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The tug-of-war between the Chinese government and missiologists over the actual number of Protestants in China may have ended in a draw.
A landmark survey by China church scholar Anthony Lambert places the number of Protestants in China at no more than 30 million-triple the official government estimates, but far lower than those of some Christian ministries working in China, which have reached as high as 100 million.
"Many Protestant observers … have claimed figures from 20 million to as high as 100 million," writes Lambert in the report, which was commissioned by News Network International. "Unfortunately, no credible statistical evidence has been given to support these figures."
In his province-by-province survey completed in September, Lambert takes into account "all the available statistical evidence, both from TSPM [the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement] and from house church sources," which he indicates "must be regarded as the only reliable clue to establishing the number of believers in China." Lambert acknowledges that his survey cannot account for all the country's Protestants, noting it only counts those that attend registered and unregistered churches.
"No doubt there are several million Communist party members, intellectuals, and professionals who keep their faith secret and rarely, if ever, attend meetings," Lambert says.