IRAN – Iranian House Church movement flourishes as over 450,000 Muslims turn to Christ
Although Christianity is highly oppressed in Iran, hundreds of thousands of Christian converts are worshiping secretly in a booming house church movement. The religious police are quick to crack down on house churches and have arrested hundreds of house church participants but the Christian movement is growing too big for the police to contain. There are thought to be at least 450,000 practicing Christians in Iran, possibly many more. Accurate figures are impossible to obtain because of the secrecy and danger involved in converting to Christianity.
The Iranian government regards Christianity as a threat to the nation’s Islamic identity and over 100 Christians have been imprisonsed for worshiping Christ. Muslim converts particularly are in great danger since apostasy (converting from Muslim to another religion) is punishable by death. Such crackdowns on faith, however, have not prevented Iranian house churches from flourishing.
Because Christians are understandably afraid of the religious police, house church services must be conducted secretly and quietly. “If they want to sing, they have to sing very quietly or not sing at all,” an unnamed source close to the Iraninan house church movement said. Christians can only worship in small groups of 4 or 5 members and have to change their place of gathering every time they meet.
Although Iran’s fast growing church is good news, there is serious concern about the lack of depth in the movement and the severe shortage of strong Christian leaders who can lead services in individual house churches and help the movement grow to become not just a Christian movement, but also an inherently “Iranian” one. “It is not anti-Iranian,” the source explained “It’s an Iranian movement. It’s a great, great number of Muslims turning to Christ.”
The leadership crisis, if not addressed, could damage the health and mission of the growing house church movement. At least 200 Iranian Christians are being trained to become the next generation of leaders by the London-based Pars Theological Centre, which was founded by Rev Mehrdad Fatehi in 2010 and works closely with several Iranian house church networks.
The students do most of their coursework secretly at home on offline computers, using video lectures, workbooks, and resources in a digital format. They stay in touch with their teachers and submit their assignments through email. Courses are also broadcast into Iran through two satellite channels, which are watched by thousands of mainly Christian Iranians.