Underground House Churches Now Largest NGO In China

Big Think interviewed the editor-in-chief of the Economist John Micklethwait yesterday. He's promoting a book called God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World. But is it?

The polymath Micklethwait who is an expert on globalization and is currently updating his tongue-in-cheek look at management consultants, called Witch Doctors, argues that even as America seems to be sliding toward secularism, religion has reemerged as a global force in religion and politics—the consequences of which, he says, are good and bad.


One of the interesting themes that emerged from the interview is the way religion is being used around the world as a vehicle for upward mobility. Any visit to a megachurch in the Southeastern United States will provide a snapshot of this.

But today in China, a place where the government is slowly coming around to the idea that religion has a place in society, the situation is more complicated.

Micklethwait speculates that China will be the world's largest Christian country—and Muslim country—very soon. And while Catholicism is taking hold in the countryside, American-style evangelicalism is the preferred style in the cities. And the cities are what count. After all, Micklethwait says, in one year alone recently more people relocated from the country to the city in China than relocated from Europe to the U.S. in the 100 years leading up to 1920. Needless to say, the Chinese regime is looking for societal "glue" but is also wary of religion as an "incendiary force." They cite John Paul II as helping to bring down the Soviet Union.

That's where things get interesting. The "house churches" popping up in China—Christian churches unaffiliated with a mainstream religious organization—are benefitting from the very rules meant to supress them. Because meetings of over 25 people are outlawed in China without government permission, as soon as groups hit that threshold, they break off and form a new church. Ironically, says Micklethwait, "the very rules meant to supress them are helping them grow." Now the house churches collectively consititute the "largest NGO in China."

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