In 1950, when missionaries withdrew from China, there were an estimated 920,000 believers in China. In an attempt to eliminate Christianity, the government engineered the infiltration, subversion and control of all organized Christianity. By 1958 this had been achieved through the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). During the Cultural Revolution even the TSPM was banned and all religious activity was forced underground, giving rise to the house church movement.
Today, the conservative estimate is 80 million believers. The Registered Church in China claims at various times between 12 and 20 million believers in the churches. House church networks claim membership between eight to 20 million believers per network. The overall total is probably 45 million believers within the house church networks.
These house church network leaders are challenging their people to go as missionaries, and have stated that it is their desire and intention to send at least 100,000 church planting missionaries in the next ten years both domestically and internationally. In September 2000, simultaneous raids in three separate sections of China were conducted to arrest key house church leaders. The house church asks for our prayer in the midst of this persecution. They ask us to pray for patience, endurance and faithfulness, but they also ask that we “not pray persecution be removed as it is God’s tool to keep us faithful for witness on a broader scale.”
The communist government continues to oppose the rapid growth of Christianity in China. By controlling the number of church buildings, limiting the number of seminary students and persecuting the unregistered house churches, they try to control the growth of the church. Yet the church continues to grow at the amazing pace of doubling every few years. In the last couple of months, the government has increased the persecution, suppression and arrests of house church participants, declaring that they are dangerous enemies of the State. The government opposition forces the house churches to not institutionalize, but use homes for meeting places and they rely on non-professional house church leaders thus removing frequent obstacles to rapid expansion.
While many textbooks name Buddhism as the main religion of China, most Chinese people are atheists. From a young age, children are taught by the government that there is no god. Self-sufficiency is promoted to fill the void, and people are encouraged to work for the common good of the general populace.
In addition to atheism, which is most prevalent, many other religions are practiced in China. The government has established approved Buddhist temples, as well as government-run Christian and Catholic churches throughout the country, but most do not allow freedom of worship. Whole portions of key doctrine are banned in most of these churches. Most people who follow religions which are not approved by the atheistic government keep a low profile to avoid negative attention from authorities.
Of China’s population of 1.4 billion: 42.2% are non religious (532,568,095), 28.5% adhere to Chinese folk religion (359,617,996), 8.4% profess Buddhism (105,828,542), 8.1% are Atheists (102,237,969), 7.1% are Christians (89,055,551), 4.3% are Muslims (54,275,000), 1.5% are Taoists (19,168,976), -0.1% are doubly counted religionists (-803,194).
The challenge to reach the Chinese with the gospel of Jesus Christ is great and will require sacrificial and committed prayers from the body of Christ. Satan has China in his grip, and he wants us to believe it, too. We will naively believe that as long as we see winning China for Christ as impossible. But China’s millions are individuals who go about their lives just like us. And just like us, they look more like Jesus as they are reached for Him. China needs you to pray for the unreached, give to support your workers in the fields of harvest and go tell the Chinese about Jesus.