The Chinese government is attempting to “co-opt and emasculate” Christianity, which many believe has more adherents than the 87-million member Communist party, the Guardian reports.

“I don’t believe the government will close the Church but I do believe they want to manage it”, one underground pastor said anonymously ahead of a secretive conference on Christianity’s future in China that was scheduled for November.

The government-controlled Institute of World Religions organised the conference – the Sinicisation of Christianity. It did not issue an agenda, but Yang Fenggang, director of Purdue University’s Centre on Religion and Chinese Society, said many Christians believed the conference was an initiative to create a more “submissive” Church.

Pew Research put the number of Christians in China at 67m in their latest research of 2010. Rodney Stark, author of A Star in the East: the rise of Christianity in China, says if current conversion rates continue that figure will rise to 150m by 2020.