In two weeks, the world's largest Bible printing facility will open in Nanjing, China, prompting some to dub the historic eastern Chinese city the Bible printing capital of the world.
In collaboration with the United Bible Societies, Amity Printing Company, China's only state-approved Christian publisher, will double their annual Bible printing output when the facility opens on May 19.
In 2007, Amity printed 6 million Bibles, but with the new facility, it has the potential to print up to 12 million per year. In other words, Amity will be producing 23 Bibles every minute.
Peter Dean, the Bible Societies' consultant in Nanjing, said that there is "a really increasing interest in Christianity" in the country where seven percent of its one billion people are estimated to be believers, according to the United Bible Societies.
"There are differing views on how many Christians there are," Dean admitted. "But everyone agrees there is a great interest and a lot of growth in the Christian Church.
"What excites me is our aim is to serve the Church in China," he added. "All of this new production capability is available 'first call' for the mainland Chinese Church. If they want to print 12 million Bibles a year, they've got it."
Just 30 years ago, Christianity and the Bible were banned in China, which remains a strictly secular and officially atheistic country. But in 1987, Amity Press began printing Bibles and celebrated its 50th millionth Bible last December. About 55,000 churches distribute the Bibles printed by Amity.
The Bible is printed in eight Chinese minority languages, as well as Braille Bible. Furthermore, the government-sanctioned Protestant body, the China Christian Council/Three Self Patriotic Movement (CCC/TSPM), said it is getting ready to produce Bibles as downloadable audio books so young people can listen to it on their MP3 players.
"Young people need more than just the traditional printed Bible," said the Rev. Deng Fu Cun, a senior leader in the CCC/TSPM, which publishes the Bibles. "So we're planning to produce the Bible in various digital formats.
Deng said the publishers are also focusing on the quality and variety of Bibles available.
"We need both large and small Bibles, Braille Bibles and luxury Bibles that can be given as gifts."
Christianity is the second largest officially recognized religion in China, according to surveys conducted by Horizon Research Consultancy Group, though less than four percent of the adult population identifies themselves as Christian.
Out of China's recognized religions – Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam, and Taoism – Buddhism is the largest religious group, Horizon found amid its 2005-2007 surveys. Between 11 (2005 survey) and 16 percent (2006 survey) of the adult population are Buddhists.
Meanwhile, official statistics by the Chinese government show a 50 percent increase in the number of Christians – from 14 million to 21 million – in less than 10 years (between 1997 to 2006). During this period, Protestants increased from 10 million to 16 million, or by 60 percent, while Catholics increased from 4 million to 5 million, or by 25 percent.
Notably, however, it is more difficult to measure the non-registered Christian population, which chooses to worship outside the control of the state.
Christian Post reporter Ethan Cole in Washington contributed to this article.