China to become most Christian country within a generation
China may soon be home to the world's largest Christian population, despite strict regulations on religious freedom.
The communist nation is often cited as having the fastest growing Church. Estimates vary, but there are thought to be between 50 and 100 million Chinese believers, with up to 10,000 people coming to faith across the country every single day.
Officially an atheist state, the right to freedom of religious belief is guaranteed under Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution but protections are limited to those who worship within state-sanctioned bodies.
Chinese Christians often suffer at the hands of government authorities, and the Asian superpower is ranked the 37th worst country in the world for Christian persecution by the World Watch List. A communist official recently condemned the rapid growth of Christianity as "excessive" amidst accusations of increased persecution.
Despite this, however, The Telegraph is reporting that experts believe the number of Chinese Christians will continue to increase exponentially in the coming years.
Professor Fenggang Yang of Purdue University, and author of 'Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule', estimates that there will be 247 million Christians living in China by 2030 which will be higher even than the US, which currently holds the title of largest Christian population.
"By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon," he told The Telegraph.
"It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change."
When the Communist Party came to power in 1949, there were just one million Chinese Christians and Chairman Mao Tse-Tung stated his determination to stamp out any kind of religion. He is said to have told the Dalai Lama: "Religion is poison."
During the Cultural Revolution of 1967 to 1976, many religious leaders were imprisoned or sent to labour camps, while places of worship were routinely destroyed. In the years following Mao's death, however, greater tolerance was offered.
"Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this," Professor Yang notes.
"It's ironic – they didn't. They actually failed completely."
A recent study shows that Jesus and Christianity are more popular on Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, than Mao or even Communism.
The significance of these statistics is huge.
"The remarkable growth in global Christianity - particularly in Asia and Africa - should give us reason to be optimistic," writes Joe Carter for the Gospel Coalition.
"The Holy Spirit is changing hearts and minds around the globe in a way that has not been seen since the first century after Christ's Ascension. For this we should be eternally grateful."
Carter goes on to warn that the American Church is in decline, but notes that the country "is not the last bastion of hope for the faith".
"Those of us in the West should continue to support our Chinese brothers and sisters with finances, missionaries, theological resources, and - most importantly – prayer," he says.
"In the latter half of this century, assuming the Lord tarries, we may need them to do the same for the American church."