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Many of China’s churches are overflowing, as the number of Christians in the country multiplies, reports Tim Gardam for the British Broadcasting Company.
“It is impossible to say how many Christians there are in China today, but noone denies the numbers are exploding,” he writes. “The government says 25 million, 18 million Protestants and six million Catholics. Independent estimates all agree this is a vast underestimate. A conservative figure is 60 million. There are already more Chinese at church on a Sunday than in the whole of Europe.”
Because the government officially ignores the vast majority of Christians who refuse to worship in state-controlled churches where children are banned and evangelism is prohibited, there is no official tally. In fact, such groups as the New York-based China Aid Association mention numbers between120 million and 150 million.
“The new converts can be found from peasants in the remote rural villages to the sophisticated young middle class in the booming cities,” notes Gardam. “On Easter morning, in downtown Beijing, I watched five services, each packed with over 1,500 worshippers. Sunday school was spilling on to the street. However, these numbers are dwarfed by the unofficial “house churches,” spreading across the country, at odds with the official church which fears the house churches’ fervor may provoke a backlash.”
An educated young Christian described her church to me: “We have 50 young professionals in this church. Everyone is so busy working, you don’t have time socialising, and even if you are socialising, you are putting on a fake face. But in church people feel warm, they feel welcome… they feel people really love them so they really want to join the community, a lot of people come for this.”
What must unsettle the authorities most is the reason why so many are turning to the churches.
Professor He Guanghu, at Renmin University in Beijing put it to me: “The worship of Mammon… has become many people’s life purpose. I think it is very natural that many other people will not be satisfied… will seek some meaning for their lives so that when Christianity falls into their lives, they will seize it very tightly.”