Supporting Article

China's Youth and Christianity

An Interview


QQ was born in China, went through the Cultural Revolution, and was a youth communist leader. While studying overseas, he became a Christian and later served in Latin America. He has a special interest in church planting, community development, and working with youth. Currently, he has been working inside China for 14 years. I recently talked to QQ on Skype to hear about what is happening with youth in China today.

A ChinaSource Interview conducted by Cathy Gibson

CS: What kind of Christian work is being done with youth in China today?

QQ: The majority of youth work is probably in three areas. One is the house church where they have Sunday schools that reach out to youth. The second area is campus outreach, going out onto the university campuses to reach college students. This creates crucial fellowship. The third area is occasionally having teams do summer camps.

CS: What is the purpose of these approaches?

QQ: For house churches their main purpose is passing on basic Christian beliefs, Christian training with not as much emphasis on discipleship. In relationship to leadership training they are very weak, but they do focus on evangelism. For the campus outreach style, the focus is really on discipleship and, of course, some leadership training. The summer camps' purpose is pre-evangelism and evangelism along with basic Christian training. So, they do preaching, and preaching, and preaching.

CS: To what degree are young people in China today open to spiritual thingsor are they just taken up with the material?

QQ: They are just taken up with the material because what surrounds them is the material. Their constant goal, under the pressure of their parents, is pursuing higher education and great success. With youth, you lead by example, and the parents really hunger for the material. Even though the youth are really empty (they are like blank, white pieces of paper) it is hard to get them to open to spiritual things. In China, young people have not even heard of the name of Jesus. They categorize Christianity as "religion" based on what other people tell them. However, if they have the chance to really hear about Christianity, if they have someone to tell them about it, they are eager to learn. Their hearts are empty, so when they hear the gospel, they open up and really want to learn moreespecially the university students.

CS: What understanding do China's youth have of God? How do they view him?

QQ: Under the education of atheism, most youth will say there is no God. They view God as a superstition or a provider of material things. Money is their god because money is their power. That's how they view Him. They view God as a material thing, something they can see, not an invisible power.

CS: What questions do today's youth have? What are the issues that concern them the most? That influence their lives the most?

QQ: They are concerned with first, education, next, what kind of job they will get. They are pursuing an endless point. The immense pressure starts at elementary school, continues as they look towards high school and then on through high school to college and from college to work.The questions they have are: "Where am I headed? Where do I reach the end?"

Another crucial question youth have is: "Where are my parents?" Over fifty percent of youth do not see their parents regularly. Their parents are outside of their province and live in the major cities, working, pursuing material things and income. They leave the young people behind to live with their grandparents. Over sixty percent of youth stay at their schools Monday through Saturday, so the teacher becomes their parent. There are so many life issues and questions that nobody answers other than the teachers. The teachers influence them the most–not their parents.

Other questions they often have are: "Why did my parents give birth to me since they don't care for me? Why do I need to work hard and study hard?" and "Why is money so powerful?" Since their parents are pursing money, they think money is their god.

CS: What role do the internet and other modern technologies play in youth work?

QQ: It's a major part right now, very influential. Youth connect with each other through the internet. With the single child policy of China and the way most of the students spend all of their time at school, whenever they have access to the internet they are looking for someone to talk to. Any chance they have to get on the internet, they do so. Addiction to the internet in China is a major problem. We do have some outreaches to youth through the internet, like with QQ (www.qq.com). That is the most popular youth site in China. People of all ages are using it but youth the most. The internet has become one of the main avenues to reaching the youth because we can't just walk onto the school campuses.

Chinese youth use a lot of music websites. Also games are very popular, China being one of the biggest consumers of computer games. We do have some outreaches to youth through the internet, but in using all these modern technologies in youth work we are still far behind. A lot of Chinese Christians are putting Bibles and things on the internet for youth access. One of the most popular ways of reaching out to Chinese youth is through music.

Also, the cell phone has become a good resource. Youth are sending many text messages and doing internet chats over their cell phones. We use this to reach the youth, sending out texts right before we have meetings.

CS: How do the youth respond? What method(s) seems most effective?

QQ: They respond very quickly, and information spreads very fast to others. The most effective method is just connecting with them. Keep listening to them and letting them express themselves–but not preaching to them. Youth don't like preaching, especially in China. They listen to their teachers Monday through Saturday, so they don't like someone preaching to them.

CS: How is youth work different today than it was 20 years ago?

QQ: The key thing that is so different in China, and makes our work so effective, is relationships. China is very focused on relationships. Everything that you want in order to be successful is found in relationships. Youth work is also all about relationships. How can we build relationships with the students in high school? With those on the university campuses? We want to bring people into relationships to grow together, like with Big Brother and Big Sister programs. Based on relationships, we hold camps; based on relationships we do teaching. We build relationships with teachers, because they are the vital influence; they are in the schools with the youth. One of our key strategies is reaching the teachers in order to reach the youth. Being a Christian teacher is hard in China. We try, by all means, to support the teachers, encouraging them to take care of the youth. That's very different than 20 years ago. Everywhere I travel in China, you don't see youth [in the churches]. For example, in a 10,000 member church their Sunday school for youth has only 300 students. China still has a big need here.

Also, based on China's background, most of the high school and university students are away from their families. The work we are doing is not church-based because they are already in their own community. Instead it is community based, school based, university based. Our approach is very different; we reach out to them as a group, lead them as a group, disciple them as a group. As they grow, they grow as a group. This approach only began three years ago, especially in working among the high school students and is just the beginning,

CS: What excites you about youth work in China?

QQ: There is always something new, always a new challenge. There is not a single format or a single method that can do it all. Also, China is in a new era and willing to try new things. It excites me to see the young people who turn to Christ when they "get it." When we see a whole class of high school students turning to Christthat excites us. They are all like a [blank] piece of paper, so white, you can write anything on it. If we care about them, they care also. Sometimes the young people do not have baggage, which is a good thing. I thank God for that. In the last fifty years, with the culture being changed and traditions vanishing, the youth are living at a crossroads. They don't know where to go. When someone cares for them, they hear and they "get it"; they taste and see the new life. This is happening on university campuses and in the high school locations.

One of the things challenging us is how to follow up with all of this. We need mature Christians and mature leaders ready to spend time and follow up with them.

CS: What are the greatest challenge you face in youth work?

QQ: Money–because a youth worker needs to spend a lot of money. The workers cannot collect money [from the youth], they can only spend money.

Another challenge is how to follow up with the youth and how to enlarge the campus work. We need personnel for youth work because not many really understand the youth or enjoy working with them [a group with] constant change and high energy. We need to know the culture to reach out to them, to reach in, to make our lives an example for them. That's a great challenge for all youth workers inside of China.

Also, the government of China is carefully guarding the next generation, the youth, at all times. They think it is their responsibility to train the next generation for the future. We need to learn what Jesus says: "When you enter a place, be wise like a serpent and humble like a dove."

CS: What else do you think our readers should know about youth work in China?

QQ: One of the major things is that youth work in China is very dangerous. The government is constantly watching whoever works among the youth. We do know this is spiritual warfare. Satan doesn't want us to bring the youth of China to Christ; he will try every way to stop us.

Pray for the churches of China, that their leaders would be willing to put in their best effort for the next generation, the youth, instead of being focused on theology or differences or their own little circle. Encourage them to support a youth worker or to raise up youth workers to reach the youth. There are over 400 million youth in China waiting for the Lord. They are the future of everything. So please, do not delay.

Image credit: Chad 

Cathy Gibson

Cathy Gibson worked with college students, both in the United States and internationally, for over eight years. She now serves on the staff of ChinaSource. View Full Bio