Chinese church

The Next Mass Missionary Movement

According to Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra the next mass missionary movement will be made in China.

This fall, about 850 Chinese leaders gathered for their own missions conference even closer to home. They announced from Hong Kong a long-discussed goal: to send 20,000 missionaries from China by the year 2030.

The number is enormous, especially for a country that has sent only a few hundred foreign missionaries so far. Of the world’s top six sending countries, four hover around the 20,000 mark, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC): France, Spain, Italy, and South Korea. Only the United States (127,000) and Brazil (34,000) send more.

By those numbers, reaching 20,000 shouldn’t be hard. The global average for Christians sending foreign missionaries is 175 per million, said CSGC’s Todd Johnson. If China has 100 million Christians, sending 17,500 would meet the average.

However, the Chinese church isn’t aiming for averages but repayment: Chinese leaders estimate about 20,000 missionaries have served in China since the days of Robert Morrison and Hudson Taylor.

“The idea of the 20,000 was based on a gospel debt or missional debt,” said 10/40 Window speaker and author Luis Bush, who addressed the Hong Kong conference. “They see themselves as an extremity of Acts 1:8.”

China’s big goal is reminiscent of South Korea’s pledge in the 1990s to raise 10,000 missionaries in 10 years. South Korean Christians met their goal in 2000 and raised it: they’re now aiming for 100,000 missionaries by 2030.

Adding 20,000 Chinese missionaries “will definitely be a shift in the gravity of Christianity and its impact for the world from the West to the East,” said David Ro, Lausanne’s international deputy director for East Asia.

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The Great Commission — in Chinese UPDATED

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
— Acts 4:13

I assumed that all I needed to understand the Great Commission where some good commentaries. I was wrong. This story came in from a man we’ll call Mr Smith.

I was with a group of Chinese church leaders many years ago. They were studying the Great Commission together. They concluded that “I am with you always” was by far the most important part of the Commission. One by one these leaders stood and testified what that promise meant to them. Here’s what they said,

  1. When I am away from my spouse and tempted to sin Jesus is always with me
  2. When I am being beaten by police, I am never alone Jesus is always with me.
  3. When I do not know what to say when I am accused, I do not have to worry Jesus is always with me
  4. When I go to a new town or village where I have never been I am never alone Jesus is always with me
  5. When I am in prison even if I am the only believer I am never alone Jesus is always with me
  6. If I am tempted not to obey the Great Commission I cannot because Jesus is always with me
  7. Nothing I ever do or say will ever cause Jesus not to be with me.

There’s knowing that comes from reading the Great Commission and studying the best exegetes. Then there’s knowing that comes from obedience at a cost.

UPDATE: Next time someone tells you these multiplying movements are "half a mile wide and half an inch deep" remind him of the outstanding exegetical skills of these Chinese believers." They may not be theologically trained. They may be "uneducated ordinary men and women." But they have been with Jesus and they are learning to obey everything he has commanded.

The price they paid

Destroy the old world Cultural Revolution poster In all the excitement of what God is doing in China today, let’s not forget the price that was paid by both Western missionary pioneers and Chinese believers.

According to Stark and Wang…

Nearly half of all Protestant missionaries who came to China before 1891 died or went home due to ill health. Infant and childhood mortality rates were three times higher than back home.

In 1899 the Boxer Rebellion resulted in the death of over 30,000 Chinese Christians as well as 47 Catholic priests and nuns and 136 Protestant missionaries and 53 of the children.

Even before they came to power, the Communists were killing Christians. Between 1945-48 Chinese Communist forces killed 96 Catholic missionaries including 12 nuns. Once they were in power the Communists continued to imprison, torture and kill Catholic believers, priests, nuns and bishops.

Most well-known Chinese church leaders ended up in prison or worse.

Watchman Nee was arrested in 1952 and spent the rest of his life in prison under harsh conditions. He died in prison 1972.

Wang Zhiming was arrested with his wife and three sons at the height of the Cultural Revolution in 1969. On December 29, 1973 Wang was brutally executed in a stadium in Wuding in front of a crowd of 10,000, most of them Christians.

Samual Lamb was imprisoned in 1957 and released. Immediately he began preaching again. He was re-arrested in 1958 and imprisoned until 1978 under harsh conditions. Upon his release he restarted his “house church” although now it could no longer fit inside a house as it had grown to 4-5,000 people.

In 2001 fifty agents of the Public Security Bureau invaded Samuel Lamb’s unregistered church, ransacking the building and destroying equipment. Lamb was imprisoned again. He refused to relent and was released after international pressure.

As so many Christian leaders were dead or in prison Li Tianen devoted himself to training young leaders. Out of his efforts arose the Fangcheng Fellowship which become one of the largest of all house church movements in China.

In 1975 he was arrested and given a death sentence. A huge flood forced the postponement of his first scheduled execution. The second execution date was interrupted by an internal Communist Party power struggle. One of Li’s most bitter enemies was the local secretary of the Communist Party, Fang Iancai. Fang’s faction lost power and he ended up sharing Li’s death row cell. Li led Fang to Christ. Li eventually was released and Fang’s sentence was commuted to 15 years in prison.

