Open Doors, a ministry for the persecuted Christians worldwide, has released an update on the growth of house church Christians and how the church is maturing despite regulations, restrictions and shortage of Biblical resources.
According to the Open Doors in Australia, the Open Doors Position Statement, "Truth About China" updated this month, said that the number of Christians in China are between 60-80 million, though the number is likely to be higher than lower.
Of this number, about 23 million worship in the two officially-recognized government church organizations -- the Three Self Patriotic Movement and the Catholic Patriotic Association, 18 for the TSPM and 5 for the CPA.
Open Doors feels that since the house church Christians are "unregistered" and therefore are not acknowledged by the government, the official churches cannot speak on behalf of them.
"Since members of the official churches are in a minority, government-appointed leaders of the TSPM and CPA cannot claim to speak on behalf of the entire Chinese Christian community," the statement said.
For some 30 years, Open Doors said that there has been significant progress regarding religious freedom in China, resulting in opportunities for western or overseas Christians to serve and witness in Chinese society. However, Open Doors noted that it was primarily within the official church.
In the rural areas, where 80 percent of the house church Christians reside, there is a shortage of Bibles and resources to equip the maturing church. Some reasons are due to the house church Christians unable to travel to the cities where Bibles and Christian literature are sold, and furthermore, their inability to afford the materials.
According to the Amity Press, over 46 million Bibles have been legally printed in China since 1988. The number the Chinese government has allowed the Amity Press to print has exceeded five million per year in 2004 and 2005 respectively, generally meeting the demands of the cities.
The Bibles are sold at a low price through the officially-sanctioned Protestant churches, where some house church Christians have been able to purchase the Bible, Open Doors said.
However, other house church Christians choose not to purchase the materials from the registered churches out of concern that they may be required to reveal information about their house church memberships.
"As a result, millions of Christians in China still do not have a personal Bible. Thus it is still important to take the Scriptures to them," Open Doors said.
Not only is there an insufficient amount of Bibles, but the churches are growing spiritually, Open Doors said, and are requesting more than just a text-version, but for the Bibles to contain study guides, concordances and cross-references, which the Amity Press has yet to produce for mass distribution.
Open Doors urged western or overseas Christian groups to help the Chinese church "mature in their faith and understanding of God's Word," by providing materials alongside the Amity Press' effort, adding that in such efforts to co-operate, thousands of Christian teachers have taught English and other subjects in China, while seminaries and churches have been rebuilt and orphanages and charities established.
"These opportunities are likely to increase in the future, and discerning groups should continue to take advantage of this open door as long as they acknowledge the risks and remain aware of the levels of corruption involved," Open Doors said. "It is not Open Doors' policy to criticize but to commend those involved in this work, so long as the price of involvement is not to be silent about persecution."
A majority of the "unregistered" Chinese Christians still refuse to register within the government-sanctioned churches since they have found that the government tends to restrict certain aspects of their worships and monitors their church activities.
Meanwhile, Open Doors found that there is more tolerance in certain parts of the country than in others. For instance, in some areas house church Christians are able to "sing at the top of their voices" and "build their own churches" and are left alone by the authorities, while in other areas house church leaders are arrested, beaten, jailed and their meetings raided.
"Based on this commitment to assist the whole Chinese church, which is at least three times larger than officials admit, we must continue to find ways to supplement help given to the official churches. For example, since legal Bible production does not meet the spiritual needs and demands of the majority of Chinese Christians, we must supply Bibles and other Bible-related study tools directly to the growing and maturing house-church millions."