An official document leaked last week from Lu'an, Anhui described the Chinese government's organized plan to control and disband house churches in a "Development Zone" of Yuan District.
Persecution watchdog China Aid reports that the plan outlined four steps in order to manage the "batches" of house churches in the area.
First, officials were ordered to officially register churches before combining groups, placing smaller groups under temporary supervision, and banning groups who refuse to cooperate.
"The end goal of the plan is to fold underground churches into the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), or, if the group is too small to be a Three-Self church and there are none in the area, ensure that their activities are closely monitored by authorities," reads the report.
Many underground Christians remain suspicious of the TSPM establishment, as registered churches have legal restrictions that can severely limit evangelism.
In fact, once churches join the TSPM, they must accept government supervision and obtain approval from the religious departments before holding any activities. In addition, the TSPM explicitly bans its members from bringing their children up in the Christian faith, labeling the practice "brainwashing."
Explains a report from Shouwang Church translated by China Aid: "If a church joins an organization whose goal is to accomplish the tasks stipulated by the ruling party or secular state agencies, then the very foundation for the meaningful existence of the church will be shaken. The church's very foundations might very well become dislocated; that is to say, its position as a universal [Christian] church founded upon Jesus Christ would be turned into that of a nation-state."
China Aid notes there has been a 4.74 increase in persecution in 2016 compared to last year, making it one of the most "tyrannical years since the Cultural Revolution."
Since 2014, hundreds of Christian activists and human rights lawyers have been detained, and over 1,200 crosses demolished in a 'beautification campaign' launched by the government. In addition, church congregations are constantly under surveillance and often forced to close.
In September, government personnel informed the members of Emmanuel Church in China's central Henan province that they lacked the appropriate documents to meet legally and threatened to arrest anyone who continued to attend the church's services.
Zhao, the woman in charge of the church, told China Aid the local religious affairs bureau then issued a notice commanding the church to move out of its building and requiring its attendees to destroy any "illegal structures" within three days or face penalties.
"If we don't move," Zhao said, "they said they will throw away our materials, seats, and quite a lot of our other things."
Despite these ongoing threats, Zhao says that the church now meets daily, sometimes even gathering at night or going out into the wilderness to study the Bible and pray.
Another house church in China's southwestern Sichuan province recently experienced similar persecution at the hands of government officials: Last month, the congregation was ordered to immediately stop meeting at their building, cease singing hymns and adhere to a list of restrictions - or face severe legal action.
Zhang Mingxuan, a pastor and president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, at the time told China Aid that the persecution of this house church is symptomatic of a larger operation spreading throughout the country, as a number of other churches have faced harassment from the government due to their religious beliefs.