India's Grassroots Revival
India's church has grown and is getting larger. It now comprises over 70 million members, according to Operation World. That makes it the eighth largest Christian population in the world, just behind the Philippines and Nigeria, bigger than Germany and Ethiopia, and twice the size of the United Kingdom. Unlike believers in those countries, however, India's Christians live among one billion Hindus.
Opportunities for spreading the Good News seem to be everywhere. Operation World counts 2,223 unreached people groups in India, over five times as many as there are in China, the next most unreached nation. "India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan make up the largest concentration of unreached humanity in the world," says Operation World's Jason Mandryk.
Across the vast nation, a visitor hears of unprecedented numbers of people turning to Christ. Operation Mobilization, one of India's largest missionary groups, has grown to include 3,000 congregations in India, up from 300 in less than a decade.
A hospital-based ministry in north India has seen 8,000 baptisms over the past five years after a decade of only a handful. Operation World's detailed statistics show that the Indian church is growing at a rate three times that of India's Hindu population.
The 2001 Indian census placed Christians at just over 2 percent of India's population. But currently, Operation World puts the figure near 6 percent and notes that "Christian researchers in India indicate much higher results, even up to 9 percent." Many Indian Christians say that doors closed for centuries are swinging open.
No one can be certain of such trends in this vast and complicated country. Religion statistics are poor, and enthusiastic reports from mission organizations may reflect only local conditions.
Todd Johnson, director of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary's Center for the Study of Global Christianity, says he has opted for more conservative estimates than Operation World's. The center's Atlas of Global Christianity estimates 58 million Indian Christians, not 70 million. Most of the difference lies in Operation World's "unaffiliated" category. The unaffiliated may be part of independent fellowships, or be "insider" Hindu or Muslim followers of Christ.
Nearly all reports of rapid growth come from independent mission and church groups. "I'm waiting to see how they settle," says Johnson. "It's a very volatile situation. Exciting things are happening. That's real. Our methodology is to wait and see, and do our best to track it. But it is remarkable. Everybody agrees with that. It is something new in the last ten years, especially in the north."
"Everybody knows about the massive scale of growth among Dalits," says Mandryk. "That was most of the growth for a few years. Now we see signs of growth in the middling castes and among the under-35s. There's a new dynamic for the urban, educated generation. There's growth happening in upper castes as well."