Until just 30 years ago, religion was banned in China, and today atheism remains the country's official religion. But growing numbers of Chinese are embracing Christianity, a phenomenon that could soon give the country the largest Christian population on the planet.

It's unclear exactly how many Christians there are in China, but NPR reported recently that some surveys suggest there are as many as 100 million Chinese Protestants—giving the faith a bigger base than China's ruling communist party. Ten thousand Chinese reportedly become Christians each day according to the National Catholic Reporter, and by mid-century there could be over 200 million Chinese Christians.

John Micklethwait, the editor of The Economist, told Big Think in 2009 that he believes China will become the world’s biggest Christian country relatively quickly, creating an interesting dynamic between the country's religious population and its political regime.

In one sense, the Chinese regime is prepared to encourage religions like Christianity: "They’re looking in a sense for glue to bring this huge country together," says Micklethwait. But the government hasn't entirely shed its distrust of organized religion. For instance, there is a rule that no meeting can go beyond 25 people without government approval. This is, ironically, forcing the number of churches in the country to multiply rapidly as congregations split and re-form as soon as they acquire too many members.

More Resources

— "Christianity Finds a Fulcrum in Asia," Asia Times (August, 2007)

— "Jesus in China," PBS Frontline (June, 2008)

— "In The Land Of Mao, A Rising Tide Of Christianity," NPR (July, 2010)

The Center for Religion in Chinese Society