During one of China's highest level conferences on the study of Christianity, a Chinese professor has claimed that the number of Chinese Christians is estimated to be around 39.7 million, something that astonished the Chinese Christian community.
At the 2018 Conference on the Study of Christianity held in Beijing on Oct. 20-21, during the fourth symposium on cross-cultural and current studies in Christianity, two pastors shared their views.
Rev. Gao Ming, chairman of the Shandong TSPM, claimed that, based on statistics about the church in Shandong, the often reported number of Chinese Christians was higher than the real figure. He added that Christians who attended registered churches in Shandong numbered roughly 1.42 million, accounting for 1.42% of the total provincial population.
He said, "In terms of Christianity in Shandong, I obviously feel that in our increasingly materialistic and secularized social environment, the number of Christians is on the decline rather than on the rise. This is at least the case with the three-self church in Shandong which is showing a trend for slow growth."
The pastor said that the number for local Christians was unreliable partly because of the shrinking rural population stemmed from urbanization. Other causes were the failure to remove from the membership list the deceased and those baptized Christians who had abandoned their faith and as well as the repeated calculation of rural believers who had migrated to cities.
An important reason that Chinese Christians inflated the number of believers was out of social discrimination. In Chinese society, Christians were a marginalized group that was discriminated due to misunderstanding. Some exaggerated the number to overstate the impact of Christianity or to enhance their self-confidence and sense of presence.
Urbanization and the effects of secularization such as the increased use of smartphones and entertainment also resulted in a smaller number. The decline was also related to low salaries and poor treatment of rural preachers.
Rev. Yang Yongchun, vice-chairman of the Guangzhou TSPM, claimed that according to Guangzhou Annals of Religion there were only 7000 Christians in Guangzhou before the local church was reopened in 1978, while around 40,000 members were registered in Guangzhou by early 2018 with an annual growth of over 2,000.
The increase was caused mainly from immigration, the inability to adjust to changes in society, and economic affluence. Now, however, the growth has slowed down and even become negative because these three factors are no longer present.
In addition, Duan Qi, researcher at the Institute of World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, shared the survey result conducted by the Korean Chinese churches in 2018.
One third or one fourth of the 1.9 million Korean Chinese moved to South Korea for jobs. A portion of them converted to Christianity after being helped by the local church there and some who worked there established their own churches.
Another percentage of Korean Christians migrated to southern or eastern China in search of jobs. As a result, the church in northeastern China naturally declined in number. Korean Christians who worked in the south founded churches in different places.
- Translated by Karen Luo