According to Middle East Open Doors staff members, the growth is ‘explosive’ in Iran; they even speak of a revival.
About 40 years ago approximately 200 Christians from a Muslim background were living in Iran. Today some estimate that there are as many as 370,000 Christian converts. Besides these new believers, Iran also has a traditional Armenian and Assyrian church, with about 80,000 members. These churches are free to have their meetings in their own language, but are not allowed to reach out to Farsi speaking Muslims. Officially, the Iranian government says that there are about 200,000 Christians living in Iran.
Although other religious groups are also growing, the growth of Christians is by far the most dramatic. This is believed to be due to the fact that Iranians learning the real truth about the official religion in Iran; especially after the elections of 2009. Many Iranians turned their back on the official religion trying to find refuge in another religion or in no religion at all.
“Before the Revolution of 1979 there was a secular government. The population’s reaction was to become very religious,” said an Open Doors staff member. “That made Iran the right soil for the Islamic Revolution. Once becoming an Islamic state, people discovered the true face of Islam and began to turn away from it.” He added, “In the past Christianity wasn’t popular, it was seen as a Western religion. Now only the government sees it as a Western product or better, a Western political system.”
“Iranians are very outgoing and want to speak about their faith,” another staff member states. “That is why discipleship training (with elements of outreach and communications) for Iranian believers is successful. If you tell them that a Christian should share, the Iranian Christian shares.” Offering discipleship training is one of the ways Open Doors works to strengthen the Iranian church. It is estimated that about half of the new Christians are open about their new faith while others are keeping their conversion a secret.
The president and the supreme leader of the country openly speak against the growth of house churches. “For that reason the house churches have to be more careful,” says the Open Doors staff member. “In the past every house church had around 15 members; now this number, because of security concerns, is lowered to 5 or 6. Most of them are organized in networks and not connected to churches outside Iran.”
In the last several months, the Iranian government has prohibited several churches from offering services in Farsi on Fridays, the official day off in the country. “They thought this would lead to less people attending services, but that didn’t happen.” Another measure of the Iranian government to try and restrict the growth of new believers is to forbid the selling of Bibles or New Testaments.
Persecution in Iran comes mainly from the government, but also from society. “You can hide your new faith from the government if you are careful, but not with your family,” says an Open Doors staff member. “Based on the information that we get from people, we believe that persecution by family members is growing; but this kind of persecution is less visible than, for example, arrest by police. Even though persecution is growing, people becoming Christians continues to grow.”
Lord God, we rejoice in Your power and salvation! Praise You for the mighty way Your Spirit is moving in Iran. We ask that You would raise up mature believers to disciple and lead the harvest of converts as they grow in faith. Thank You for boldness, power and faith; we ask that You would add discernment and wisdom as these believers share the good new of Jesus Christ. You know the pressures – both governmental and societal –believers face in Iran, Father. We pray with the disciples that You would look upon their threats and grant boldness to Your servants in Iran to speak Your word with power. May the whispers of revivals grow into a great crescendo that sweeps across Iran, changing it forever! We ask these things in the name of Jesus!