Global South

Christianity in China — a few facts and some surprises

Stark Wang A few interesting and occasionally surprising facts from A Star in the East by Stark and Wang:

  • Christianity is growing everywhere in China. Christianity is growing just as fast in the cities as in the rural districts.
  • There is a prevalence of well-educated Chinese among urban Christians in China.
  • The more affluent rural Chinese are more likely to convert.
  • The middle-aged are more likely to convert than the young or elderly.
  • Most rural Chines were introduced to Christianity by their family, friends and neighbours. In one study 90% of people had their initial contact with Christianity through interpersonal ties.
  • Christians are significantly more likely than other Chinese to say they are “very happy”—44% compared to 34%.
  • A substantial number of Communist Party members are Christians.
  • We should expect the spread of Christianity among the Chinese to substantially improve their physical and mental health. Backed up by this study from Peking University.

Factors in the growth of Christianity in China

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My notes on some of the reasons for the growth of (Protestant = evangelical) Christianity in China given by  Stark and Wang :

Persecution was the single most important factor in the growth of Christianity in China since 1949. By expelling Western missionaries the Communists completed the transformation of Protestantism in China into an entirely Chinese movement.

Some Western Protestant missionaries had begun to lose faith not only in missions but in Christianity. Their expulsion protected the Chinese church from the debilitating influence of theological liberalism. Luke-warm liberalism cannot generate high levels of commitment.

Persecution results in a high level of member intensity. High levels of commitment are required for rapid growth. Committed people share their faith with others.

Most conversions occur through networks of interpersonal relationships. Conversion is not a very visible phenomenon. To deprive a faith of a public presence has little impact on its growth if members are engaged privately in converting their friends and family.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) most churches were destroyed or converted into other uses. Thousands of clergy were jailed or forced into re-education camps. The Catholics were vulnerable due to their hierarchical structure and dependence on ordained clergy and sacred buildings. Soon their was an acute shortage of priests. Without priests there were no Masses and no baptisms.

In contrast, Protestants had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of preachers, male and female. Any devoted believer can conduct a church gathering. Protestants are able to pray, read the Bible and worship in homes.

In 1950 the Catholics outnumbered Protestants by 3 to 1. Today Catholics are outnumbered by Protestants 10 to one and the ratio is increasing.

How many Christians are there in China? Estimates and Trends.

Christians in China 1980 2040 Stark Wang A Star in the East

Estimates of the number of Christians in China vary greatly. In A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China, Stark and Wang chose 1980 as the base year for their estimates. Christianity had just become legal and somewhat visible.

They estimated that in 1980 there were 10 million Christians in China.

Next they examined a 2001 study by the Research Centre for Contemporary China (Peking University) and a second survey conducted in 2007 by Horizon, China’s largest most respected polling firm.

They concluded that in 2007 there were 60 million Christians in China.

If their estimates are correct, from 1980 to 2007 Christianity in China grew from 10 million to 60 million at a rate of 7% per year.

If that rate of growth continues for just the next ten years, there will be more Christians in China than any other nation on earth. If a 7% annual growth rate continues, by 2040 there will be almost 600 million Christians in China.

China — the first post-religious society or the nation with the most Christians on earth?

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A few notes from A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China ….

In the 1940s Western academics like Harvard’s John K Fairbank, were proclaiming it had “become evident that few Chinese people are likely to become Christians and that the missionaries’ long-continued effort, if measured in numbers of converts, had failed.”

In 1949 the Chinese Communists came to power and within a few years had expelled all Western missionaries. China was to become the model of a fully secularized post-religious society.

By the best estimates, in 1949, there were around 1 million Chinese Protestants and 3.2 million Catholics. From the beginning the Communist Party opposed all forms of religious faith, although the fiercest and deadliest persecution awaited the Cultural Revolution of 1966.

The death of Mao in 1976 led to a relaxation of persecution, and by 1979 one million Protestants had become 5 million and 3.2 million Catholics had become 5 million, mostly due to fertility.

By 2007 there were as many Christians in China as members of the Communist Party. Today Christians greatly outnumber party members, although increasingly there is an overlap between the two affiliations. [Yes, there are now many members of the Communist Party who are Christians.]

If this rate of increase continues for just ten more years, there will be more Christians in China than any other nation in the world.

It appears that faith in a coming post religious China has been revealed as the opium of Western intellectuals. The foolishness of God has shamed the wise. The weakness of God has overpowered the strong.

Rodney Stark on the rise of Christianity in China UPDATED

I read everything Stark writes on movements. I haven’t been disappointed yet.

"A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China" (Rodney Stark, Xiuhua Wang)

UPDATE: The publisher has provided a sample of the book.

Zero dollar church planting

IMG_2743.JPG I'm still coming terms with the reality that Nigeria has a current population of 170 million people. High fertility rates mean there will be 300 million Nigerians within the next 25 years.

Sub-saharan Africa is in the midst of a population explosion that will continue for at least the next fifty years. Even tiny Liberia, has doubled its population since 1995 despite two horrific civil wars, the last of which finished in 2003. Everywhere you go there are children and young people.

Do we really think that our current methods and funding strategies can stretch far enough, and move quickly enough to reach Africa's millions?

Jesus sent his disciples out, two by two, with empty wallets. The resources are in the harvest.

Zero dollar church planting

IMG_2743.JPG I'm still coming terms with the reality that Nigeria has a current population of 170 million people. High fertility rates mean there will be 300 million Nigerians within the next 25 years.

Sub-saharan Africa is in the midst of a population explosion that will continue for at least the next fifty years. Even tiny Liberia, has doubled its population since 1995 despite two horrific civil wars, the last of which finished in 2003. Everywhere you go there are children and young people.

Do we really think that our current methods and funding strategies can stretch far enough, and move quickly enough to reach Africa's millions?

Jesus sent his disciples out, two by two, with empty wallets. The resources are in the harvest.