// World Watch List

About the World Watch List

The World Watch List is Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians experience the most extreme persecution. Published every January, it is a unique, in-depth record of the places where faith in Jesus costs the most, helping to demonstrate the enormous scale of the persecution being faced by Christians around the world.

Measuring the scale and severity of persecution is a complex task. It is not always clear if and to what extent pressure felt by Christians, or even violence against them, is directly related to them being Christian. Sometimes, just living in a chaotic world creates substantial amounts of suffering for Christians and others alike.

The World Watch List 2019 figures are from the reporting period 1 November 2017 - 31 October 2018. Research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF).

This global survey is based on a comprehensive scoring system that measures the degree of freedom Christians have to live out their faith in five spheres of life - private, family, community, national and church life - plus a sixth sphere measuring levels of violence.

The methodology provides 'persecution points' for each sphere. As a result of the World Watch List process, each country gets a specific final score and is ranked accordingly.

What is Christian persecution?

Open Doors understands persecution as 'any hostility experienced as a result of one's identification with Christ’.

Hostility, of course, takes many forms, from insults and abuse, to discrimination in education and the workplace, to outright violence. Open Doors researchers characterise the different types as ‘smash’ and ‘squeeze’. When it comes to killing off people’s faith, we might say it’s the difference between being beaten to death and being suffocated.

Christians are ‘smashed’ through violence or aggression – rapes, kidnappings, forcible evictions, killings and church burnings. This kind of persecution is most visible to the outside world.

But the majority of persecuted Christians are being ’squeezed’ to death. They live in societies where everything is against them – the law, the government, the media, even their own families.

Measuring persecution

The World Watch List measures the degree of freedom Christians have in five key areas of life – private, family, community, national and church life. These are then added to the amount of violence they experience to provide a final score.

Private life. How free is a Christian to simply ‘believe’? Is conversion to Christianity allowed? Can they worship privately and possess religious materials? Do they have freedom of conscience and thought?

Family life. How free are Christians to express their faith within their family? Will they be thrown out? Is it possible to live as a Christian family, to celebrate Christian marriages and funerals?

Community life. Can Christians live without harassment and discrimination in their local communities? How does their faith affect their education or employment? Will they be driven out of their village?

National life. Are national institutions – such as the government, legal system and media – opposed to Christianity? Is it illegal for Christians to express their faith? Can they call themselves Christian on their ID or passport? Will the police or security forces come calling?

Church life. Are Christians allowed to meet? Can they build churches? And if they can, are they heavily monitored? Can Christian leaders be trained? Are Bibles freely available?

Violence. Are Christians attacked mentally or physically? Are they arrested, abducted, tortured, imprisoned, or even killed? Do they face sexual harassment?


Why are Christians persecuted, though? What is it that drives persecution? Open Doors has identified eight main 'engines' of persecution that describe why Christians are persecuted in a particular area or setting.

  • Islamic extremism - attempts to bring the country or the world under the 'House of Islam' through violent or non-violent actions
  • Religious nationalism - attempts to conquer the nation for one's religion. Mainly Hinduism and Buddhism, but also Orthodox Judaism or other religions
  • Ethnic antagonism - attempts 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
  • Denominational protectionism - attempts 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
  • Communist and post-Communist oppression - attempts to maintain Communism as a prescriptive ideology and/or controls the church through a system of registration and oversight that has come from Communism
  • Secular intolerance - attempts to eradicate religion from the public and private domain, and imposes an atheistic form of secularism as a new governing ideology
  • Organised corruption and crime - attempts to create a climate of impunity, anarchy and corruption as a means for self-enrichment
  • Dictatorial paranoia - does anything to maintain power; not specifically focused on realising a vision.