Supporting Article

Partnership to Welcome Hong Kong Newcomers

In January 2021, the British government began to provide Hong Kong residents, who are holders of British National Overseas (BNO) passports, with a special route to allow them and their immediate families to immigrate to the UK and obtain British citizenship after five years. The government estimated that in the next few years some 300,000 Hong Kong residents may immigrate to the UK.

Entrance to London's Chinatown, Hong Kong immigrants are going to the UK to take advantage of the British National Oversees (BNO) passport program.
Entrance to London’s Chinatown.

As a Chinese mission organization based in Milton Keynes, UK, Chinese Overseas Christian Mission (COCM) responded quickly by working with Christian leaders, refugee charities, and other mission agencies to establish the UKHK platform and website to encourage local churches in a joint effort to welcome new immigrants from Hong Kong. More than 1,300 local churches have signed up to show their willingness to open the doors of their churches to receive and help Hong Kong newcomers who have settled in their communities.

At the same time, COCM also partnered with Chinese churches up and down the UK to pool resources together to reach out and welcome Hong Kong families moving into different parts of the UK. We are very thankful to see that Chinese and British churches are a united family in the Lord, welcoming new immigrants, caring for them, and witnessing for Christ.

Since 2021, COCM has been involved in the projects of UKHK to help new immigrants from Hong Kong settle in the UK. Here are some of the projects we have been involved in together with hundreds of churches in the UK:

  • Welcome Magazine: This magazine introduces interesting facts and information about life and culture in the UK. Twenty thousand copies were printed; some were given to schools and churches, while others were distributed to families with children at the Friendship Festivals organized in cities around the UK.  
  • Welcome Course: Hong Kong newcomers were invited to join Christian churches in their neighborhoods to watch the Welcome Course videos introducing the endearing (but also possibly peculiar) aspects of British life and culture. The course has six sessions: Welcome to the UK, Understanding British Culture, Making Friends, Wellbeing, Problem Solving, and Citizenship.
  • Friendship Festivals: Festivals were organized in major UK cities to welcome Hong Kong newcomers. These events were mostly held in spacious outdoor areas with large performance stages featuring live music and performances, as well as offering family activities such as games, face-painting, bouncy castles, and football. Various organizations and charities, including Chinese churches and local churches, participated along with vendors providing a variety of Chinese food and snacks, as well as services for physical and mental wellbeing. Many local council representatives were present to welcome their new neighbors from Hong Kong. In September 2022, figures published by the British government showed that nearly 150,000 BNO visas had been granted to eligible Hong Kong residents, and more than 130,000 Hong Kong immigrants had arrived in the UK.
Chinese Christian church in Cambridge, UK, serves old Chinese immigrants and new Hong Kong immigrants.
Cambridge Chinese Christian Church

But who are these 130,000 Hong Kong newcomers who have settled in the UK? A survey in July 2022 by UKHK ( gives us a broad picture of the group. The survey results show that most of the Hong Kong newcomers are from the 30–60 age group and are parents with young children. A smaller percentage of people are either elderly (older than 70) or single adults from the 21–30 age group. The Hong Kong newcomers are mostly well-educated with 75.4% of the survey respondents holding college, university, or postgraduate degrees. They have solid assets brought from Hong Kong but many still need to find jobs in the UK. More than 80% of them plan to live permanently in the UK, and 31.3% of the respondents have already bought property in the UK.

The UKHK survey results show that among the BNO Hong Kong newcomers in the UK, 41.8% are Christians (34.6% Protestant and 7.2% Catholic). This percentage is significantly higher than the 16% of Christians in Hong Kong as of 2020 (including Protestants and Catholics).

Chinese churches and local churches in the UK are working hard to welcome and shepherd the vast number of Christians from Hong Kong as soon as possible, giving them opportunities to serve, and mobilizing them to reach out with the gospel of Jesus Christ to non-believing Hong Kong newcomers and others in the Chinese diaspora.

We have observed the following trends:

  • Attendance in existing Cantonese churches has doubled or tripled. Some churches have added more Sunday services or moved to larger meeting venues. Extra manpower is needed to expand various ministries, including children and youth ministries.
  • Local British churches are involved in welcoming BNOs settling in their areas, resulting in the need for some churches to set up Cantonese fellowship groups or even Cantonese Sunday services in addition to their regular worship services in English.
  • A wave of new Cantonese church plants is sweeping across the UK.

