Is the Church dying in the Middle East?

Opinion: Not even close, writes Tom Doyle, but today’s Church looks different.

 Cross on a Church (illustrative) (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Cross on a Church (illustrative)
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

It seems as if the generally accepted view of the church is that it’s dying in the Middle East. But that’s simply not true. 

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The church is growing faster now than ever before in the Middle East.

Even with groups of Christians immigrating from places like Iraq, Iran, and Syria the church has entered a new era and is not the same church. It has branched out into new forms and instead of merely surviving in the Middle East – it is thriving!

So how is the new church different today than yesterday’s church?

To begin with, there are three types of churches when there used to be just one. The first is the “on-the-ground” church which may be declining in some countries. The second is the “underground church” and the third is the “above-ground digital church” that is growing by leaps and bounds.

Let’s visit all three.


On-the-Ground Church

Churches that meet in a physical building in some Middle Eastern countries have a big target on their back. It’s true in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and other countries where there is open persecution of Christians. With the immigration that is happening, the On the Ground church may be staying even but more likely losing members. But that certainly is not the whole story.

Underground Church

My wife JoAnn and I write books on the Middle East about the people we know and interview firsthand. Recently JoAnn recounted this story in our new book, “Women Who Risk—Secret Agents for Jesus in the Muslim World:”

“The deadbolt clicked loudly in a heavy metal door. Curtains slid shut. One by one, women in hijabs entered furtively from a side entrance. They exchanged enthusiastic hugs and cheek kisses. Then, after a headcount, padlocks snapped into place on the door they had entered. Lights dimmed, and the weekly women’s Bible study meeting for former Muslims was ready to begin. In a fundamentalist city renowned for its honor killings, no security precaution was too extreme.”

The stories of how they came to faith in Christ were thrilling! Some of the women initially had dreams about Jesus and were so profoundly impacted they began an all-out search to meet the “man in the white robe” who told them He loved them and died for their sins. Others noticed new followers of Jesus and were attracted to their radiant smiles and asked them why they were so happy. The new Jesus followers were more than happy to tell them why!  

Just like in the first century when Christianity was illegal, home churches spread the good news of Christ as they do today. The underground church through word of mouth, fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit, has embraced Jesus and His message of salvation. And it has gone viral! In many countries, women are leading the way and are the super spreaders of the Gospel.

Did you know that Iran is the fastest growing church per capita in the world currently? Though the penalty for leaving Islam and embracing Christ could result in a long prison sentence or death. 

In the Middle East, and around the world for that matter, more Muslims have received Jesus as savior in the last 10 to 20 years than in the 1,400 years of Islam.

Above-Ground Digital Church

Fatima Al-Mutairi became a modern-day martyr for Christ in her hometown of Buraydah, Saudi Arabia. At 26, she left this world to be with Jesus. Her own brother killed her. Buraydah is known for Islamic fanaticism. Amazingly, Fatima never met another follower of Christ face to face. The believers she prayed with and encouraged her lived in different countries. Her fellowship was limited to the Internet and occasional phone calls.

Fatima never set foot in an “on-the-ground” church, never hugged a sister in Christ and never experienced fellowship with other believers in person. But she was willing to die for Jesus after only being a follower of Christ for a short time. 

Digital church congregations are springing up throughout the Muslim world. 

A new ministry called, I Found the Truth, is seeing people from the Middle East flock to watch the inspirational videos and get connected to have their questions answered. Muslim background believers from Iran, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Saudi Arabia tell their stories and they are resonating with Muslims. The website sees 185,000 views of their videos per month!

Iran Alive has 24/7 satellite programing that beams into Iran and last year they saw over 22,000 now former Muslims become Christians. This is over 10 times more than the normal year’s total.

Dozens of online ministries are seeing exponential growth and Muslims are responding to  the Christian message of love and salvation. 

Although on-the-ground churches may not be growing or in some places declining in membership, churches are visible everywhere in the Middle East if you know where to look.

Tom Doyle is CEO and founder of Uncharted Ministries. This article was first published by ALL ISRAEL NEWS and is reprinted with permission.