The number of Christians in Communist China is growing so steadily that it by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America.
Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening after Chairman Mao's death in 1976
Liushi, Zhejiang province
The 5,000 capacity Liushi church, which boasts more than twice as many seats as Westminster Abbey and a 206ft crucifix
that can be seen for miles around, opened last year with one theologian declaring it a "miracle that such a small town was able to build
The £8 million building is also one of the most visible symbols of Communist China's breakneck conversion as it evolves into one of the largest
"It is a wonderful thing to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It gives us great confidence," beamed Jin Hongxin, a 40- year old visitor who was admiring the golden cross above
Officially, the People's Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek
Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao's death
Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world's number one economy
"By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon," said Fenggang Yang,
"It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change."
China's Protestant community, which had just one million members in 1949, has already overtaken those of countries
In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China compared to 40 million in Brazil and 36 million in South Africa,
Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025.
By 2030, China's total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States
It was founded in 1886 after William Edward Soothill, a Yorkshire-born missionary and future
But by the late 1950s, as the region was engulfed by Mao's violent anti-Christian campaigns,
Liushi remained shut throughout the decade of the Cultural Revolution that began in 1966, as places of worship were destroyed
officially sanctioned Christian church
A recent study found that online searches for the words "Christian Congregation" and "Jesus" far outnumbered those for "The Communist Party"
Among China's Protestants are also many millions who worship at illegal underground " house churches", which hold unsupervised services –
Such churches are mostly behind China's embryonic missionary movement –a reversal of roles after the country was for centuries the target
Now it is starting to send its own missionaries abroad, notably into North Korea, in search of souls.
"We want to help and it is easier for us than for British, South Korean or American missionaries," said one underground church leader
The new spread of Christianity has the Communist Party scratching its head. "The child suddenly grew up and the parents don't know
Some officials argue that religious groups can provide social services the government cannot, while simultaneously helping
They appear to agree with David Cameron, the British prime minister, who said last week that Christianity could help boost Britain's
Ms Shi, Liushi's preacher, who is careful to describe her church as "patriotic", said:
Christianity can also play a role in maintaining peace and stability in society. Without God, people can do as they please."
Yet others within China's leadership worry about how the religious landscape might shape its political future, and its possible
As a result, a close watch is still kept on churchgoers, and preachers are routinelymonitored to ensure their sermons do not diverge
In Liushi church a closed circuit television camera hangs from the ceiling, directly in front of the lectern.
"They want the pastor to preach in a Communist way.
The Old Testament book in which the exiled Daniel refuses to obey orders to worship the
Such fears may not be entirely unwarranted.
"They do not trust the church, but they have to tolerate or accept it because the growth is there," said the church leader.
The underground leader church leader said many government officials viewed religion as "a sickness" that needed curing,
The Communist Party was "still not sure if Christianity would become an opposition political force" and feared it could be used by
Churches were likely to face an increasingly "intense" struggle over coming decade as the Communist Party sought to stifle
"There are people in the government who are trying to control the church. I think they are making the last attempt to do that."