The growth of Chinese churches in the UK has increased by 20% in the past three years. The total number of Chinese churches grew from below 170 to over 200. Hong Kong churches and Christian organizations are eager to support the BNOs who have immigrated to the UK. Many of these churches and organizations have been actively setting up bases in the UK to bring over their resources and provide training for the churches here. Chinese churches in North America are also aware of the needs of BNO immigrants in the UK. Many of them have sent short-term mission teams to go and see the current development and explore ways to offer new church plants human and financial support.

Most of the Hong Kong newcomers are families with primary school-aged children and teenagers; hence, children and youth ministries are vital to churches. It is a huge challenge for churches to care for two language groups as the second and third generations who are born and raised in the UK prefer to worship in English whereas the newly arrived young people might prefer to worship in Cantonese. The language barrier and cultural differences between the newly arrived Hong Kong youths and the locally born Chinese have made it difficult for the two groups to integrate, posing a serious problem for churches to tackle. Some parents might choose to attend local English-speaking churches with better youth ministries to meet the needs of their teenage children, while other families might stop attending church completely if their children are not cared for. We are exploring creative ways for Cantonese-speaking and English-speaking ministry teams to collaborate in supporting the newly arrived Hong Kong families settle in a spiritual home where they feel they can belong in the UK.

Chinese Christian church in London, which serves both old Chinese immigrants and newer Hong Kong immigrants.
Chinese Church in London

With the large influx of Hong Kong immigrant families to the UK, many Chinese churches saw their youth groups suddenly multiply, and the language of many youth ministries change from English to bilingual English and Cantonese. COCM’s English Ministry team and Cantonese Ministry team had to work more closely than before, complementing and supporting each other in doing youth ministry. The huge challenge the ministry faced was helping the Cantonese-speaking new immigrant youths find a sense of belonging, while not neglecting the needs of the locally born next generation of Chinese, whose native language is English.

Before the pandemic, there had always been a shortage of ministry workers among the Chinese churches in the UK. The average Chinese church has very limited resources and few full-time pastoral workers. Some churches must rely on outside support through various partnerships and collaboration with other Chinese churches and organizations. COCM missionary workers regularly provide support to many Chinese churches in different capacities.

It is exciting to see that there are many pastors and ministry workers among the BNO newcomers in the UK. They are part of this wave of immigration, and many come with a sense of calling to serve the Chinese diaspora in the UK. There are some tough challenges these new pastors must overcome. Multilingual skills are a must for pastoral workers serving in the UK, except for those who pastor a church solely for newly arrived Hong Kong people. Cantonese-speaking pastors in the UK will need to learn Mandarin and English. Another challenge is to achieve unity among congregations speaking different languages and believers coming from different backgrounds: between Chinese old immigrants and Hong Kong newcomers.

COCM provides a platform to connect the newly arrived pastoral workers with Chinese churches in the UK and Europe. We invite some of the pastors who are interested in working with COCM to become volunteer COCM associates. We arrange for them to engage with suitable Chinese churches to take part in our ministry so they can get to know the congregation in a Chinese church. At the same time, we work with Chinese churches to introduce them to these new ministry workers and help match churches with suitable pastors.

COCM has been hosting an annual Oasis pastoral retreat to provide a platform to connect pastors and ministry workers from Chinese diaspora churches in the UK. In February 2021, we organized an online Pastoral Consultation, inviting pastors who had been looking after new HK immigrants to share their insights and experiences and brainstorming with Chinese church leaders on how to walk alongside these new HK immigrants to help them adapt to their new environment and integrate into UK society.

In 2023, the Oasis Pastoral Staff Retreat hosted more than a hundred pastors, including those serving in the Cantonese and Mandarin congregations from various Chinese churches. We invited key leaders from the Evangelical Alliance, Global Connections, and Lausanne Europe to share messages on the current situation of diaspora groups from various ethnicities and the great opportunities for diaspora churches to participate in global missions right here in the UK. It was eye opening to learn how the UK and Europe have become mission fields with great opportunities for diaspora churches to participate in world missions here on our doorsteps. We pray to the Lord that the fruitful partnership among different churches to welcome Hong Kong newcomers will expand further to the mobilization of Chinese believers to participate in global mission locally in the UK.

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Image credits: Header: Markus Winkler via UnSplash; 1st in-text Boris Stroujko via AdobeStock; 2nd in-text Peter Moulton via AdobeStock; 3rd in-text Chris Lawrence via Adobe Stock.
Henry Lu

Henry Lu

Henry Lu was born in Xian, China. His spiritual journey began at a young age, with a simple prayer with a house church sister in China. He then went through many years of seeking and growing, spanning three continents. After a teaching career where he engaged with university students …View Full Bio