Pew: Christian Population in China Stops Growing

A choir performed during Jiangsu Road Church's 115th anniversary sacred music worship event in Qingdao City, Shandong Province, on December 10, 2023.
A choir performed during Jiangsu Road Church's 115th anniversary sacred music worship event in Qingdao City, Shandong Province, on December 10, 2023. (photo: Qingdao Municipal CC&TSPM)
By Karen LuoDecember 20th, 2023

The Christian population in China appears to have stopped growing after rising rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s, said Pew.

Conrad Hackett, senior demographer and associate director of research at Pew Research Center, wrote on December 12 that China’s Christian population is plateauing, according to the survey data from the Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS).

In his analysis article titled “China’s Christian Population Appears to Have Stopped Growing After Rising Rapidly in the 1980s and ’90s,” Hackett recalls that Christianity and other religions saw revival in the 1980s and 1990s after the Cultural Revolution, but the current size of China’s Christian population “appears to have leveled off.”

There was an increase of around 22% in the Christian population from six million in 1982 to 14 million in 1997, including a reported growth in the number of believers who gathered in “underground” or house churches, but “between 2010 and 2018, the share of Chinese adults who formally identify with Christianity remained stable at about 2%.”

Pew released earlier research titled “Measuring Religion in China” on August 30, concluding from a range of data that “there is no evidence that Christianity in China is growing after 2010.”

Hackett explained in his analysis article that policies may have been a factor in the stability, which “may have prevented some Chinese people from becoming or remaining Christians,” particularly an official ban on minors receiving religious education and attending religious activities. What’s more, “The CGSS indicates that Christians are concentrated among older adults and relatively scarce among young Chinese.”

Another reason why Christians in China may hide their Christian identity is “the government’s recent program of absorbing previously unregistered churches into the official system.”

He also mentioned that all survey-based estimates of the Christian count in the country could be “conservative” due to a possible reason for house church believers to conceal their identity.

CGSS shows that the percentage of Chinese adults who identify Christianity as their faith remained around 2% between 2010 and 2018. Approximately 90% of Chinese Christians are Protestants.

While some scholars raise the possibility that the COVID-19 pandemic might contribute to the rise of religion in China, the latest CGSS date conducted in 2021 doesn’t hint at a revival of Christianity, as only one percent of the respondents formally identified themselves as Christians.

Hackett also admits that other estimates for the Christian population vary widely: from 23 million Protestants in 2010 to between 23 million and 40 million next year based on the statistics provided by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS); 38 million in 2018 according to the national’s white paper; 98 million in 2020 by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity; and 126 million in 2020 by Asia Harvest.

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