By Chad Dou and Mark Ellis
Within 15 years, China should become the country with the most Christians in the world, according to a study.
Fenggang Yang, of Purdue University, predicts that China will reach 224 million Christians by the year 2030, as quoted in the UK Financial Times.
“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon,” said Yang, an expert in sociology and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule, in the UK Telegraph. “It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change.”
The explosion of Christianity in China will upend the traditional Christian powerhouses of the world. In 2010, the U.S. had around 159 million Protestants, and many observers say congregations are in decline.
As part of a possible passing of the baton, China is now sending missionaries – especially to North Korea.
“The number of Christians is extremely underestimated (in China) intentionally because the increase of religion would reflect negatively on government officials.” said Yang.
Currently, there are about 100 million Christians in the world’s most populous nation, which eclipses the 86.7 million-strong membership of the ruling Communist party, according to the Financial Times.
Jin Hongxin, 40, is not interested in the political or missiological implications of Chinese growth. She’s just proud to attend the mega church Liushi in Wenzhou, the city many outside observers call China’s Jerusalem due to its flourishing Christian churches.
“It is a wonderful thing to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It gives us great confidence,” she said at an Easter service, as reported by the Telegraph. “If everyone in China believed in Jesus then we would have no more need for police stations. There would be no more bad people and therefore no more crime.”
China’s churches started experiencing astronomical growth after the conclusion of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. A successor to Chairman Mao, Deng Xiaoping, reformed politics, liberalized the economy, and opened China to foreign countries.
Then in 1985, a clause was included in the new constitution that promised freedom of belief to Chinese. But the “neutrality” of the party did not cover public meetings.
In that light, a printing company was set up in Nanjing, financed by charity, and has become the largest Bible publisher in the whole, according the Financial Times.
However, evangelistic campaigns in public are not permitted, and churches are subject to supervision from
government agencies. There have also been a number of churches demolished and prominent crosses removed in many cities across China.
In 2014, a government campaign was launched that demolished Protestant churches in Whenzhou. Before the demolition, the water, electricity, transportation and even phone coverage were cut off in the entire area by government officials, according to Financial Times.
Yang thinks some in the Communist party overestimated the political threat from the church. Christianity has brought positive changes to China, he said. “Christianity has been overestimated as a way too severe threat,” Yang said.
Others see China like the United States in the 1980s when materialism and a booming market economy brought prosperity and contributed to a sense of angst as people drifted from God.
So far, Christianity has brought a sense of belonging and hope to China. In a published Chinese report based on a survey of religious affairs, 69 percent of the Christians started believing because they or a family member suffered illness, according China’s Academy of Social Science.
Christianity – once thought of as a byproduct of colonial invasion and the “opiate of the masses” – is now gradually accepted by not only the uneducated and destitute ones but also by those who are more prosperous. According to Financial Times, a survey shows that half of the most affluent people in China publicly believe in religion, and 18% are followers of Jesus Christ.
The expansion of Christianity in China is foreseeable and inevitable, Yang said. Even during the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution during which churches were forced underground, Christianity grew yearly by 15 percent, according to statistical estimates.
“But immense influence is sure to be made — to China, and the whole world — no matter people are prepared or not,” Yang said.
Chad Dou is a student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.