Chinese Theological Review 14

Statistics for the Protestant Church in China: 1999

The Christian Church is flourishing in China, witnessing to the presence and grace of God for the Chinese people. International journals and newsletters have published widely divergent figures for the numbers of both Protestant and Catholic Christians. "China ministries" overseas have claimed especially high figures, some as high as 100 million for Protestant believers alone. Estimating the actual numbers of Christians and churches in China is a difficult endeavor. With this in mind, a statistics page will become a regular feature of the Chinese Theological Review. Our figures are based on those of the China Christian Council and other church sources.

In 1949, when the People's Republic of China was established, there were less than one million Protestants in the entire country. Today, the rapid increase in believers has led pundits to use the term "Christianity fever". The provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu provide cases in point.

The population of Zhejiang is 2.8% Christian, probably the highest percentage on the mainland. Its Christian population doubled in the last ten years, from 600,000 in 1988 to 1.3 million today. Nine percent of the population of the city of Wenzhou and 12% of Dongtou County is Christian. If all of China had the same percentage of Christians as Zhejiang, there would be 33 million Protestant Christians in China.

In Jiangsu, the number of Protestant Christians increased sevenfold In the decade between 1985 and 1995, from 125,000 in 1985 to 400,000 in 1989, to 900,000 in 1995. Today, there are one million believers in the province.

Yet growth is by no means uniform throughout the country. In spite of rapid growth in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and other provinces such as Anhui and Henan, there has been less or no growth in other areas, such as the far west.

Statistics about the church in China should be used with care. Given the combination of rapid growth and a shortage of clergy, definitions may be difficult to pin down. As the Amity News Service notes: "It is difficult to define who should be counted as a Christian, as, due to a severe lack of ordained ministers, large numbers of long-term believers are not baptized. Our figures include both baptized Christians and what in China are called 'seekers', people who have been attending church regularly for some time and who aspire to be baptized as soon as there is an opportunity. ... Similarly, there are many groups who use the name Christian but have limited understanding of the Christian faith, such as those who have only heard that prayer in the name of Jesus heals the sick. Should they be counted as Christians, or should one wait until they have a better knowledge of what Christian faith entails?"

Statistics for the Protestant Church in China: 1999




Meeting points

13 million

Protestant Christians (not including those not yet registered.)


New baptisms per year


Seminary graduates

1,000 plus

Seminary or Bible college students


Pastors (300 women)


County-level lay training programs


I Provincial level lay training programs

Notes on the statistics

A meeting point is an informal congregation of believers without a regular pastor. Often, local church pastors visit regularly to preach and administer the sacraments. Some meeting points are larger than many churches. The figures here indicate that since churches started reopening the late 1970s, six churches or meeting points have opened each day.

Lay training programs are crucial for a church with a pronounced shortage of clergy. In 1999, there were 120,000 participants in the 1000 county-level programs and 20,000 participants at the provincial level.

The church in China rejoices and thanks God for the growth it has been blessed with. Yet the majority of Protestant Christians live in the Chinese countryside where education standards tend to be low. Thus the church itself been less concerned with numbers and more with building up the body of Christ in China so that the church may be well run and assist believers in attaining a more mature faith. Concerns for raising the "level" of believers, for more and better training for clergy and lay leaders, and for more effective church structures, are reflected in many of the essays in the Review.

1 Figures from Amity News Service website.

2 Ibid.