Missiologists have long spoken of the explosive growth of the church in Iran. Now they have data to back up their claims–from secular research.
According to a new survey of 50,000 Iranians–90 percent residing in Iran–by GAMAAN, a Netherlands-based research group, 1.5 percent identified as Christian.
Extrapolating over Iran’s population of approximately 50 million literate adults (the sample surveyed) yields at least 750,000 believers. According to GAMAAN, the number of Christians in Iran is “without doubt in the order of magnitude of several hundreds of thousands and growing beyond a million.”
The traditional Armenian and Assyrian Christians in Iran number 117,700, according to the latest government statistics.
Christian experts surveyed by CT expressed little surprise. But it may make a significant difference for the Iranian church.
“With the lack of proper data, most international advocacy groups expressed a degree of doubt on how widespread the conversion phenomenon is in Iran,” said Mansour Borji, research and advocacy director for Article 18, a UK-based organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of religious freedom in Iran.
“It is pleasing to see–for the first time–a secular organization adding its weight to these claims.”
The research, which asked 23 questions about an individual’s “attitude toward religion” and demographics, was run by professors associated with the respected Dutch universities of Tilburg and Utrecht.
The general presumption of doubt risked influencing asylum applications by Iranians seeking resettlement in Europe or elsewhere.
“We do not regard it as remotely plausible that there are as many as 1 million people secretly practicing Christianity in Iran today,” wrote a UK judge in a March ruling establishing best practice guidelines, following a case that ultimately denied asylum to an Iranian convert.
“The huge numbers of converts claimed by various evangelical missions must be viewed in light of the fact that … the more converts they can claim, the greater the incentive for co-religionists to donate.”
Yet despite the widespread skepticism, research conducted by Christian advocacy organizations has begun to produce results.
In 2005, the United Nations created the Geneva-based Universal Periodic Review to evaluate the human rights status of every nation every 4.5 years. During its review session in February, for the first time recommendations for Iran included its treatment of “Christian converts,” issued by Norway and the Netherlands.
ChurchSalary “We try to build relations with diplomats as much as they allow,” said Wissam al-Saliby, advocacy director for the World Evangelical Alliance.
“Without such reporting, news of Christian persecution will not filter into Geneva circles, and nations will not feel any pressure.