In years past I have marveled at the large numbers of people who flow through China’s churches every year at Christmas. I know of one urban church that hosts over 10,000 visitors during its six Christmas services. Each year I see the church building bursting at its seams, bodies crammed along every aisle and stairway. Each year I watch as the area around the church is closed to traffic and swarmed by young people eager to catch a glimpse or hear a word of Christmas—compelled by a sense that Christmas must in some ways must be connected to the church.
As I walked through the center of town on Christmas Eve, I was forced every few steps to maneuver around yet another vendor trying to sell me something. In years past the pushcarts had been covered with Santa hats and light-up electronic wands. This year, however, it was all about apples—enormous apples branded with fortuitous (or sexy) images and packaged in Christmas-y cardboard boxes.
Over the Christmas holiday I saw three very different large gatherings, each of which demonstrates a prominent trend in contemporary China. Taken together, these three crowds say something profound about the direction that China and her church are headed.