According to one of the greeter/usher/crowd-control guys (who just became my best friend for finding me a place — out of range of all the āyís and their unsolicited advice — where I could change a mid-Sunday school poopie diaper), the Shanxi Lu Three-Self church can hold almost 1600 in the pews. These pictures are from this morning, half-way through the early (8:30) service, outside the overflow room where people who couldn’t get seats inside the main split-level auditorium or who can’t climb stairs watch the proceedings on a video screen.
Looks like they ran out of stools.
People were even camped out around the corner listening through the side doors and windows of the overflow room:
I would have had better pictures, but these were all I was able to squeeze out of my dead camera batteries if I let them rest in between shots.
Shanxi Lu is the biggest of the four Three-Self churches in Tianjin. “Three-Self church” means a legal, registered Chinese church that is officially under the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement”, which is one of two Party organizations controlling all legal Protestant church activity in China (there are other organizations that control the Catholics). The term “three-self” is a missiological term from the 19th century referring to missionaries’ desires to have local churches be “self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating.”
ABC News’ “True Believers” feature has recent reportage on the legal, illegal-but-tolerated, and illegal-and-not-tolerated churches in China.