By 2010 the Fangcheng Fellowship had an estimated membership of 10 million.

Other leaders who suffered under the Communists include Wang Mindao, Yuan Xiangchen, John Sung, Li Tianen. These prominent leaders are a tiny representation of the many thousands of ordinary believers who suffered for Christ under the Communists.

Christianity in China — a few facts and some surprises

Stark Wang A few interesting and occasionally surprising facts from A Star in the East by Stark and Wang:

  • Christianity is growing everywhere in China. Christianity is growing just as fast in the cities as in the rural districts.
  • There is a prevalence of well-educated Chinese among urban Christians in China.
  • The more affluent rural Chinese are more likely to convert.
  • The middle-aged are more likely to convert than the young or elderly.
  • Most rural Chines were introduced to Christianity by their family, friends and neighbours. In one study 90% of people had their initial contact with Christianity through interpersonal ties.
  • Christians are significantly more likely than other Chinese to say they are “very happy”—44% compared to 34%.
  • A substantial number of Communist Party members are Christians.
  • We should expect the spread of Christianity among the Chinese to substantially improve their physical and mental health. Backed up by this study from Peking University.

Factors in the growth of Christianity in China

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My notes on some of the reasons for the growth of (Protestant = evangelical) Christianity in China given by  Stark and Wang :

Persecution was the single most important factor in the growth of Christianity in China since 1949. By expelling Western missionaries the Communists completed the transformation of Protestantism in China into an entirely Chinese movement.

Some Western Protestant missionaries had begun to lose faith not only in missions but in Christianity. Their expulsion protected the Chinese church from the debilitating influence of theological liberalism. Luke-warm liberalism cannot generate high levels of commitment.

Persecution results in a high level of member intensity. High levels of commitment are required for rapid growth. Committed people share their faith with others.

Most conversions occur through networks of interpersonal relationships. Conversion is not a very visible phenomenon. To deprive a faith of a public presence has little impact on its growth if members are engaged privately in converting their friends and family.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) most churches were destroyed or converted into other uses. Thousands of clergy were jailed or forced into re-education camps. The Catholics were vulnerable due to their hierarchical structure and dependence on ordained clergy and sacred buildings. Soon their was an acute shortage of priests. Without priests there were no Masses and no baptisms.

In contrast, Protestants had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of preachers, male and female. Any devoted believer can conduct a church gathering. Protestants are able to pray, read the Bible and worship in homes.

In 1950 the Catholics outnumbered Protestants by 3 to 1. Today Catholics are outnumbered by Protestants 10 to one and the ratio is increasing.

How many Christians are there in China? Estimates and Trends.

Christians in China 1980 2040 Stark Wang A Star in the East

Estimates of the number of Christians in China vary greatly. In A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China, Stark and Wang chose 1980 as the base year for their estimates. Christianity had just become legal and somewhat visible.

They estimated that in 1980 there were 10 million Christians in China.

Next they examined a 2001 study by the Research Centre for Contemporary China (Peking University) and a second survey conducted in 2007 by Horizon, China’s largest most respected polling firm.

They concluded that in 2007 there were 60 million Christians in China.

If their estimates are correct, from 1980 to 2007 Christianity in China grew from 10 million to 60 million at a rate of 7% per year.

If that rate of growth continues for just the next ten years, there will be more Christians in China than any other nation on earth. If a 7% annual growth rate continues, by 2040 there will be almost 600 million Christians in China.

China — the first post-religious society or the nation with the most Christians on earth?

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A few notes from A Star in the East: The Rise of Christianity in China ….

In the 1940s Western academics like Harvard’s John K Fairbank, were proclaiming it had “become evident that few Chinese people are likely to become Christians and that the missionaries’ long-continued effort, if measured in numbers of converts, had failed.”

In 1949 the Chinese Communists came to power and within a few years had expelled all Western missionaries. China was to become the model of a fully secularized post-religious society.

By the best estimates, in 1949, there were around 1 million Chinese Protestants and 3.2 million Catholics. From the beginning the Communist Party opposed all forms of religious faith, although the fiercest and deadliest persecution awaited the Cultural Revolution of 1966.

The death of Mao in 1976 led to a relaxation of persecution, and by 1979 one million Protestants had become 5 million and 3.2 million Catholics had become 5 million, mostly due to fertility.

By 2007 there were as many Christians in China as members of the Communist Party. Today Christians greatly outnumber party members, although increasingly there is an overlap between the two affiliations. [Yes, there are now many members of the Communist Party who are Christians.]

If this rate of increase continues for just ten more years, there will be more Christians in China than any other nation in the world.

It appears that faith in a coming post religious China has been revealed as the opium of Western intellectuals. The foolishness of God has shamed the wise. The weakness of God has overpowered the strong.