RELIGION
10/16/2014 01:08 pm ET Updated Oct 17, 2014

Inside China's Secret Churches: How Christians Practice Their Faith Under An Atheist Government

The atheist Chinese Communist Party has placed a number of restrictions on Christians and other religious groups in the country, forcing some to practice their faith in underground churches.

The government officially bans discrimination based on religion, but only recognized five official faiths: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. In April thousands of Christians in Wenzhou, China formed a human shield to protect their church, Jerusalem of the East, which the government had threatened to demolish.

Unable to find state-sanctioned churches in which to worship, some Christians have initiated underground churches in private homes and other sites, which Purdue University Professor Fenggang Yang refers to as the “grey” or “black” religious marketplace. A 2011 Pew study estimated there more than 65 million Christians inside China, and Yang estimated that it would soon become the largest Christian country in the world.

For now, underground churches are where many Christians in China worship. These photos offer a rare glimpse at what their worship looks like:

  • A Chinese Christian pastor leads prayers during a service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014
    Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
    A Chinese Christian pastor leads prayers during a service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, China. China, an officially atheist country, places a number of restrictions on Christians and allows legal practice of the faith only at state-approved churches. The policy has driven an increasing number of Christians and Christian converts 'underground' to secret congregations in private homes and other venues. While the size of the religious community is difficult to measure, studies estimate there more than 65 million Christians inside China with studies supporting the possibility it could become the most Christian nation in the world within a decade.
  • A Chinese Christian woman weeps during a ceremony at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beij
    Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
    A Chinese Christian woman weeps during a ceremony at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, China
  • A new Chinese Christian woman sits in a small tub of water as a Pastor prays as she is baptized during a ceremony at an under
    Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
    A new Chinese Christian woman sits in a small tub of water as a Pastor prays as she is baptized during a ceremony at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, China.
  • A new Chinese Christian man is dunked in the water in a small tub as he is baptized during a ceremony at an underground indep
    Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
    A new Chinese Christian man is dunked in the water in a small tub as he is baptized during a ceremony at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, China.
  • A Chinese Christian woman sings during a prayer service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 i
    Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
    A Chinese Christian woman sings during a prayer service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, China.
  • Chinese Christians sing during a prayer service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijin
    Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
    Chinese Christians sing during a prayer service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, China.
  •  Chinese Christians pray during a service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, Chi
    Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
    Chinese Christians pray during a service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, China.
  • A Chinese pastor prays with newly baptized Christians during a ceremony at an underground independent Protestant Church on Oc
    Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
    A Chinese pastor prays with newly baptized Christians during a ceremony at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, China.
  • A pastor baptizes a new Chinese Christian woman and her young daughter during a ceremony at an underground independent Protes
    Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
    A pastor baptizes a new Chinese Christian woman and her young daughter during a ceremony at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, China.
  • Chinese Christians sing during a prayer service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijin
    Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
    Chinese Christians sing during a prayer service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, China.
  • Chinese Christians pray during a service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, Chin
    Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
    Chinese Christians pray during a service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, China.
  • A Chinese Christian woman is embraced by another member of the congregation as she is acknowledged for attending for the firs
    Kevin Frayer / Getty Images
    A Chinese Christian woman is embraced by another member of the congregation as she is acknowledged for attending for the first time during a service at an underground independent Protestant Church on October 12, 2014 in Beijing, China.
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