How many are coming to faith via conversion (as opposed to being born into Christian families)?
When I did the Persian Cluster Forecast a few years ago, I interviewed over a dozen leaders who each had more than a decade of experience working amongst Iranians (mostly within Iran).
There was no definite consensus between them on how many Iranians were Christians, other than this: there are certainly more than 100,000, and there are probably less than a million.
Based on what data I have, it is probable that this range is still true.
My general impression from the data was this: the number of believers is presently less than a million, but within a decade or so it will most likely exceed a million.
Iran is now where China was, say, a few decades ago. How fast are they coming to Christ? In 2010, Operation World estimated Christians in Iran at 384,897 (0.5%), and growing by 5% per annum.
Evangelicals, as a subset, were estimated at slightly over 100,000, and growing at 19.6%.
This rapid growth rate has been confirmed by every person I have interviewed. The thirst in Iran for the Gospel is boundless; the Cluster Forecast (see the link above) goes in to some of the details, but mostly it is driven by a hunger for something other than Islam, which has largely failed the country entirely, and a serious dissatisfaction with the government.
(This is a serious understatement: many said “The Ayatollah was the best thing that happened to Christianity in Iran, because it showed the true face.”) If we were to generalize, we’d say that many Iranians are secularizing out of disgust with their situation, and a portion of those who secularize are becoming Christians.
While there are no firm statistics about Iranians worldwide, I think it’s a safe estimate to say the conversion rate of Iranians outside Iran (whether to secular or to Christianity) likely exceeds that inside Iran.
This seems to be the anecdotal evidence.
And in any event, the vast majority of Iranians are inside Iran, not outside.
What’s helping conversion in Iran: unlike in many other Muslim-majority areas, whole families are coming to Christ.
It’s not a matter of a single individual here and there: if an individual converts, it’s highly probable the family will come to believe as well.
And it’s spreading very, very fast.
There are some things retarding it: fear of the government, mainly. As to the second question:nearly every Iranian who comes to Christ right now is generally a convert.
Yes, there are certainly some children being born into Christian families, but these will be the vast exception.
First of all, the birth rate in Iran is terribly low (due largely to the economy) – both 1.19% per annum.
Second, many who convert are either already married (in which case the family converts) or not married yet (in which case, since they are Christians, it is difficult for them to do so).
Many singles who become Christian either go abroad, or have converted while abroad. Compare the Christian growth rate (5%) or the Evangelical growth rate (19%) to this, and you’ll see the evidence in the math.
So while there’s good news for Christianity in Iran, there’s still a long way to go: Muslims vastly outnumber Christians, and are growing at about 1.7% per annum.
With 70 million or so Muslims in Iran, this equates to 700,000 new Muslims per year (vs. 117,000 Evangelicals adding about 22,000 new members).
So we still need to pray and work on behalf of Christianity in Islam.