This article is an English summary of an excerpt from the Chinese article, 好邻舍宣教模式 (“Good Neighbor Model of Missions”) by Qing Quan; the summary is by Brent Fulton. The churches and people in the article are referred to by pseudonyms. The original Chinese article is available here.
In 1959, the authorities declared Wenzhou to be “a Christianity-free city.”1 Today Wenzhou is called “the Jerusalem of China.”2 This change testifies to the practice of local missions, the result of outward environmental changes directly affecting the local model of missions in Wenzhou.
Following the missionary expulsion and government clampdown on churches in the 1950s, preachers in Wenzhou were no longer able to continue the missionary-inspired circuit-riding practice of going village to village but had to remain in the last village they had visited. Those local shepherds who “stayed behind” gained cultural recognition, their work deepened, and the gospel spread widely. Many believers rose up to lead. They suffered trials and preached courageously. Miracles and wonders accompanied the spread of the gospel.
Efforts to unify evangelistic ministries from 1942 to 19523, as well as the government’s anti-Christian actions starting in 1958 served to dismantle the original denominational borders, causing the Wenzhou church to completely reorganize, creating its future framework built on local districts.
In 1969 the Wenzhou Christian Church was established. In 1970, regional Wenzhou churches were established.4 From 1978 onwards, Wenzhou Christians began leaving Wenzhou.5 During this time the term “Wenzhou model” was coined, and Wenzhou gained the beautiful title, “Jerusalem of China.”
I. Application of the Wenzhou Model of Missions
This article uses four paradigms: going passively; coming passively; going actively; and coming actively; to review the Great Commission activities of Wenzhou Christian Churches.
a. Going Passively
Some joke that, “there are places birds cannot fly, but there is nowhere Wenzhou people cannot go.”6 The most recent statistics show that over a third of Wenzhou people live elsewhere in the world.7 Between the 1980s and 2010, merchants and students were the two main groups of Wenzhou people leaving the area.
Merchants: Following the Cultural Revolution, a shortage of resources and opportunities brought about by economic reform prompted masses of Wenzhou people to go elsewhere in China and beyond. While there was no lack of Christians among them, most Christians did not move away for the sake of the gospel. These Wenzhou Christian merchants did, however, begin establishing churches wherever they went for the simple reason that Christians needed a place to worship. These churches, having the same basic DNA, formed the Wenzhou Christian Churches. Though lacking the foundation of a theory of missions, this paradigm of “going passively” put into practice the reality of tentmaking,
Dr. Howard Brant, of Serving in Mission International, points out that a wave of missions relies on seven important factors: 1.) Called individuals; 2.) Visionary leaders; 3.) Missional churches; 4.) Appropriate training; 5.) Flexible structures; 6.) Sustainable finances; and 7.) Powerful prayer movements.8
Among these, the two characteristics of flexible structures and sustainable finances are particularly evident among merchant groups. Because merchants leave home to earn money, they do not wait to raise funds but go forth boldly. When they arrive, they first think about how to earn money so that they can live, and live well. Once they have an income, if the church has needs, or gospel work has needs, they donate according to their ability and begin new ministries.
When Wenzhou merchants went out in the early days, they faced many challenges. There is a saying, “Unafraid of heaven, unafraid of earth, only afraid of a Wenzhou person speaking Mandarin.” Fortunately many churches began using Mandarin in their gatherings, naturally attracting non-Wenzhou people to join the church and causing the church to feel a little less Wenzhou-centric.
College students: Wenzhou students likewise traveled throughout the nation for schooling, not for the sake of the gospel, but because the Wenzhou area lacked higher education resources. In 2003, Wenzhou Christian Churches established a college ministry team, and other church organizations in Wenzhou did the same. By 2010, the Wenzhou Christian Churches’ college ministry group alone oversaw more than 30 fellowships.9
b. Coming Passively
Migrant workers: The direct effect of the Reform and Opening policy was to bring population mobility to China. Since the dawn of the Reform period, 2,000,000 people have left Wenzhou while 3,000,000 have entered for work. The transformation from “outsider” to “migrant worker” to “new Wenzhou resident” is not only a change in name, but also reflects the process of Wenzhou city’s acceptance of people from the outside. A similar process of acceptance was also reflected in the church. From the time Wenzhou Christian Churches began their migrant gospel ministries in 1992, there have always been migrant workers returning home, some who return to shepherd churches full time, and others who return because of work changes to serve part time
White-collar workers: “Migrant worker” usually refers to laborers from other regions who engage in lower class work. There is also another group—the white-collar workers, or marketplace professionals, commonly known as the “baigujing (white bone spirit).”10 Wenzhou churches recognized the opportunity presented by these mobile white collar workers, shared the gospel with them, and created fellowships or churches that were focused on these “baigujing.”
