The Chinese government has been shutting down state-sanctioned Protestant churches across the country to limit the number of venues where Christians can meet.
The government's goal is to prevent Christians from gathering in places that are near their homes and force them to attend churches in other places, which many of them are not willing to do. A lot of them refused to merge with churches in other locations. As a result, many Christians, having been displaced from their home churches, are no longer attending services, according to a report from Bitter Winter.
Authorities have closed down Three-Self churches in different towns in an intensified crackdown on Christians. A previous report said that former church structures that have been vacated upon orders of the Chinese government are either demolished or used for other purposes.
Some structures were rented out, while others were used as a library, a memorial hall, an entertainment venue, and a propaganda centers for China's communist government.
In Poyang county, province of Jiangxi, at least 50 state-sanctioned Protestant churches have been shut down. This was done to reduce "the overall number of religious venues so that they don't outnumber village committees," a government employee told Bitter Winter.
For example, if there are 14 churches scattered over 10 villages, authorities would close down four of these churches so that there would only be 10 of them left. These remaining churches must be overseen by a village Party secretary, who is expected to have a say in their management.
This move came as a surprise to deacons of Three-Self churches, who in the past had been assured that they would be given permission to operate.
"The government lies to us when they say that Three-Self churches are free to function," a church director said. His church's certificate had been confiscated, forcing him to close it down.
Last year, authorities demolished a church in Suqian, forcing its members to merge with another Three-Self church. On the place where the church once stood, the government built a town square where an announcement that says, "Citizens are guaranteed religious liberty" could be found on the bulletin board.
Many churches are not open to the idea of merging with others. For example, when the authorities ordered the members of the Wenliang Three-Self Church in Dongshanfan village to merge with another church, many people stopped attending services altogether instead of going to the other venue.
Those who refuse the mergers receive threats from the authorities.
"All our church members disagreed to merge with other venues, but the government threatened to take over the church if we refused," a church member from Liangtian village said.
Furthermore, Christians are not allowed to gather at home. If the authorities found out they had been meeting together in places not designated by the state, they would be arrested.
Some Christians pointed out to the authorities that going to another church venue may be difficult and even dangerous for some people, particularly the elderly who find it hard to move around and face the risk of accidents on the road. In reply to these concerns, the government simply said that "the elderly believers should not go to church."
There are over 97 million Christians in China, and the persecution of believers continues to worsen each year. The Communist Party, under Pres. Xi Jinping, pushes for "national unity" by controlling all religions, according to Open Doors.