Since Marco Polo returned from China 700 years ago, the question of how many followers of Jesus Christ are in the world’s most populous nation has fascinated many mission researchers and believers around the world.
In recent years, there’s been heated debate and widely varying estimates of the size of the Body of Christ in China. Now, after more than a decade of research, there is a comprehensive study conducted into the number of Christians in all 2,371 cities and counties, within all 33 provinces and regions of China, reports asiaharvest.org.
“It’s generally agreed that there were 750,000 Protestant believers in the country in 1949, and so even if there are just 30 million now it would represent a 40-fold increase in the nearly six decades of Communist rule,” asserts asiaharvest.org. “This is extraordinary and should be the cause of much rejoicing and thanks to God. There are very few countries on earth that could claim a similar explosion of faith over a similar length of time.”
As for more specific numbers, at one end, some Bible organizations claim that there are as many as 200 million Christians in China already, in the face of a 1.34 billion population estimate.
At the other end, the Chinese Communist Party most recently reported 18 million as the number of baptized Christians in China's Three Self (Protestant) churches in 2004, reports billionbibles.org.
To conservatively estimate how many Christians are in China today, we begin with the 18 million figure.
Since 2004 -- nine years – applying a conservative annual growth rate of 5 percent brings the 18 million figure to 28 million baptized Christians. This 28 million figure excludes the Christian children of the baptized Christians because the Chinese Communist Party forbids baptism until 18 years of age. Using a conservative ratio of one Christian child under 18 years of age for every five baptized adults takes the current number to 34 million, which was arrived at by taking 28 million figure and adding 20 percent, reports billionbibles.org.
The real story, says Christianity Today, is not that China’s Christians are being singled out for repression, but rather how their creativity and resilience enable them to thrive amidst such opposition. Most do not view themselves as passive victims of persecution. They instead see the church as poised to bring renewal to their society.
Some, as documented in the China Aid report, are taking significant risks and paying a personal price to bring this about as their faith compels them to enter the public arena. For most, however, it means persistently living out their faith day by day in a manner that touches the lives of those around them.
China ranks 37th on the 2013 Open Doors World Watch List, an index that ranks 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. This indicates that China is still one of the countries where Christians are oppressed because of their faith. However, less than 10 years ago China was in the top 10. Last year China ranked 21st. China was 13th in 2010, reports Christianity Today.