China Seeing 'Explosion of Faith' As Underground Churches Drive Religious Revolution

China is seeing an "explosion of faith" that could turn the atheist country into the world's biggest Christian nation in less than 20 years, scholars say.

PHOTO: REUTERS / KIM KYUNG-HOON)Believers take part in a weekend mass at an underground Catholic church in Tianjin, China.

What's even more remarkable is that the "religious revolution" is being driven by the country's underground churches, according to Pulitzer-prize winning author Ian Johnson in an op-ed piece for The Atlantic.

Johnson, author of "The Souls of China: The Return of Religion after Mao," said one of the world's great spiritual revivals" is also happening despite increasing persecution.

China's unregistered churches, he said, have "become surprisingly well-organized, meeting very openly and often counting hundreds of congregants."

"They've helped the number of Protestants soar from about one million when the communists took power to at least 60 million today," he wrote.

Remarkably, about two-thirds of the believers are not affiliated with government churches, Johnson said, adding that Protestants in non-government churches outnumber worshippers in government churches two to one.

He explained that what's driving the Chinese people towards Christianity is their search for new moral guideposts lacking in the country's communist ideology.

"Hundreds of millions of Chinese are consumed with doubt about their society and turning to religion and faith for answers that they do not find in the radically secular world constructed around them," he said.

Johnson's analysis matches that of Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of "Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule."

In 2014, Yang told The Telegraph that the number of Christians in China is growing so fast that by 2030 it could become the "world's most Christian nation."

China's Protestant community only had one million members in 1949 when Communist leader Mao Zedong seized power, Yang said.

In 2010, or 61 years later, China's Protestant population grew to 58 million, compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa, he said.

Yang believes that number will rise to around 160 million by 2025, which would exceed the Protestant population of the U.S. which numbered 159 million in 2010.

By 2030, China's total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, Yang predicted. This would make China the biggest Christian nation in the world, ahead of Mexico, Brazil and the United States.

The persecution watchdog China Aid also noted in a 2016 report that Christianity continues to grow at a dramatic rate in China despite the mounting cases of persecution.

China Aid revealed that a total of 20,000 Chinese Christians suffered religious persecution in 2015, but this only spurred the growth of churches.

"Despite the worsening situation of religious freedom in China in the last decade, China Aid sees great hope in the fast growth of the house church movement across China and firmly believes that God's love and justice will eventually cover the vast expanse of this nation," the report said.