Reports have recently surfaced suggesting that Christianity in China is on the decline, but many advocates for persecuted Christians argue otherwise. While Pew Research’s data indicates a decrease in self-identified Christians from 2010 to 2018, the reality may be far different.
There are indications that Pew’s numbers may be inaccurate, possibly off by as much as 100 million. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has pushed the church underground, forcing believers to censor themselves in an increasingly hostile environment under President Xi Jinping.
It’s important to approach Pew’s report with caution since it relies on data from the Chinese government, known for its suppression of religious belief. Survey data is based on self-censorship, as Chinese Christians face persecution for their beliefs. Respondents have incentives to conceal their true identities, making the data unreliable.
Additionally, the geographical distribution of Christians in China is not evenly proportioned. If some highly Christian cities were excluded from the survey, it would significantly impact the data. The methodology used by the Chinese government to count Christians has changed over time, making it difficult to compare recent statistics with earlier numbers.
The CCP has intensified restrictions on the practice of Christianity in China, actively promoting atheism and viewing religion as a temporary phenomenon. Christian communities continue to thrive underground, despite government crackdowns on unregistered churches and foreign influence.
In such a hostile environment, it’s understandable that Chinese citizens would hesitate to share their honest thoughts and beliefs about religion. Only about one in five people are self-reporting, according to Global Christian Relief’s analysts and contacts in China.
Given these circumstances, it is safe to conclude that we do not have an accurate understanding of the true size and scope of the Christian community in China. While the growth of Christianity may be slowing, there is reason to remain hopeful for a thriving Christian presence in the country.