c. Going Actively
Circuit pastors: The church’s involvement with the “passive” gospel bridges discussed above has resulted in strategies of active ministry that are rooted in the missionary legacy of circuit pastors.11 Circuit systems are manifest in almost all ministry teams among Wenzhou Christian Churches. Speakers from local Wenzhou revival meetings have been invited or sent to host revival meetings all over the nation. It is the same with marriage and family-building training, evangelistic training, Sunday school teacher training, and so on, as well as to support merchant churches, student fellowships, and migrant home churches elsewhere. This has become the missionary goal of Wenzhou Christian Churches—“to complete and not control.”12
d. Coming Actively
Training for non-Wenzhou people: Since 1993, Wenzhou churches have been holding training classes to help non-Wenzhou pastors begin theological training when they return to their own churches. The Wenzhou Bible Academy was formally established in 2007. Students include people from both Wenzhou and beyond.
II. The Characteristics and Weaknesses of the Wenzhou Model
“The Wenzhou model” is a term that comes from economics. In 1985, Liberation Daily summarized the Wenzhou business model with the famous “four ‘thousand’ spirits”—crossing a thousand mountains and waters, going through a thousand difficulties and trials, thinking of a thousand different ways and methods, speaking a thousand different dialects and tongues.13 The establishment of Wenzhou churches and the model of missions have been similarly called the “Wenzhou model” by other churches.
However, Wenzhou missions have been directed by God. Earlier we mentioned the models of “passive and active” as well as “going and coming,” and we see that when people are not active, God still directs the development of missions. Wenzhou Christians have been incarnational and have utilized “gospel bridges” to live elsewhere for a long time and build their own social networks among locals. They prioritize church planting in keeping with Timothy Keller’s observations about the primacy of church planting for evangelism, church growth, revival, reaching diverse populations, and sustaining urban ministries.14
Local Wenzhou churches have a circuit system. In the Wenzhou Christian Churches’ expansion outward, they have continued this model. The overall strategy of missions in Wenzhou Christian Churches is primarily to supply what is lacking in the local church by training theological students from elsewhere. Finally, during the process of developing mission fields elsewhere, most Wenzhou Christian Churches create a specific gospel fund that allows outreach to continue even if churches have inflated costs during building projects or in other areas.
III. The Crisis of the Wenzhou Model
Today, various limitations are becoming apparent. Because the Wenzhou model was unintentionally formed, there is a wildness to it that cannot be handed down. Many churches and ministries are formally continuing, but their fruit is not like before. The people still live everywhere, but are unwilling to learn local languages. The mission funds are ready, but full-time missionaries are few. The prayer meetings increase in number, but the prayers of the members are becoming cooler. Those involved in visitation are busy, but their service of love has become hollow. The church has become a community of ministries, not a community of lives. Pastors are becoming more like CEOs and are no longer life mentors.
The “Wenzhou model” needs to return to the roots of life—from caring for works to caring for people, from caring for one’s own people to caring for all nations, from being completely passive to being active as well as passive. The good neighbor model is a response to the crisis of the “Wenzhou model.”
IV. A Renewal of the Missionary Model: The Good Neighbor Model
A good neighbor is a Great Commission Christian who actively loves others, most importantly the unreached communities in the city, in regions where Chinese have migrated, and in the rest of the world. The good neighbor model asks four basic questions:
- “Who is the neighbor?” reveals the attitude of missions.
- “Who do we love?” reveals the mission field.
- “How do we do so?” reveals the strategy.
- “Who does so?” reveals the workers.
My neighbor, an active attitude: When Jesus explained “who is my neighbor,” he pointed out that when you actively love someone, you become that person’s neighbor. In his book, Bosch mentions that the roots of great changes in the past couple of decades of missiology come from knowing that God is the God of missions, from no longer seeing missions as a church activity but as God’s character.15
Who we love, the mission field: Jesus answered this question through the example of the Samaritan and the Jew. He explained the truth of loving your neighbor as you love yourself. With the resources from the Wenzhou Christian Churches’ districts, and cooperation between them, new mission fields can be more easily entered. The establishment of sending organizations unites the power of different churches to cross cultures and national boundaries.16 The good neighbor model reminds us to continually learn to enter into new unreached communities, including the neighbor of an enemy culture. Wenzhou churches are unique in that they have Christians all over the world. The concept of “neighbor” reminds Wenzhou Christian Churches to break through the existing Wenzhou cultural circles and enter into communities of other cultures.
