Home Christian News The Underground Church in Iran is 1 Million Strong, Study Indicates

The Underground Church in Iran is 1 Million Strong, Study Indicates

church in Iran

Word from Iran is that God’s Word has been at work, converting people to the Christian faith and thus building the church in Iran. Now a survey from a secular organization offers statistical insights about the spiritual—and secular—revolutions occurring there.

Of the 50,000 Iranians questioned by Netherlands-based research company GAMAAN (Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran), 1.5 percent identify as Christians. When extrapolated, that indicates 1 million “secret” Christians could exist within Iran’s population of 80 million.

Obtaining numbers is difficult, because Iranians who publicly leave Islam face capital punishment. On the latest “World Watch List” from Open Doors, Iran ranks ninth for Christian persecution. 

Shift Could Threaten Islamic Regime

Iran’s Islamic regime, in place for four decades, claims that 95 percent of citizens are Shia Muslim. Yet in the new survey, just 32 percent of respondents claim that identity. Almost half (46 percent) say they’ve switched from being religious to having no religion, and 42 percent say they oppose public propagation of any faith.

Iran’s leaders had staunchly denied reports that up to 1 million Iranians were quietly practicing Christianity, but they’re beginning to acknowledge the change. In May 2019, the minister of intelligence admitted that conversions away from Islam were “happening right before our eyes.”

UK-based Middle East expert Afshin Shahi says Iranian officials are acknowledging a serious threat. “They have even coined a term for it: Andalusiazation, which implies the gradual de-Islamization of cultural structures.” The “political domination of the Islamists” is at risk, says Shahi, adding that it’s “not surprising that [Iran’s] Supreme Leader regards ‘cultural invasion’ as more dangerous than a military invasion.”

Iran’s Latest ‘revolution’

The survey results don’t surprise the Rev. Dr. Sasan Tavassoli, an Iranian who converted to Christianity and now works in missions. “For quite some time I have felt that this is where we are in the growth of the church in Iran,” he says. “To say a spiritual revolution is happening in Iran is quite an understatement. This is a total failure of the regime’s attempt at indoctrination of the generation since the Islamic Revolution.”

Tavassoli tells articleeighteen.com: “Iran might soon become the France of the Middle East, as there are also signs of growing opposition to public manifestations of religion, whether it’s hijab, or legislation, or even evangelization.”

Secularization and pluralization are widely evident in Iran, according to the survey. Other findings reveal that of the 61 percent of Iranians born into religious families, only one percent say daily prayers. Seventy-one percent of respondents say religious institutions should be self-funded, 73 percent oppose mandatory hijabs, and 37 percent regularly or occasionally drink alcohol, which is banned in Iran.

Johannes de Jong, director of a European think tank, tells Christianity Today the biggest headline from the latest survey isn’t the number of Christians in Iran but “the massive secularization of Iranian society as a whole. “The Islam in Iran is a political system, not a faith embraced by any majority,” he says. “A free Iran would see an implosion of Islam, and a very significant rise of Christianity, Zoroastrism, and atheism.”

Almost eight percent of survey participants say they identify with Zoroastrism, the ancient Persian religion, indicating a general rise in nationalism.

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 27 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.