A Sunday report showed that the Chinese mainland saw over 2.4 million Protestant Christian followers baptized during the five years to the end of 2012, with experts saying that more people are turning to the religion for help and spiritual consolation.
The report, released during the ninth National Chinese Christian Congress, said during the past five years, 5,195 churches had been newly built or renovated, as well as 1,057 pastors, 482 curates and 1,443 elders ordained.
It also pointed out that the total number of full-time theology teachers had also seen a rise to 292, 130 of whom hold a master's degree or above, while three new Protestant seminaries were founded during the period.
Over 4,300 seminary students had graduated and 3,702 were studying at seminaries. Ninety-four new branches of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China (TSPM) and the China Christian Council (CCC) were set up in cities and counties.
Jiang Jianyong, deputy director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, said during the congress that Christian churches in China must shoulder their social responsibilities and play a positive role when the society is undergoing dramatic changes. .
Xiong Kunxin, a professor with the Beijing-based Minzu University of China, told the Global Times that the rising number of Christian followers reflects the pursuit of spiritual belief among the public, especially when people feel troubled by social problems.
"Less privileged groups tend to seek help from the religion and the number of followers of these groups will further increase as some social conflicts might not be fixed soon. Meanwhile, some elites also resort to religion for comfort and spiritual consolation," Xiong said.
A Protestant follower surnamed Ma in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, added that the Internet has also expanded the channel of spreading religion, providing Net users with more access to the church.
Shi Hengtan, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the growth is the hard-won result of local pastors' work and it also reflects that the government has eased the limits on religious activities.
"The number of Christian believers is small compared with that of Buddhists in China, and among the 2.4 million, there may be some attending house churches at the same time," Shi said.
According to China's regulation on religious activities, house churches are illegal and conducting religious activities outside authorized venues are banned.
The TSPM, the CCC and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association are the only officially registered Christian groups in the country.
Over 62 million copies of the Bible were distributed by TSPM and CCC from the resuming of worship by Chinese churches from 1979 to the end of 2012, said the report, adding that an annual average of 3.5 million copies were distributed in China over the period.