Ten New Development Trends of Churches in China During 2020-2022

A church in northern China
A church in northern China
By Ruth WangJanuary 11th, 2023

The three-year pandemic from 2020 to 2022 was exhausting, but even though the reality seemed helpless and hopeless, God always keeps on helping us and opens up hope in our despair.

Looking back and summarizing the past three years, great and far-reaching changes have taken place in many aspects of churches in China, especially in 2022, many churches in China have shown some new trends. With the great changes in various environments such as COVID-19 restrictions being lifted in 2023, some trends may be affected again. For instance, online gatherings that everyone has become accustomed to may be replaced by in-person gatherings again, but on the whole, many development trends are still worthy of attention.

The following is a list of the top ten new development trends of churches in China, listed by the Christian Times, based on the observation of the past three years, articles, click-hits, keyword search, importance, and other comprehensive factors (the following ranking is based on the content theme, and has nothing to do with the importance):

1. Micro/small churches

2. Small groups plus discipleship

3. Mobile churches (no physical gathering locations)

4. Going online

5. Family altar

6. Reading clubs

7. Psychological counseling

8. Business as mission

9. Communities

10. Health to the mass

1. Micro/small churches

From 2000 to around 2020, many churches especially urban churches in China, under the particular influence of super-large church models led by Euro-America and South Korea, were consciously on the way to building their churches into large churches. Such an idea was rather widespread. However, by 2017, especially during the pandemic in 2020, the reality had made the mode of large-scale churches impossible.

It is an important trend to break things up and re-recognize the value of small churches. In particular, pastors who are concerned about the new trend of global church development learn the value of a micro-church or one-room church model. A pastor shared: “I think the churches in China should support the route of the micro church. I think this is a worthwhile model that the churches in China must value in the future. We must seriously consider our actual situation, which is completely different from those of megachurches.” Therefore “the pastors of Chinese churches must seriously consider their own situation and make careful choices. They cannot completely copy the practices of super-large churches.”

2. Small groups plus discipleship 

Since around 2015, “small groups” has become one of the hot keywords in church pastoral care in China. Although there are still differences and debates on whether a cell should remain under a church or transform into a cell church, everyone agreed that pastoral care needs cells, which has almost become one of the consensuses of many churches, especially in urban churches.

Besides cells or small groups, disciple training is another hot keyword and consensus in pastoral care. Although the number of Christians in China has increased greatly in the past decades, not many people have actually become disciples of Jesus Christ. This is one of the profound problems of churches in China that more and more pastors have realized in the past decade. Therefore, through their respective training courses, family/workplace/life courses, etc., many churches hope to turn believers into disciples and become the reserve backbone of the churches in China.

3. Mobile churches (no physical gathering locations)

“Churches without walls” (referring to no physical gathering locations, translator’s note) is a new concept and model that have emerged all over the world in recent years. This trend is intensified after the pandemic in 2020, and the churches in China are no exception. “Family and group tendency will become a development way of the ‘churches without walls’ in the post-pandemic era.” A pastor of a southern church once said this before attending a church service. The exact way used by this church is also a manifestation of the “churches without walls”. In order to adapt to the difficult factors of the current pandemic situation, they changed the original fixed place of worship to a flexible way of renting different places and using mobile temporary locations for gatherings.

In fact, the connotation of “churches without walls” is rich, and it is a new concept that has gradually emerged in Chinese churches in recent twenty years. “Churches without walls” mainly means that the church should break the “high wall” of a building, and the barriers, barriers, and gaps between Christians and non-Christians, sects and sects, church and society, and the world. In this regard, many pastors have put forward their own ideas and opinions, and some have put them into practice, resulting in different churches and ministries based on community service, social care, and missionary churches. Some Chinese pastors believe that “in the last days, the system of the church without walls will replace the traditional in-house worship and become the source of spiritual supply for members”. To establish a church without walls, that is, to set up a micro-church in each family, community, shopping mall, campus, and community, the meeting place is not limited to a fixed place, and the Sunday meeting time can be other date including Sunday, with no more than 100 people each.

4. Going online

Around 2015, a pastor in Hangzhou started to raise believers through QQ, WeChat, and other ways. At that time, he found that many people were skeptical and critical of his practices. Many pastors thought that “the Internet is the devil”, so tried to use it as little as possible.

However, after the pandemic, the difficulty of meeting on the spot directly gave birth to online gatherings. At that time, some believers could receive more than 3 links to online gatherings a day.

After the outbreak, the importance of online herding has been increasingly recognized by pastors and churches, but the tension is still obvious. For example, the debate on whether or not to have Cloud Holy Communion has been going on for more than a year. Although it is true that some three-self churches have publicly practiced Cloud Holy Communion, it is still a very controversial topic whether it is an effective sacrament or not. However, online pastoral care brings great challenges to grasping the church concept from an entity. Some pastors have warned that when the church becomes more and more dispersed in the form of gatherings, the church will also encounter the crisis of dissipation in essence, so it is necessary to update the church concept from the perspective of the community.

5. Family altar

“The faith heritage of the descendants of believer families has become an imminent issue”. “The decline of the Christian family’s faith education has led to the problem of the loss of the second generation of faith”. Therefore, many young and middle-aged pastors realize the importance of restoring the family, and making Christ the head of the family is a tradition to be re-established. Therefore, many churches and Christians around the world have revived the faith tradition of the family churches and let the gospel begin at home.

