When Anand Mahadevan was in the third or fourth grade, someone from Gideons International gave the Hindu boy a Holy Bible. Growing up in India, Mahadevan had never encountered Christian teaching. He began reading the Bible, and he loved the story of Christ. “But I never understood why they crucified such a good man,” he remembers.
He wouldn’t find out for another decade.
During his second year of college, a friend invited Mahadevan to pray with him. “I went because I didn’t want to offend him,” he says. “And maybe I was a little curious.”
That evening, years after his only other experience with Christianity, Mahadevan’s two Christian friends prayed a short prayer for him. He was moved. “Just the idea of talking to God—of being able to talk to Jesus—and this powerful prayer helped me see God in a way I had never seen him before,” Mahadevan says. “I cannot rationally explain it, but the minute they finished praying, I just knew I had to follow Christ all of my life.”
That life has included a career in business journalism, with Mahadevan editing a magazine and later running a team of feature writers at a newspaper. It now includes serving as a founding council member of TGC India and as pastor of New City Church in Mumbai—a pastoral calling that grew out of Mahadevan’s experience in journalism.
Over the years, as Mahadevan met chief executives and other senior-level professionals, he was gripped by the spiritual need among the most financially successful: “I saw very little influence for the gospel.” That’s not just an issue in Mumbai. The growth of Christianity in the predominantly Hindu nation has happened mostly among Indians with low incomes and little social influence.
That means the church-planting work of Mahadevan and others doing similar ministry represents a minority within a minority, as they reach out to a kind of unreached people group in India: urban professionals who often have significant influence in their cities, but who are underserved by the church.
Urban church planting in India is ministry to a minority within a minority.
It also means pastors must adapt to a rapidly changing India, where complex cultural and spiritual traditions are now morphing in ways Mahadevan didn’t expect years ago when he first embraced Christ. “I think of it as the puzzle of India,” he says. “I call it ministry in the flux.”
Higher Up and Hard to Reach
As Mahadevan grew in his Christian faith during the years following his conversion, Christianity was also growing in India. Census figures a decade ago reported the number of Christians as less than 3 percent of the population, but unreported figures may be far higher.
Either way, even 2 or 3 percent of a population nearing 1.4 billion people would place the number of Christians in India at more than 30 million. (Muslims are the largest minority religion in India, at nearly 200 million.)
About half the nation’s Christians live in southern India, though other areas have seen growth in recent years as well. Much of that growth has come among poorer populations in a country with one of the world’s fastest-growing economies but also widespread poverty.
A 2021 study by Pew Research reported that Indian Christians disproportionately identify with lower castes and that “most converts come from poor backgrounds—i.e., they report recently struggling to pay for food or other necessities.”
Arvind Balaram is pastor of Delhi Bible Fellowship in Gurgaon, a financial center and technology hub just south of New Delhi. The congregation of English-speaking, urban professionals is part of a network of churches around the city that also includes churches with mostly lower economic backgrounds. Balaram says growth in those congregations and others like them has been substantial in the last seven or eight years: “There’s just no doubt at all that God is powerfully at work in India.”
He’s deeply encouraged by that growth, but Balaram also longs to see growth extend into other segments of the population, including among the urban professionals in the city he serves: “With people who are in a higher economic class, it’s just much more difficult to reach those people.”
Part of the difficulty of Christian outreach is the stigma attached to embracing another religion in a nation where Hinduism is a deeply ingrained part of cultural, social, and national identity. The stigma often leads to family strains, but in some parts of India, it has also led to increasing pressure and persecution of Christians.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that religious freedom conditions in India are “taking a drastic turn downward, with national and various state governments tolerating widespread harassment and violence against religious minorities.”
Religious freedom conditions in India are taking a drastic turn downward.
That certainly creates a climate of deep concern, but Mahadevan says the challenges to ministry in Mumbai and other urban areas often come from another source: trying to understand the evolving worldviews and shifting beliefs among many younger Indians.
While many want to hold to their Hindu identity, they also often embrace a relativism aimed at letting them choose what they want to believe. Mahadevan recalls a classified advertisement in a newspaper submitted by a mother seeking to arrange a marriage for her son. She cited the preferred caste for a prospective suitor but also indicated her son was gay. Mahadevan reflected on the contradiction: “This family is postmodern enough to publicly embrace gay marriage, but at the same time, traditionally Hindu enough to want a spouse from the same caste.”
It’s a relativistic dynamic common all over the world, but with a specifically Indian twist. “India has really become post-Christian without ever being Christian,” Mahadevan says. “I’m an insider, but I’m still trying to understand.”
Relief of the Gospel
For those who do embrace Christian teaching, Mahadevan says one of his pastoral priorities is to show how the gospel affects all of life—including work life. In a deeply performance-driven culture, the pastor says the message of salvation by grace is refreshing.
In a deeply performance-driven culture, the message of salvation by grace is refreshing.
He tries to encourage his congregation to reject the legalism some churches strongly lean toward, while also embracing the Bible’s teaching of how God uses their work in the world.
That’s a theme at TGC India, the newest international coalition associated with The Gospel Coalition. The group’s website has something of both a show and a tell function: it tells about how God is working through the gospel, and it also shows Indian professionals immersed in living out that theology.
Articles about faith and work feature interviews with a product strategist for a large Indian company, a public relations specialist for a leading firm in Mumbai, and a longtime physician in New Delhi. Others explore the Bible’s teaching about poverty and serving the needs of others, instead of focusing solely on personal success.
Many of the resources tackle topics common to Christians all over the world: how Christian parents can approach social media with their children, how the gospel can bring unity to a diverse church, how Christians can think biblically about depression.
Those resources are reminders that church planters in New Delhi face many of the same challenges as church planters in New York and other urban areas: how to help Christians embrace the gospel and hold fast in a weary world. One of the most read articles on TGC India’s site is by Tiya Thomas-Alexander, an Indian journalist living in London, who wrote about the spiritual reality of Christians living and serving in exile, wherever they live.
“In exile, we participate in mending work as God himself prepares a new city by redeeming old things,” writes Thomas-Alexander. “We, the in-betweeners, follow Christ’s path, who collapsed the chasm and prayed to the Father to bring heaven down on earth. He died on earth on a hill, this side of eternity—permanent work in a flimsy world.”