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700 percent rise in church attacks, closures noted in 2024 World Watch List

Open Doors CEO Ryan Brown talks with Mohamed-Ibrahim Yattara, a persecuted Christian and Open Doors expert in Mali. Screen capture

BRIDGEVILLE, Pa. (BP) – Attacks on churches and Christian properties in 2023 increased 700 percent over the previous year, including 10,000 church closures in China, Open Doors U.S. said Jan. 18 in its latest World Watch List of the 50 worst countries for Christians. 

Laos, ranked 21 on the list, moved up 10 places from 2022, suffering increased persecution in response to church growth, Open Doors said. The 212,000 Christians there make up just 2.8 percent of the mostly Buddhist population.

Nigeria remains the deadliest place for Christians, with 4,998 Christians killed, a slight drop from the 5,014 the previous year. The national election period saw a slight drop in violence from Islamic extremists, the main culprits there.

The fruit of the Gospel is one of the main drivers of Christian persecution that has grown to directly impact more than 365,000 million Christians globally, Open Doors said in its report.

“One of the reasons that it’s getting worse is because the church is growing. In the most hostile of environments, it continues to thrive,” Open Doors said. “More than anything, it’s a testament to the power of the Gospel and the eternal truth that ‘God’s word is not chained’ (2 Timothy 2:9). But it’s also because the global Church is standing with its most vulnerable members. It’s what family does.”

Thriving extremism amid political instability and war have made Sub-Saharan Africa increasingly dangerous for Christians, with militants attacking Christian communities and churches “with impunity,” Open Doors said. Impacted in addition to Nigeria are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and the Central African Republic. About 16.2 million Christians were displaced across the region.

Sudan moved up two places on the list, ranked 8th amid a civil war that Open Doors said has made Christian converts from Islam “especially vulnerable and on the receiving end (of violence) in war times.” Open Doors counted more than 165 churches closed and others destroyed, with congregations reporting rape, kidnap and looting among other human rights violations.

In a brief video accompanying the report, Open Doors CEO Ryan Brown encourages Christians to download the list and pray for persecuted Christians. Free print versions of the list are also available. Prayers are available with profiles of each country on the list.

Hopeful changes Open Doors reported are in Mali, ranked 14th in persecution, where a new constitution clearly recognizes Christians and other non-Muslim minorities while paving the way for popular elections; in India, ranked 11th, where anti-conversion laws in a key southern state have been rolled back; and church growth in Laos (21st) amid increasing persecution.

The top 10 on the persecution list remain the same countries as in 2023, although ranked slightly differently. Topping the list are North Korea, where admission of Christianity is a death sentence; followed by Somalia, Libya (ranked 4th in 2023), Eritrea, Yemen (3rd in 2022), Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan (10th in 2023), Iran (8th in 2023), and Afghanistan, ranked 9th last year.

The 2024 list covers persecution from Oct. 1, 2022, through Sept. 30, 2023. The list is based on information collected from researchers in the field, tracking the private lives of Christians in 150 countries, how they are impacted by violence, and how persecution impacts them in families, communities, nationally, and in the church.

The full list is available here, and may be downloaded here.