(Reading time: 1 - 2 minutes)

Iranians watching Christian television programingIronically, one of the worst countries in the world for Christians happens to also be the country where the church is growing the fastest. The Islamic Republic of Iran has gained the distinction of being the leading country in the world where the church is growing at a rapid rate and greatly influencing the region for Christ.

Last year, the mission research organization, Operation World, listed Iran as having a 19.6 percent increase in its Christian population annually -- more than any other country in the world. Todd Nettleton, representing The Voice of the Martyrs USA, described the irony of it all on the organization's persecution blog. He noted that the Ayatollah Khomeini, the radical Islamic leader who took power in 1979, turned out to be "the greatest evangelist we've had in Iran." Statistics indicate that as many as 70 percent of Iranians have rejected Islam.

When Khomeini turned Iran into an Islamic republic in 1979, according to Open Doors USA, all missionaries were kicked out, evangelism was outlawed, Bibles in Persian were banned, and pastors were killed. Yet, the intense persecution has led to something truly remarkable. Fox News noted that despite the Iranian regime's crackdown on Christianity, a large underground church movement has been growing. Hundreds of Iranians have reportedly been converting to Christianity, and many are being baptized in underground churches held within private homes across the country.

A report by Open Doors USA states: "Many feared the small Iranian church would soon wither away and die. But the exact opposite has happened. More Iranians have become Christians in the past 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together since Islam came to Iran." This is backed up by statistics. "In 1979, there were an estimated 500 Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today, there are hundreds of thousands; some say more than one million. Whatever the exact number, many Iranians are turning to Jesus as Saviour and Lord."