“During the past three years of the pandemic, sisters and brothers have been hungering in the heart. Now we have resumed onsite meetings, so we are determined to try our best to feed believers,” said a pastor who just finished one retreat service.
Due to epidemic situations in China, churches had always shifted between "in-person gatherings" and "suspension of onsite and online meetings" in the last three years. At the end of 2022, the COVID-19 prevention and control regulations were gradually loosened, but it caused multitudes of people to become infected rapidly. Concerned about the health and safety of older Christians, many churches had to suspend holding meetings on-site again.
Pandemic situations turned well at the Spring Festival, and many churches around the country gradually resumed their onsite meetings and began to hold retreat activities.
Most churches hold several services on Sunday after the resumption. Usually, the first service is still going on while the attendees of the next service are already waiting in lines outside the church.
However, attendance is only half of what it was before the pandemic. It will gradually improve and recover with the regular resumption of pastoral work and the development of all various church ministries:
“We used to hold retreats for a week so believers increased day by day, but now it could not happen like that.” Speaking of the decline in church attendance, some pastors said it was because believers were accustomed to online worship during the pandemic and were not actively coming back to in-person services. The sense of the sanctity of worship is undermined in online service, so they worried that the church in China would head towards depression and degeneration like current church situations in Europe and America.
But some Christians believed that the past three years were a time to purify their faith. They said that the churches seemed to develop and all ministries were going on before the pandemic, “but the hearts of people are not rooted faithfully." They added, “God used the circumstances to refine our faith and make it purer."
Worries are real, but pastors do not lose hope. Local TSPM holds meetings to plan works for the new year; grassroots churches set up revival retreats; and communication and exchanges between churches are also conducted.
Around the Spring Festival, one grassroots church staff member attended several retreats. Just as one ended here, another started there. During the holiday, believers had more spare time, so churches seized the opportunity to hold retreats. This church worker attended six retreats and served the congregations throughout the lunar month of January.
As February 22, Ash Wednesday arrives, China's churches are expected to celebrate the first Easter after reopening.
- Translated by Kristina Ran