Since the Iranian revolution of 1979, Iran has been ruled through a hardline Islamic Regime. As a result, Christianity was outlawed and being part of a church became illegal as missionaries were thrown out of the country and Bibles in the Farsi and Persian languages were banned. However, while Christians are still severely persecuted and imprisoned, a new study has found that the religion has actually been growing exponentially right under the government's nose.
A Netherlands-based research group known as GAMAAN has conducted a recent survey of 50,000 Iranians asking them about their "attitude towards religion." The results revealed 1.5 percent of those surveyed identified as Christians. Although this does not seem a large percentage, it is quite significant. GAMAAN believes that by extrapolating this percentage to Iran's population of over 80 million, the population of Christians in Iran would be "without doubt in the order of magnitude of several hundreds of thousands and growing beyond a million." These numbers are evidence of the strength of the gospel growth in the country as Christians are still severely persecuted.
Although these results seem to be momentous for the expansion of Christianity in the East, many scholars and leaders are not surprised by the numbers of converts.
Afshin Shahi, a lecturer on Middle East Politics from the UK, explained in an interview with Article18, "I don't think the result of the survey is surprising to any Iran observer. Over the last 40 years, the country has gone through a gigantic socio-cultural transition. The survey highlights the fact that a very large segment of the population no longer identifies with Shia Islam, which is used as the ideology of domination by the state."
Rev. Dr. Sasan Tavassoli, a convert from Iran, also told Article18, "To say a spiritual revolution is happening in Iran is quite an understatement! This is a total failure of the regime's attempt at indoctrination of the generation since the Islamic Revolution."
Even Iran's Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi admitted that "conversions are happening right under our eyes." Alavi and his agency are collaborating with Muslim religious seminaries to try to fight against the "mass conversions to Christianity across the country." However, the Iranian government's usual rhetoric, that converts are western agents attempting to undermine national security, is becoming difficult to uphold as Alavi and his agency have found that many converts are just "ordinary people, whose jobs are selling sandwiches or similar things."
Many ministries and scholars believe that this rapid growth of Christianity stems from a spiritual hunger and the faithfulness shown by those who go to great risk to share the gospel. The name of Islam being invoked in violent acts has caused a widespread disillusionment with the Iranian regime. Shahi noted that a "bitter experience of the Islamic Republic has undermined Shia Islam to an unbelievable level."
As many Muslims convert to Christianity, the illegal house-church movement has expanded rapidly as well. Scholars believe thousands, and even millions in the near future, of converts gather in informal house-churches to worship and share the gospel.