Some pastors look at the importance of the family altar from the history of Israel. After their homes were destroyed, the people were displaced all over the world for nearly 2,000 years. However, after two thousand years, they have re-established their country, basically speaking the same language. That is because they have a strong family education system and because they preserve their ethnic culture and belief traditions through family churches.

6. Reading clubs

In the past few years, reading clubs have gradually become a new mode supplement of spiritual renewal, faith growth, and education. On the one hand, most traditional churches influenced by fundamentalism and anti-intellectualism have a negative attitude towards reading, and the attitude of “only reading the Bible” is obvious. However, with the growing needs of young believers, especially the young believers’ tendency to talk and think, reading clubs begin to rise in some churches and Christian groups. Besides reading spiritual books, some cultural and general books, readings and discussions are also becoming popular.

A pastor who has been committed to promoting the participation of urban Christian groups in book clubs for the past five years believes that many people can be freed from their confusion through the reading of books. He said, "Books not only express doctrine, but they are also educational, humanistic, spiritual and comprehensive. Reading is a useful supplement for those Christian groups who want more than just the usual church gatherings, which in turn benefits church life. I believe that many churches may be thinking about such a problem. They are realizing gradually that reading promotes the whole and is beneficial to their understanding of an entire belief system. I think this is an additional aid and from the perspective of cultural mission, it is a necessary means. This refers not only to reading, but also to music, culture, and tourism, all of which influence people from the perspective of universal enlightenment.”

Some Christians who love reading believe that Christianity is a religion with holy books, and reading should be a way for believers to participate in and even worship God. “Reading can make a nation, a country, and an individual, so reading can definitely make Christianity, a church and a Christian.”

7. Psychological counseling

A report released by the World Health Organization in March showed that there was an increase of 25 percent in symptoms of depression and anxiety in 2020. Lu Lin, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and an expert in psychiatry and clinical medicine, said that there was approximately one-third of those who were isolated at home because of the pandemic during the past three years showed different degrees of depression, anxiety, insomnia, or stress reaction. More than ten percent of the group failed to fully recover and the psychological impact will last at least two decades.

Over the past five years, churches in China paid more attention to psychological counseling, and many Christians have also participated in serving the public in the form of psychological counseling institutions.

Although domestic churches are still relatively conservative in psychological counseling, and there are still many controversies about what kind of psychological counseling is biblical, there are pastors and church workers in various places who have begun to make in-depth explorations and attempts in this field and have accumulated some successful cases. Although what the future holds is unknown, it is believed that with God’s healing in the first place and professional counseling from Christian counselors in the second place, Christians have more advantages in the field of mental health.

8. Business as mission

In the past 20 years, the so-called “business as mission” has been developed in the missionary strategy of western churches. In the past five years, especially during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, more and more pastors in China began to pay attention to the importance of business.

Some Chinese pastors concluded: “Business as mission is a sustainable and profitable business action; Set the purpose and influence of bringing people and countries out of heaven; Pay attention to the economic, social, environmental and spiritual effects and realize the overall transformation; Take care of the world's poorest and least-heard people.”

Churches in China have always been deeply influenced by fundamentalism and dualism between holiness and secularism. The concept of “the poorer the more spiritual” is common. There are often many unhealthy or unbalanced understandings about business, management, making money, and giving. More and more pastors are beginning to change their minds, thinking that churches should be financially independent and encouraging Christians to create social values in their respective fields. Some pastors believe that it is necessary to abandon the erroneous logic that poor people think and money corrupts. Instead of being a burden to society, Christians can serve society and become an influential group of people. Of course, they emphasize the importance of teaching the truth, otherwise, the phenomenon of wealth and corruption would indeed occur.

9. Communities

Communities have become a hot keyword and future trend of social development in China. More and more Christians see that the community may be the next trend of our service, so they are trying to make some updates and explorations.

In history, the revival of Christianity in China has everything to do with the movement of the masses. In the 1980s and 1990s, the revival was apparent in rural churches, where the largest crowds were also to be found. Through the process of urbanization after 2000, the crowd began to move to the city, which was accompanied by the emergence and revival of new urban churches.

Today, urbanization has further deepened and strengthened the construction of new communities. The crowds flocking into cities gradually gathered in new "urban villages". Be they large or small, these are now usually called “communities”. With that comes the question that community, as a new way of gathering people, maybe the mission field for our next step of ministry.

10. Health to the mass

During the pandemic, Chinese people’s values have undergone many profound changes. They once again find that the most precious thing for them is their health over things such as materials, money, and status. The opposite is the lack of knowledge and resources in medical treatment and health.

According to the National Health Commission on September 20, at the end of 2021, there were 267 million elderly people aged 60 and above in China, accounting for 18.9% of the total population. The effects of an aging population are increasing.

Some pastors find that a church needs to see the new trend in the future, that is, to enter the community in a healthy way, and to serve the people in the community with inexpensive medical equipment, healthy food, and products, so that their bodies and minds can well be treated. When the church brings inexpensive healthcare services and healthy ingredients into the community, individual adults can benefit from them then the church will share the good news of Christ with them and their families more effectively. Just like in the Middle East, if you help a family recover through wellness therapy, they might accept what you say.

Churches can focus on community services, like participating in elderly care services and taking care of seniors at home. By introducing advanced medical equipment, they can bring the concept and service of comprehensive health into the community.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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