Thoughts On Churches in China

There has been rapid increase in the number of Christians in China. This started in early 80s. Before then, churches in China were underground house churches, and their members were old, having become Christians through Western missionaries before they were expelled by the Communist government. Young people became Christians through these underground house churches and started witnessing actively. As a result, the Gospel spread far and wide and house churches sprang up in many places. Some house churches became so large that their membership grew to 100 or 200. The leaders of these house church movements were uneducated rural laypeople.

As the Chinese government started adopting capitalistic policies and society became more open, people starting migrating from farms to the cities. Before 1980, 70% of the population lived in rural areas. Now the situation is reversed – 70% of the total population lives in cities.

As people migrated from farms to cities, house churches moved also. Their leaders also followed their flock to the cities. But the house churches that started in rural areas have had difficulty taking root in urban areas. Their leaders don’t know how to take care of their flock in these totally different surroundings. House churches that were robust under persecution are now in disarray.

As house churches grew rapidly, 3-Self Churches grew as well. (3-Self Churches are government-sanctioned churches that rely on self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation, thus their name.) Some people think that 3-Self Church pastors are government puppets. They are wrong. Many pastors are highly evangelical and have experienced a great deal of hardship because of their faith. They believe that they can effectively witness even under government supervision.

Pastors of 3-Self churches are required by the government to complete a certain number of courses at government-sanctioned seminaries. There are very few of these seminaries and each has limited enrollment. As a result, the number of ordained pastors is extremely small. For example, one city with 200,000 people has only 2 ordained pastors; another with 2 million has only 12 pastors. So people throng to the few churches with buildings and ordained pastors. It’s common for Sunday worship attendance at 3-Self churches to number several thousand people. Sadly, their pastors don’t know how to handle the crowds except by offering multiple Sunday services because nobody taught them how to pastor.

Many missionaries are active in China but most of them do not have experience in pastoring. All they can offer is theological study, when what the house churches and 3-Self church leaders need is ministry skills. We must convey our house church ministry philosophies and ministry skills to them.

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