Chen is still the leader of a large network of house churches. When asked about persecution of Christians in China, he refers to secularism, materialism, and money. "Money now dictates every aspect of life. Most Chinese, especially the youngsters, live to earn as much as they can, so they can have that nice apartment, and can get married and afford a family. They are so occupied with working there is hardly room for ministry anymore."
Like Chen, urban Pastor Fai doesn't refer to the government when he talks about persecution. As long as his meetings are not too big and not political (like inviting foreigners into the church service) the government leaves him alone. "We are an unregistered house church, but we don't experience persecution."
Extensive research by Open Doors across many house church networks has shown that by far most Christians do not claim they are being persecuted. It is true that there are still dozens of Christians imprisoned, but that is a sharp decline compared to the hundreds or even thousands of Christians who served sentences in labor camps in the past.
China ranks 37th on the 2013 Open Doors World Watch List, an index that ranks 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. This indicates that China is still one of the countries where Christians are oppressed because of their faith. However, less than 10 years ago China was in the top 10. Last year China ranked 21st. China was 13th in 2010.
By far the most persecution in China happens predominately in Muslim and Tibetan minorities, where the family or the local community sometimes mistreats, banishes, or even kills people who want to follow Christ.
Christians among the Han majority still experience limitations, especially compared to democratic countries. "Generally, we feel the government is on the right path," says one Christian. "Of course there is still room for improvement. Meeting in large groups is not always permitted, but not always illegal, either. It varies from region to region. We know cases where large house churches were offered land by the local authorities to build a proper church."
There is, of course, one well-known exception: the Shouwang Church in Beijing. Until a few years ago the members met at several locations for worship. Then the leadership made the decision to combine Sunday services with the entire congregation. In late 2009, Shouwang purchased the second floor of the Daheng Science and Technology Tower in northwest Beijing, but, after pressure from the authorities, the landlord never handed over the key. The church members' decision to meet outside enraged local officials. Public assembly is forbidden and considered a threat.
For a short time, the church relocated to a restaurant that was offered to them by the government. When this did not work out, Shouwang's services moved back to the park. From April 11, 2012, the Public Security Bureau started to arrest the most important leaders. In most cases, they were released after a few days of detention. Founding pastor Jin Tianming is still under house arrest. One of the main reasons, apparently, is a petition the church leaders wrote (and co-signed by other unregistered church leaders) in which they requested the government to adopt new laws to protect religious freedom. The co-signers are often invited by officials for "tea." "Those meetings are not always pleasant," a pastor from Beijing shares. "They pressured me to withdraw my support. But I cannot. I have to support my brothers and sisters."