His conclusion, after many years of research, can be summarized as follows.

Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.

Other scholars have also examined Woodberry’s work and agree with his conclusion. “I think it’s the best work out there on religion and economic development,” says Robin Grier, professor of economics and international and area studies at the University of Oklahoma. “It’s incredibly sophisticated and well-grounded. I haven’t seen anything quite like it.”

At the same time, Woodberry also acknowledges that some missionaries have been failures.

We don’t have to deny that there were and are racist missionaries. We don’t have to deny there were and are missionaries who do self-centered things. But if that were the average effect, we would expect the places where missionaries had influence to be worse than places where missionaries weren’t allowed or were restricted in action. We find exactly the opposite on all kinds of outcomes. Even in places where few people converted, [missionaries] had a profound economic and political impact.

Does all this mean that Christianity is true? No, but it does mean that those who attack the religion as particularly pernicious, are not taking a balanced view.

Learn More

Video (below): Prof Bob Woodberry - Religion & the Roots of Liberal Democracy


Andrea Palpant Dilley, “The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries,”, January 8, 2014,



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