Feature: 'Left-Behind' County Church Offers Evening Services All the Year Around

Rural Church
Rural Church (photo: Pixabay)
By Thomas ZhangOctober 23rd, 2023

I recently talked with a young pastor who is from a county church that I learned about its present situation that for 365 days all year round, its evening service never stops.

The northern county is known for its complicated mountainous surface and poor conditions. However, in this difficult and barren soil, the gospel booms. Since the resumption of church services in the 1980s, the number of local Christians has topped the list in cities in the province. 

When the gospel was introduced at the end of the 19th century, the county was remote, cratered, and poor. Its neighboring fortress cities, on the other hand, were convenient, prosperous, and populous. As a result, the missionaries just set up a small missionary station  there and seemed to have left hurriedly. After that, they rarely set foot in the area again for more than ten years.

The pastor said, “The harder it is to survive and the poorer the flesh is, the more eager the people here are for the salvation of the soul and for the hope of being born again.” Therefore, when the pure gospel entered this remote mountainous area through many Chinese pastors and preachers, the groaning souls were widely awakened like a single spark starting a prairie fire.

In the early 1940s, Christian training and preaching blossomed everywhere in the local counties. Many people were still not satisfied after attending their local services, however. So, they walked dozens of miles over the mountains for sermons in neighboring villages or counties. No matter when, where, or what people did, the gospel spread out everywhere at every time—the truth simply flowed freely.

The pastor said that when many elderly believers recalled the past, the most frequent answer he got was that they had felt good about the sermons and eagerly wanted to listen to them day and night.

The hard and poor years have long been history. As early as ten years ago, local poverty was alleviated, and the county has become one of the top five cities in the province’s GDP.

The passionate elderly believers are vanishing, but the warm spiritual atmosphere never dissipates. In the whole region, gathering services in cities and townships have evolved into “worship custom” and have been integrated into the daily lives of local Christians.

The young pastor told me that since the resumption of churches in the 1980s, most Christians do not go home after work. Instead, they go to churches for evening services and return home for dinner later.

However, several pastors pointed out that, compared with the neighboring brother churches, the current situation of their own churches is far from "ample”. One of the pastors said that in a church in the suburbs of a main city, except for the night worship all year round, the morning prayer and the praise meetings at noon are never stopped. “The elderly believers in their churches are relatively more so; it is doable. Many believers here have to work, and scheduling is difficult.” He said, “But here, brothers and sisters should be close to God’s word every day, not for a day.”

In the "Peach Blossom Spring", written by Tao Yuanming (365–427 AD), a writer in the Eastern Jin Dynasty, there was a story about a fisherman who strayed into an isolated paradise. The people there lived as if they were different from the outside world. They had a happy life without the disturbance of war. During my visit to the county, I also deeply felt that I was entering the spiritual peach blossom spring.

The pastors said that in the local area, because most of them are grass-roots churches below the county level, the church does not particularly emphasize the deepening and systematization in the content of the sermon but is more grounded and related to the lives of believers. “Believers can use words to solve many problems and difficulties in life, so people don’t think listening to the word is boring. They come to the services consciously without being urged by the church,” said a pastor.

It is true that many large and emerging churches have achieved fruitful results in deepening the truth, intensive pastoral care, and discipleship training. In contrast, the church here is really “behind the times”. However, it is in this quaint and isolated countryside that the purest and most simple faith in the gospel has been passed down from generation to generation by local Christians.

- Translated by Charlie Li

related articles
LATEST FROM Church & Ministries