The presence of Christianity in Africa began by the end of the first century in Egypt, and by the end of the second century in the region around Carthage. Important Africans who influenced the early development of Christianity includes Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Cyprian, Athanasius and Augustine of Hippo.
The later rise of Islam in North Africa reduced the size and numbers of Christian congregations, leaving only the Coptic Church in Egypt and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in the Horn of Africa. The latter professes its own distinctive customs, a unique canon of the Bible, and a distinctive architecture illustrated by the structures of Axum, Debre Damo and Lalibela. It is the one community of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa which is not the product of European missionary work, but can document its foundation prior to any European countries.
Christianity is embraced by the majority of the population in most Southern, Central and Eastern African nations and in some West African nations. In North Africa, Coptic Christians make a significant minority in Egypt. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Christianity is currently one of the Africa's most widespread religions, with a following of some 51.5% of the population.
At the beginning of the 3rd century the church began to expand rapidly, and five new bishoprics were established. These were suffragans of Alexandria, and at this time the Bishop of Alexandria began to be called Pope, as the senior bishop in Egypt. In the middle of the 3rd century the church in Egypt suffered severely in the persecution under the Emperor Decius. Many Christians fled from the towns into the desert. When the persecution died down, however, some remained in the desert as hermits to pray. This was the beginning of Christian monasticism, which over the following years spread from Africa to other parts of the Christian world.
The 4th century began with renewed persecution under the Emperor Diocletian. In the early 4th century, King Ezana declared Christianity the official religion of Ethiopian Kingdom of Aksum after having been converted by Frumentius, resulting in the foundation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
Some experts tell about the shift of Christianity's center of gravity from the Western industrialized nations to Africa, Asia and Latin America in modern time. Yale University historian Lamin Sanneh stated, that "African Christianity was not just an exotic, curious phenomenon in an obscure part of the world, but that African Christianity might be the shape of things to come. The statistics from the World Christian Encyclopedia (David Barrett) illustrates the emerging trend of dramatic Christian growth at the continent and supposes, that in 2025 there will be 633 millions of Christians in Africa.