A Christian Chinese doctor stood with a small group of Chinese believers on the 20th floor of a hotel overlooking their city. He asked them to take a good look at the city below. “There are 400,000 people out there who have never heard the gospel,” he said. “Unless we do something about it, they are going to die and go to hell.” Deeply moved, the believers responded with commitment. Six months later the group of eight Christians had grown to 96 and is still growing. One man boldly shared his burden, and now others are boldly sharing the gospel.
- A restaurant owner has been fervent about sharing the gospel with her employees and customers. As a result, all of the restaurant workers are believers, many of the customers have heard the gospel, and some have embraced Christ as their own personal Savior.
- Chinese business professionals and senior executives are meeting with Christian Chinese businessmen to learn the secrets to personal success. After learning that personal success comes from godly character, and that godly character comes from a relationship with God, many have embraced this truth and committed their lives to Jesus Christ.
- Christian Chinese factory owners and general managers have trained and equipped thousands of factory workers in the economic development zones across the country to share their faith with their fellow workers. In some of the factories, thousands are coming to Christ each year.
Clearly, God is doing something among urban professionals in China. They are not only turning to Christ by the hundreds; they are using their influence to make the gospel available to thousands, even millions of others.
Urban Professionals in China Today
Urban professionals are a small, but rapidly growing portion of the population of China. While some of them are quite wealthy, most belong to the emerging middle class which is currently estimated to include about 180 million people but is projected to grow to 400 million in the next eight years.
They are generally college educated and upwardly mobile. They are computer literate and internet savvy. Many are caught up in the pursuit of wealth and personal success, but others are thoughtfully wrestling with deeper issues:
- Why am I here?
- What can I believe in?
- What can I do to make a contribution to my country?
Urban professionals are increasingly being targeted by marketers of all kinds of consumer goods and services, from cosmetics to automobiles, and they are buying (click for examples).
Clearly, the lure of materialism is strong in China today. However, this is not the whole picture. A growing number of urban professionals in China today are discovering that material things and the pleasures of this world do not satisfy, and they are looking for spiritual reality. Christians who are seeking to make disciples among them are finding many to be very responsive.
|Annual Household Income (RMB ‘000)
|Number of households (millions)
|Middle Income class
|Less than 5
Source: “Youth Consumers & Leisure Trends in China – A Market Analysis,” figure 2.1 (Access Asia; http://www.marketresearch.com/researchindex/859783.html
The Emerging Urban Professional Church
To a large extent, the emerging urban church can be seen as the fruit of the past few decades of outreach to Chinese college students, both in China and in other parts of the world. Among urban professionals, new churches are springing up that are filled with people who were led to Christ by Christian teachers while they were students. One well-informed urban Chinese Christian leader estimates that seventy percent of the members of these new churches were led to Christ by foreign teachers.
These churches, however, are not all alike. They are made up of people from many walks of life and of varying ages:
- Students from universities
- Young professionals
- Middle age intellectuals and professionals
- Intellectuals and professionals returning from abroad
- White collar middle class workers
- Business people
While it is encouraging to see what is already happening, it is clear that much more needs to be done in the area of church planting and church nurture among urban professionals in China. Young urban professionals are very different from the generations that preceded them, and new types of urban churches are needed.
One of the great differences between older and younger Chinese Christians is the extent to which the younger generation wants to be engaged in community transformation. Most older Christians in China tend to shy away from social engagement, especially in the political arena, preferring to focus on preaching those aspects of the gospel that relate to getting ready for heaven. That is understandable, considering the severe social and political limitations under which the church has had to operate since 1949. But there is a growing sense among younger Christians in China that, without letting go of its evangelistic mandate, the church also has a responsibility to impact society.
They believe that the time has come for the church to reach out and seek to meet the needs of the poor and needy, stepping into the gap left by a government unable to cope with the overwhelming social problems in China today. There is also a growing sense among younger urban Christian leaders that they must lead the way in creating a hopeful future for China. They see the church as a sustaining force for change.
How Can We Help?
Perhaps the most helpful thing Christians who want to aid the emerging urban professional church in China can do is to model and emphasize a holistic approach to ministry. Urban professionals in China today need to see and hear the whole gospel, which includes both the hope of eternal life and the hope of transformed lives and communities right here, right now. They need to see and be encouraged to develop models of ministry that demonstrate the integration of Christian faith with the whole of life.
Urban professionals in China today need to hear a clarion call to a discipleship that involves a dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ, being advocates of justice, doing acts of mercy, standing for social righteousness, making a contribution to the economic health of their community and country, and being a light to the nations. They need to be encouraged and assisted as they work out in both an intellectual and practical sense what it means to live out the gospel in the complex, rapidly-changing culture of China today.
One critical thing we who come from outside must not do is to build ministry around ourselves. Many sad stories could be recounted of campus ministries that disintegrated after the foreign teacher left or churches that faltered after the foreign church planter left. These failed models of ministry have no place in China today. In our attempts to reach urban professionals, let us from the beginning seek to discern those local individuals whom God has gifted to lead His church, and build the work around them. As the Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians,
We’re only servants. Through us God caused you to believe. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. My job was to plant the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God, not we, who made it grow. The ones who do the planting or watering aren’t important, but God is important because he is the one who makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work as a team with the same purpose. Yet they will be rewarded individually, according to their own hard work. We work together as partners who belong to God. You are God’s field, God’s buildingnot ours. (1 Cor. 3:5-9 NLT, emphasis mine)