Impact of Online Shepherding Brought to Urban Church

A church in Henan
A church in Henan
By Elsie HuNovember 21st, 2016

It has been more than thirty years since the Reform and Opening up, and the number of Christians increases rapidly. There were particular revival periods in the rural church areas, especially in the old gospel base areas like Henan, Anhui, and other regions. As time goes by and the economy develops, while renovating the shabby and crude churches and building solemn and magnificent churches, there are fewer and fewer people who worship God. The rural churches have reached bottleneck period. The current situation of rural churches reflected the irreversible discouragement to the development of the churches. How to find a turn from this stagnation needs input from more people.

The situation in every city is different, and so are the difficulties and challenges the church facing

Pastor Fan, who has been shepherding Xinxiang Church for years, recalled that the church was very lively in the past. In 2000, there were too many people coming to the church on Sundays; people sat both inside and in the yard. People would count days, looking forward to the evening Bible study, and prayer meeting in the church. They gathered together, sharing, communicating and growing like families and they were very warmhearted. Compared to the past, churches now grow significantly slower. "It is and has to be related to the internet," said Pastor Fan. It is the internet era where you can find all information online: sermons, testimonies, and Bible study. People can listen to sermons and do spiritual studies through the internet without going to church. 

The Impact of Online Shepherding

Talking about the popular "online shepherding," Pastor Fan has her own opinions. She thinks that it is very controversial. Some think it is good, but some think otherwise. "We have not thought about starting an online church," she said honestly, "it is not practical." 

Pastor Fan mentioned the brothers and sisters that she knew starting online churches for shepherding.  Either they couldn't see the believers online, or they would get kicked out if the believers found their sermons to be poor. No matter for what reason, it falls short of the teachings of the Bible. "We need fellowship and to be physically together." Pastor Fan said.

Online-shepherding isn't entirely unfeasible.  However, there are too many disadvantages. Pastor Fan believes, from the perspective of the church, online shepherding can't provide face to face opportunity, and you can't know if the users are using their real names. From the perspectives of the believers, they might not notice when they end up in heresies. "Don't be addicted to the internet. Some traditional, ancient styles of gatherings need to be continued." Pastor Fan said discreetly.

In addition to the impact on urban churches by online shepherding, Pastor Fan thinks there are two other reasons as to why the church has difficulties developing. "People think differently than they used to." As the society develops their minds are more and more open.  The more they see, the more realistic their thoughts are. Sometimes they want to believe in visible things. It seems that the better their conditions are, the more they pursue visible things. What we believe is neither visible nor touchable. Rich people go to temples for incense for inner comfort, but if you preach Jesus to them, they think they can't see Jesus the way they see Buddha statues. Pastor Fan sighed, "The thinking of people is still not changed."

Moreover, compared to the rural churches, the biggest disadvantage is that people are too busy in the city. In rural areas, if the parents are believers, their children are likely to actively believe. However, in the city, people are all busy making a living. Even though they believe in God, they seem unwilling and do not want to spend more time in church. They think it is sufficient to just "believe." During weekends and holidays, it is even harder to see these believers in the church. They would rather spend the rare day off going out or resting than going to church. "In the past, we held classes in rural churches with a lot of young people attending. Even though their educational level is not very high, it is possible to gather the young people." Pastor Fan said, "In the city, it is difficult to find people during the golden weeks like May Day and National Day.  There are fewer people than normal in the church."

Sunday Schools are Critical to the Future of the Church

Pastor Fan thinks changing the situation of slow development in churches should begin with Sunday schools. "The age from six to eight is fine, by the time they're ten it no longer works. Children over ten have a lot of homework and after-school classes to go to. The learning creates stress in first or second grade. Once they're over ten, it is hard to gather them together on Sundays." Pastor Fan used the church she works in to illustrate. "For example, the teenagers we gathered ten years ago for rehearsing shows are now 18 or 19. They're in the 10th or 11th grades and it is difficult to gather them together. We couldn't  do so five years ago.  Back then, they received baptism and grew up in church, and they would come for rehearsal shows.  Now they've stopped coming."

Pastor Fan believes that one reason why children over ten are difficult to gather together is the heavy school work. Another reason is they don't stay involved as teenagers so they drift away with society. Moreover, in some families, the parents do not have faith and the children follow their grandparents' faith. But their grandparents don't have as much say as the parents, and when the parents' opinions of disbelief affect them, they gradually come to church less and less. Therefore, Pastor Fan suggests starting with the children in Sunday schools. It is helpful to the development of the children to go to church even just once a week, but they can't fall behind.

related articles
LATEST FROM Church & Ministries