China, officially an atheist country, is on the fast track to being home to the world’s largest Christian congregation—surpassing the US, Mexico and Brazil—with its total Christian population expected to exceed 247 million within the next 15 years, according to a recent Telegraph report.
“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule, told theTelegraph.
“It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.”
Already, China’s Protestant community has climbed dramatically in terms of numbers: In 2010, there were over 58 million Protestants in China as compared to 40 million in Brazil, according to a Pew research forum cited in the report. Yang says that number will grow to around 160 million by 2025—ahead of the US’s 159 million Protestant population in 2010.
China’s total Christian population, Catholics included, will swell to around 247 million by 2030, Yang predicted.
“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this,” Yang told the Telegraph. “It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”
Another Pew report estimated that in 2010, there were 23 million members of the government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement–China’s officially sanctioned and government-controlled Protestant church for those who accept Communist Party oversight as long as they are able to worship. The same study estimated that an additional 35 million Christians in China were affiliated with unregistered churches in 2010.
Unregistered churches have led to long-standing friction between the Christian congregation and local governments. One such case is the Sanjiang church in Wenzhou, a city in Zheijiang province that’s home to China’s largest Christian community.
Earlier this month, local residents and religious leaders camped outside of the church for days when Communist Party officials threatened to demolish the place of worship. Residents said that they believed the provincial Communist Party security took issue with the large crosses on the church that were visible across the city. At least six of them had been recently removed.
The Telegraph refers to a church in the town of Liushi in Zhejiang province, where a close circuit television camera hangs from the ceiling in front of the lectern.
“They want the pastor to preach in a Communist way. They want to train people to practice in a Communist way,” the house-church preacher said.
“They do not trust the church, but they have to tolerate or accept it because the growth is there,” said the church leader. “The number of Christians is growing – they cannot fight it. They do not want the 70 million Christians to be their enemy.”
Previously on Shanghaiist:
China home to the world’s largest Christian population?
US televangelist Pat Robertson prophesies: China will be the largest Christian nation on earth
‘Godless’ China to be world’s biggest supplier of Bibles?