A Dutch church has resorted to the power of prayer to stop the deportation of an Armenian family sheltering there by holding round-the-clock religious services.

The services began in late October in order to keep police at bay, according to officials.

The Bethel Church in The Hague has taken advantage of a loophole in Dutch law, which says that police cannot enter the premises while a religious service is under way.

The five members of the Tamrazyan family, who have been living in the Netherlands for nine years, took refuge in the church on 25 October after Dutch authorities turned down their request for asylum.

"The Tamrazyans knocked on our door one night in a panic and asked us to shelter them and protect them from the police. It was urgent," church pastor Derk Stegeman told AFP.

Ever since then, parishioners have held a continuous service 24-hours a day to make sure that it is illegal for police officers to go inside the protestant church.

"We have 500 pastors signed up to lead the services", with some coming from other parts of the Netherlands, said Mr Stegeman, who had recently completed a gruelling six-hour non-stop service.

"It's incredible what people's solidarity can achieve."

Hayarpi Tamrazyan (C) and her family have been sheltering in the Bethel Church since late October

The church has since attracted a blaze of media attention and messages of support on social media, while using its website to appeal for volunteer donations and food.

The Tamrazyans - two adults, two daughters aged 21 and 19 and a son aged 14 - left their home in The Hague after learning of the shock decision to reject their asylum claim.

The family reportedly fled Armenia after the father received death threats for his political activities.

In a statement on its website, the church said that it "respects court orders, but finds itself confronted with a dilemma: the choice between respecting the government and protecting the rights of a child.

"The purpose of the Church Asylum is to create rest and safety for the family and to offer some respite to the family during which we invite politicians to discuss with us the family's fate."

The Dutch immigration service said it did not comment on current cases.

The country's justice ministry has the power to exceptionally grant asylum to minors who are subject to expulsion orders.

The church saga echoes the case that gripped the Netherlands in September in which two Armenian children disappeared to avoid deportation.

Howick, 13 and his sister Lili, 12, were due to be deported to join their mother in Armenia, after a last-ditch legal bid failed to stop their expulsion.

But they were found shortly after the justice ministry said they would be allowed to stay.