The Church’s growth-spurt in a surprising country

By September 26, 2016

Iran (MNN) — Which country do you think has the fastest growing Church in the world? China? Russia? Maybe a country in South America?

Here’s a hint: the official name of the country starts with ‘The Islamic Republic’.

Todd Nettleton with The Voice of the Marytrs, USA reveals, “The Islamic Republic of Iran is actually the place in the world where the Church is growing the fastest, something that would be pretty surprising to most Christians.”

iran-MMAP-mdThe situation is bursting with irony. The Islamic Republic of Iran is listed on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List in the top ten hardest countries to be a believer.

And yet, last year, Operation World listed Iran as having a 19.6 percent uptick in the Christian population annually — more than any other country.

“Conversion is illegal, the above-ground churches have almost all been closed down,” says Nettleton. “So it is a country that has worked very hard to eliminate Christianity, and particularly to eliminate Muslim conversion to Christianity. But it’s the place in the world where the Church is growing the fastest.”

The laws that backfire

Why is the Iranian Church going through such a growth spurt?

Nettleton shares, “I’ve had Iranian Christians tell me, ‘The greatest missionary in Iran, the greatest evangelist we’ve had in Iran was the Ayatollah Khomeini.’ This is the guy who took power in 1979, he converted Iran to the Islamic Republic [saying], ‘We’re going to run our country according to what Mohammed would have us do, we’re going to run our country according to the Koran.’

A mosque in Tehran, Iran.

A mosque in Tehran, Iran.

“Now here we are thirty-plus years later, and most Iranians have rejected Islam precisely because of that. The country is run by the Mullahs. The government says, ‘We’re doing everything according to Islamic principles.’ So if the government doesn’t work, if there’s still corruption, if there’s still poverty, then that must mean Islam doesn’t work…. That failure has really, in the eyes of the people of Iran, become the failure of Islam.”

According to Nettleton, the Iranian people are going through honest introspection about what they’ve witnessed in their country, and what that means for their lives…and their souls.

“I’ve heard statistics as high as 70 percent of Iranians have rejected Islam. If you ask them in an honest conversation, ‘Do you believe Islam is the truth? Do you believe Islam is the way?’ They would say, ‘No! Of course not!’…. Then the Gospel comes and they say, ‘Wait, this is true. This is right.’ And I think that’s really the root cause of the growth in the Iranian church we see.”

A challenge to American Christians

All of this poses a thoughtful question: how would the American Church respond if we were in a similar situation? How would Western Christians react under restriction and persecution?

Nettleton reflects, “I think the story of the Church in Iran is an incredibly timely message for American Christians. If you think back to 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini takes power, the Mullahs are now in charge of the country. The natural response to that from the Church there would be, ‘Oh no! This is horrible! This is terrible! The Muslims have taken control of the government. What’s going to happen to us now?’ Now thirty years later it’s the fastest growing Church in the world.

“There are many American Christians who look at what’s happening in our country, they look at the presidential elections, they look at the Supreme Court decisions, and they say, ‘Oh no! The government is turning against Christianity, Christian principles are no longer being honored in Washington D.C., what’s going to happen to us?’”

(Photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates)

(Photo courtesy of Wycliffe Associates)

We can take a cue from our Iranian brothers and sisters in Christ.

“The people of Iran would say, ‘Hang on. Serve the Lord, and see what He does. We’re not dependent on the government, we’re dependent on Christ.’”

To be clear, persecution is not something to be sought after for the sake of persecution. Religious freedom is an ideal to be sought after and advocated for.

But when persecution does enter our lives, we can respond as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 4:12b, “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure.”

Therein lies our witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Therein lies our opportunity to share our eternal hope with others who see us responding to hurt and shame in a way that doesn’t make sense to the world.

Nettleton emphasizes, “Our reliance needs to be on God, not on the protections offered by the Constitution, or the political process, or the U.S. government. Now I’m not saying don’t vote, I’m not saying don’t speak out. But understand that ultimately our reliance is on God.”

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ currently suffering intense persecution in dangerous places for their faith. Ask God to shore them up with His courage and strength to be a faithful witness for our Savior.

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  • Your Name says:


    What is killing the Christian testimony in North America is the principle of self pleasing. It is the major current in the culture and is really directly contrary to what true Christianity is–self sacrifice.

  • This article is encouraging and emphasizes in Whom we must trust….God and God alone.

  • Betty Barker says:

    PRAYER WORKS!!! Always trust God with any problem! He is bigger and more powerful than anything that comes against a believer plus He is faithful through all trials and tribulations

  • Vivienne says:

    I would never have guessed, but I’m really amazed at how Jesus turns things around for His glory.
    All glory to God Almighty.

  • Brent says:

    From Matthew 19:26,
    Jesus said, “With man, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” Nothing can thwart God from accomplishing His purposes.

  • gdKUHAL says:

    Jesus is the Lord

  • we need Christ revelated to us,mutually by the Holy Spirit,once more.

  • Curtis says:

    This article is encouraging, but I was disappointed that there are no real sources or statistics for the claim presented. It says that Iran has the fastest growing Christian church in the world, but is that claim based on Christians per capita, sheer numbers of new believers, percentage of Christians X number of years ago vs now, or….what? The lack of information and purely anecdotal evidence undermines the article. More info please! Thank you.

  • scott says:

    I see a parallel between Iran and America in the way that the dominant religion is viewed. In America we are saturated with Christianity, yet many, especially younger people are questioning this faith. The article states that about 70% of Iranians believe in Islamic principles. In our country those who identify as Christians has dropped into the 80 percentile. Both countries then are expressing widespread cynicism at their dominant religion. It is happening in this nation–where people are among the least receptive of the Gospel message, so it is not surprising that it also occurring in Iran. .

  • Nora says:

    Jesus is the true and living God beside Him there is no other!

  • When Christians, especially the self-proclaimed politicians, instead of focusing on racial injustice, care for the poor, income inequality, scientific ignorance (doubting climate change, etc), etc.,rather than fighting tooth and nails to hold on to their privilege positions, people don’t feel Christianity is working for their lives in this country either. We need to read the gospels and see what is important to Jesus.

  • Robert says:

    Maranath- as soon as You like !!

  • Dan says:

    Loved this article!!! Thank you so much!!! To God be the glory! Dan

  • Brian says:

    Jesus is still building His Church, just as He said He would. We give thanks to God for the increasing number of Iranians coming to faith in Jesus, not only in Iran, but also elsewhere in the world (including here in Australia).

  • Lyndsey Koh says:

    Hi, Curtis!

    The fifth paragraph of the article gives some of the information you requested. Operation World notes on their website: “For many of these countries, evangelical growth rates appear high because the evangelical population base is so small to begin with, borne out by the fact that many countries with the highest evangelical growth rates are also found on p914 in the list Countries with the Lowest % of Evangelicals (% Total Pop).”

    Here’s the chart of evangelical population growth per country on their website!

    This is further backed up by this report:

    Rather than restating all of the research and conclusions, we incorporated their data. Thank you for asking this question. It’s great when the body of Christ is paying attention!

  • Lyndsey Koh says:

    The article has also been edited to link to our research sources for further information. 🙂

  • Charlotte says:

    I attended an event at the end of 2015, where we had an Iranian pastor speak. He wanted the Iranian church to welcome at least 1 000 000 new believers in 2016, and spurred us to pray for that. We were many people and I am sure many of us, when we went home, continued to pray regularly for thr church in Iran.

    Now look at this. God is so faithful, He hears prayer! What a great God we serve! What a wonderful way to start 2017!

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