A new survey by a Netherlands-based research group has supported the claims of rapid church growth inside Iran in recent years.
There are approximately 300,000 known Armenian and Assyrian Christians who have lived in Iran for centuries. The new survey from GAMAAN, however, found that 1.5% of all respondents identified as Christian – a number that surpasses 1 million when extrapolated across all 80 million Iranian citizens.
The findings confirm what many missions agencies and ministries have reported over the past decade. The Joshua Project, a research project highlighting unreached people groups worldwide, has claimed that 1.6% of Iranian citizens are Christian, with a 19.6% annual growth rate among evangelical churches.
Afshin Shahi, a UK-based lecturer on Middle East politics, says the results of the survey are unsurprising.
"Over the last 40 years, the country has gone through a gigantic socio-cultural transition," he said. "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... Given these contradictions between the Islamic Republic and the wider Iranian society it is not surprising that the Supreme Leader regards ‘cultural invasion' as more dangerous than a military invasion."
Evidence for the accelerated growth of Christianity in Iran has also come from the Iranian government itself. Last year, Iran's Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi held a gathering of Muslim clerics to address the issue.
"Some [of the converts] said they were looking for a religion that gives them peace," said Alavi at the gathering. "We told them that 'Islam is the religion of brotherhood and peace.' They responded by saying that: 'We see Muslim clerics and those who preach from the pulpit talk against each other all the time. If Islam is the religion of peace, then before anything else, there must be cordiality and peace among the clerics themselves.'"
Alavi also indicated that most converts "are ordinary people, whose jobs are selling sandwiches or similar things," going against the government narrative that converts are Western-trained agents trying to undermine the nation.
? Converting to Christianity or proselytizing is punishable by imprisonment or death in Iran.