World Christian Research (WCR) began in 1990 as the Global Evangelization Movement (GEM), founded by researchers David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization to support research on global Christianity. WCR receives grants from foundations, gifts from churches and individuals, and other income from the sale of publications and contributions to other publications.

The origins of WCR lie in the work of the Rev. Dr. David B. Barrett, an Anglican missionary who arrived in Kenya in 1957 to conduct a field survey of church affiliations in that country. Barrett’s work expanded to encompass religious affiliation of all kinds, throughout Africa and eventually worldwide. In the process, he established the World Evangelization Research Center (WERC) in Nairobi in 1965.

One product of Barrett’s research was the World Christian Encyclopedia (WCE), the first edition of which was over ten years in the making. Published in 1982 and containing information on some 22,000 Christian denominations worldwide, the WCE was hailed as a vital resource.

At the invitation of the Southern Baptist Foreign (now International) Mission Board, Barrett and WERC moved to Richmond, Virginia, in 1985. Led by their desire to raise additional funds for research, Barrett and Johnson established the Global Evangelization Movement, of which WERC became a part.  Following the publication of the second edition of the WCE and its companion volume World Christian Trends (WCT) in 2001, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary expressed interest in hosting the research center.

Dr. Johnson moved to the Gordon-Conwell campus in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, in 2003 as director of the newly formed Center for the Study of Global Christianity. This same period saw the launch of the World Christian Database (WCD), an online collection of the data from the WCE and WCT. Information in the WCD is updated on an ongoing basis, and updates are published four times per year.

To complement the WCD, the CSGC subsequently launched the World Religion Database in partnership with Boston University. More recently, the Center published the Atlas of Global Christianity, which documents the shift of Christianity from the North to the South over the 20th century, and has been greeted with enthusiasm by scholars and Christian leaders from around the world.

In 2015, the board changed the name of the nonprofit to World Christian Research, which more broadly describes the nature of the research it supports. World Christian Research continues to serve as a source of funds to support researchers and projects at the Center, including the upcoming third edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia (Edinburgh University Press).