The fastest-growing church in the world isn’t a suburban megachurch. It doesn’t have a trendy Instagram or a famous pastor. Instead, it’s underground, it’s mainly led by women, and it’s in Iran. A documentary film, “Sheep Among Wolves,” reveals how the hidden roots of Jesus’ followers are exploding in the centuries-old, culturally Muslim country. In the film, an Iranian man says, “What if I told you that the mosques are empty inside of Iran? Iran is known as one of the most radical nations in the world exporting terrorism and exporting radical Islam, but when you go inside of the country, the mosques are empty. Would you believe me? This is exactly what is happening inside of Iran. God is moving powerfully inside of Iran.” In exploring the dynamics of this unexpected movement, Sheep Among Wolves presents a challenge to American Christians: “Are you making disciples like Jesus did?” This Iranian church looks quite different than a church like Pillar, Engedi or St. Francis. Perhaps most notably, the Iranian church movement has no dedicated church buildings.
An Iranian woman says, “There are not people going into church buildings in Iran. [The government] is destroying all the church buildings. If there is a church, it’s all underground.” Instead of gathering in a dedicated church building, groups of normally 10 to 50 people meet in homes, worshipping and praying together. They have no denomination affiliations and no governmental recognition. But they are expanding rapidly. How is this happening? Leaders of the movement discuss a method called the “Disciple Making Model” (DMM). The goal isn’t just to have “converts” to Christianity—whom the film describes as people who just say they believe in God— but “disciples” who follow the teachings of Jesus in everything they do. An unnamed Iranian woman in the film shares, “Everyday I ask the Lord what part of my testimony I should share with the person sitting in front of me.” She describes telling a neighbor about abuse in her own life and how learning about a kind male figure, Jesus, had changed her life. The neighbor wanted to know Jesus. Sheep Among Wolves describes the community-based next steps for the neighbor: “If we look at Christ, he started discipling people immediately after He called them. So, just as the Lord discipled people from the first interaction, we disciple people from their first interaction with God. They learn how to thank God, how to pray to God, how to minister to each other, and how to read the Bible.” In addition to learning about Christianity, new members are taught how to share their faith with friends, family, and even strangers. They join an existing house church or are aided in gathering people to read the Bible and worship together in their own homes. The film addresses the real struggles and sacrifices of these Iranian people. In the country Christianity is illegal— both to practice and to share. It’s illegal to own a Bible. Reality for Iranian Christians means that they put their lives and bodies on the line every day for Jesus’ name. Instead of facing discouragement, the film describes an abundance of joy and life, despite these hardships.
In the face of this true persecution, the Iranian church movement lives into Bible verses like 2 Corinthians 12:10, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” “Sheep Among Wolves” also addresses negative stereotypes of Iran. One documentary leader states, “When I ask most Westerners, ‘What do you picture when I say Iranians?’, the vast majority say, ‘I see all these angry Muslims shaking their fists and shouting ‘Death to America’, ‘Death to Israel.’ But the reality is— in the country—it’s nothing like that.” The loving nature of the Iranian people is highlighted through Sheep Among Wolves.” Another notable aspect of the church in Iran is its leadership. The churches are mainly led by women. And the most predominant age group? 15 to 30-year-olds. While this role of women is still debated in Western churches, it is even more controversial in the culturallyMuslim country of Iran. But this church movement freely elevates women to leadership positions. One of the leaders says, “Jesus can use anyone, anyplace at any time. And He’s not afraid of the mess.” As they describe their church, they give brief biographies of the members.
There is Fatma: a former atheist and failed suicidist who now oversees hundreds of churches. There is Shirin: a former Shia extremist and now church multiplier and disciplemaking coach. Describing their community, they say, “Everyone in this room, just several years ago— despite what they are doing now— was either addicted to drugs, suicidal, or in prostitution.” More Iranians have come to faith in Jesus in the last 20 years than the 1,300 years since Islam swept through Persia-combined. Some organizations estimate that there could be as many as 800,000 to 1 million believers in the country. As “Sheep Among Wolves” highlights this previously untold story, it communicates the message: Jesus moves powerfully, using unexpected people and places, without needing church buildings or official ties. “I think we in the West need to learn from the church in Iran,” “Sheep Among Wolves” members advocate. The documentary can be found for free on Youtube under the name, “Sheep Among Wolves Volume II (Official Feature Film).”