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Number of Christians in China and India

Author: Lausanne Global Analysis
Date: 08.07.2011
Location: Beijing | China
Category: Religious Liberty, World Faiths

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Originally Posted in English

It is exceptionally difficult to estimate the numbers of Christians in the world’s two most populous countries, China and India. Both China and India are among the countries with the most total Christians, as these minority populations number in the tens of millions.[1] Additionally, the Christian communities in these two countries have seen significant growth throughout the last century.[2] China is a difficult case due to the Communist government’s nervousness about religion and the unorganized nature of the house church movement. In India, however, it is a combination of Hindutva (a political movement with the goal of designating India as a “Hindu” country), the Dalit movement, and vast numbers of house churches that make it difficult to accept the census as authoritative.


Almost everyone agrees that Christianity in China has experienced remarkable growth over the course of the past century. Pinpointing a reliable number for Christians in China, however, has been extremely difficult for scholars and church leaders alike. The combination of governmental secrecy, a huge general population, and rumors of large numbers of conversions has made this task particularly hard. Other difficulties include the structure of house church networks and the confusing and complicated issue of how to handle and enumerate believing children. Our analysis will provide an overview of a few select studies to arrive at a methodological consensus, while reaching an agreement about figures.

Though each of the studies outlined here arrives at different conclusions for the number of Christians in China, there are some “ground rules” acknowledged by all that are helpful to mention first. Foundational is the discrepancy between official government figures for churches belonging to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM; Protestant; self-supporting, self-governing, self-propagating), the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA; does not accept the authority of the pope and appoints its own clergy), and unregistered “house churches.” Uniformly, scholars deem official government figures as understated. It is generally understood that China’s Christian gains are largely through conversion[3] and occur in both the government-sponsored churches and unofficial house churches, though arguably more so in the latter. The double counting of believers who attend both the TSPM and house church meetings is a growing issue as well. Related to this is a “third expression” of Christians in China: urban, professional congregations that are part of neither the TSPM nor house church networks. What remains a primary concern for Evangelicals, however, is the lack of Christian representation among ethnic minorities in western China.[4]

Map: Christians in China by Province

Paul Hattaway (Asia Harvest)

Paul Hattaway’s article “How Many Christians are there in China?” details many of the oft-quoted figures for Christians in China with his commentary on each. Underlying the entire issue is what exactly defines an individual as “Christian.” Hattaway provides the following helpful definition: “anyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ and calls upon him alone for salvation, regardless of their age or their church affiliation.”[5] The last phrase is of particular importance. Many studies do not count children (anyone under 18 or under 16) in their totals for Christian populations, nor do all existing estimates consider all Christian organizations in China. Therefore, Hattaway’s figures include both children of believing parents and everybody in the TSPM and the CPA. He claims that the figures for the TSPM (18 million) and CPA numbers (12 million) from 2003 and 2005, respectively, are purposely deflated by the Chinese government.

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Keywords: Global Analysis, Number of Christians, Research, China, India

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Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down Jswatz (0)
United States

Growing up here in the states I was lead to believe that China was a godless communist country and India was lost to Hinduism.  I simply thought they were hopeless and no amount of prayer or missions work on my part could make a difference.  I was lead to believe that there were not many missionaries there and the ones who were there experienced little to no success.  This article betrays all of that and reveals the truth of the matter.  God is at work in these places and no amount of persecution will dissuade them from finding the truth of the gospel.  These people are hungry for the message of Jesus, and these lands were never hopeless.  Instead, so many Christians have failed to live up to the call of God.  I know this information changes the ball game for me!

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down gioaoj (2)
United States

Until relatively recently the notion of large Christian populations in China and India was a non sequitur of sorts.  In fact, a strong assumption tended to present itself which asserts the idea of India as a homogenous Hindu nation and China as a “religious-less” communist country.  The research presented here helps to dispel these rumors and to encourage fellow believers to continue to pray and serve the causes of Christ.  In a sad ironic twist, it appears that the church tends to grow in the fires of persecution; truly, nothing can stop the movement of the Spirit. Though I am happy to hear about the growing numbers, my heart remains heavy in the face of such persecution and lack of religious liberty.  There is still much work to be done, but every positive step is wonderful. Finally, I believe that these numbers are just scratching the surface as many more believers remain under the radar of research and away from the spotlight of persecution. My prayers remain with the ongoing work for Christ in these countries.

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down brother_edward (1)
United States

When i read an article like this what comes to my mind is that our work is never in vain, when in The Lord. It is a miracle how the church grows under such persecution. Amazing.


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