How it’s done, the strategy: The key to being a good neighbor is found in the word “good.” It is built on the foundation of a heart of kindness, and its actions are those of lasting love. Because of their willingness to love, the last generation of Wenzhou Christian Churches won a reputation among Wenzhou people. Today, whatever obstacles we face, we need to pass down this very real, ongoing love.
Those doing it, the workers: A key question in the model of missions is: who is the missionary? In today’s mission movements, we expect elites to go into missions. But the emphasis of the good neighbor model is on “one who journeys”17—meaning everyone who journeys into a community, who goes to those in need, can become a missionary. Today, Wenzhou Christian Churches are maturing, yet the concept of the “priesthood of all believers” is slowly fading. The good neighbor model reminds us that, while developing church organization and dividing labor, we should also emphasize equipping everyone to be a disciple, to share the gospel and serve.
The twenty-first century calls for team cooperation and asks how to leave behind the concepts of Western-centrism and elitism to raise up disciples in missions. The future of Wenzhou Christian Churches as well as Wenzhou churches all over the world relies on responding to diverse cultures and to an age of globalization, which creates even more “neighbors.” The good neighbor model is suitable not only for Wenzhou Christians but also for Chinese believers as a whole who are going all over the world.
- Qing Quan, ed., “Chronology of Wenzhou Church Events. Part II,” Kernel of Wheat 5 (2007.1), p. 28.
- Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World, ed. Chen Huiwen, Twenty-first Century Chinese Edition (North America: Great Commission Center, 2003), p. 169.
- Edited by Ye Xingzhuan, Ji Yishan, Xia Tan, The Christian Gospel in Wenzhou: The Growth of Understanding Church Youth Members in the Fifties in Wenzhou Urban Christian Churches, (internally published, 2017), p. 17.
- Qing Quan, “Chronology of Wenzhou Church Events. Part II,” ed. by Mai Luru. Kernel of Wheat 8 (Hong Kong: The Ark Limited, 2007.4), p. 29.
- Jin Weigen, special report “Looking at Evangelism from the Spread of the Gospel out of Wenzhou,” 150th Anniversary of Wenzhou Gospel, September 14, 2017.
- “There are places birds cannot fly, but there is nowhere Wenzhou people cannot go,” http://www.sohu.com/a/131824696_651109 (last accessed 10 am, August 19, 2017).
- Ni Kaomeng, “Where did the Wenzhou people go?” Wenzhou Network: http://news.66wz.com/system/2017/04/17/104984270.shtml (last accessed 10 am, May 28, 2017).
- Brant, Howard, “Seven Essentials of Majority World Emerging Mission Movements.” Presented at the Korean World Mission Association, November3-5, 2009.
- Tang DW, Wenzhou, September 6, 2017.
- Baigujing, meaning white-collared (bai), backbone (gu), elite (jing).
- Qing Quan, “Cross-Cultural Missions Begins with Churches Building Cross-Cultural Teams—Discussing the Organization of Cross-Cultural Teams with Wenzhou Christian Churches as an Example,” edited by Ezra Pan, Gospel. Wenzhou. (1867-2017): Academic Papers on the 150th Anniversary of Protestant Christianity Entering Wenzhou, (Hong Kong: The Ark Limited, 2017), p. 244.
- Interview with Huang CP, Wenzhou, May 7, 2015.
- Sang Jinwuan, “For Rural Industry Look to Southern Jiangsu, for Cottage Industry Look to Southern Zhejiang, 330,000 People Involved in Family Industry,” Liberation Daily (May 12, 1985), front page headline.
- Keller, Timothy, “Church Planting as a Movement Dynamic”, Chinese translation in ChurchChina Magazine (churchchina.org) 2011, November, Issue #32, Pg 8-11. Original in Keller’s Center Church, Zondervan 2012. Chapter 29.
- David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Chinese edition translated by Bai Chen Yuhua (Taipei: China Evangelical Seminary, 1996), p. 525.
- Qing Quan, “Cross-Cultural Missions Begins with Churches Building Cross-Cultural Teams—Discussing the Organization of Cross-Cultural Teams with Wenzhou Christian Churches as an Example,” edited by Ezra Pan, Gospel. Wenzhou. (1867-2017): Academic Papers on the 150th Anniversary of Protestant Christianity Entering Wenzhou, (Hong Kong: The Ark Limited, 2017), p. 249.
- Acts 10:33.