Supporting Article

The Effects of Urban Migration on the Countryside House Churches in China

In the past, the countryside house churches tried to stop believers from going to the cities to find work because they saw it as reflecting the “love of the world.” However, in recent years they have come to think differently. The countryside churches now realize that urban migration is inevitable. In addition, they have observed the lives of many people who have moved to the cities in spite of being discouraged to do so. Many believers found stable jobs and began to do well financially. Then they were able to help other believers from the countryside to establish their own lives in the cities. Moreover, in many cases, their spiritual lives did not decline but they were good examples in church life, in giving and in serving other believers. Consequently, the perspective of the countryside leaders has changed. Now they actually encourage people to look for jobs in the cities.

This has helped the countryside churches financially since many of the believers in the cities send money back to help them. Some coworkers have jobs that enable them to be self-supporting in their ministries; this practice of mixing ministry and business also was opposed in the past but is now accepted and encouraged.

When believers move from the countryside and seek fellowship with other believers in the cities, it is more common for them to gather together with other countryside people, but there are also examples of city churches that are composed of both city and countryside people.

Over the last few years, all the large house church movements have sent coworkers to the cities. In spite of the initial discrimination against them because of their different appearance and customs as well as their lack of education and sophistication, once people get to know them and their lives, they often recognize and admire their zeal and spiritual strength. Consequently, in many places, the countryside coworkers have been accepted by the city people and are winning the lost and building churches.

They are also invited to teach and minister in existing city churches. In many places their ministry is received and very effective. One movement estimates they have already worked with about one third of the Christian population in one large province. In another smaller province, they are working with over one hundred churches that are very open to them. Working with city churches is naturally quite challenging for countryside coworkers due to their different backgrounds as well as theological positions, and the openness of city churches to countryside coworkers varies. While it is still relatively uncommon to find a city church composed mostly of city people and yet led by a countryside coworker, in spite of these challenges, there has been a surprising degree of acceptance of countryside coworkers in the cities. This acceptance is even, at times, among the Three Self churches.

This new city ministry is requiring new strategies for evangelization and church planting. The countryside coworkers have learned that they must first live an exemplary life among the people they hope to reachbuilding trust and credibilitybefore they can directly share the gospel with them. For example, one sister who had some computer skills went to a large city and began to work in a factory as a regular employee. When she arrived, there were five or six Christians in the factory. Now there are over sixty believers, including high level managers and executives. These people came to the Lord as the result of her life example. She first built credibility and then was received when she shared the gospel. This has become the key strategy of the coworkers in the cities.

Back in the countryside, the children and young people are now being taught to live and minister in this way in preparation for their eventual relocation to the cities. Thus, the rapid migration to the cities has caused the countryside church to rethink their strategies of ministry as well as issues of development of their coworkers.

Another change of strategy involves mobilization of the people. In the past, the coworker was the one who did the ministry. Now the coworkers are being trained and encouraged to mobilize the people to do the ministry. The coworkers will reach several city people with the gospel and then mobilize them to reach their own neighbors and plant the church. In particular, they will target the influential leaders in business and society, recognizing their capacity for impacting greater numbers of people. Then the coworkers will help them with teaching and training the new believers.

Similarly, the countryside churches are encouraging their young people to go to high school and college in the cities, and to plant churches there among their friends and classmates. Then they send coworkers in to work with them and train them.

One movement is also using the method of tract distribution in the city, with the tracts being distributed by both the countryside coworkers as well as city believers. Of course, in some areas tract distribution cannot be done openly, but this method of evangelism is often quite effective and the movement is seeing a rapid growth of churches by this means as well as by others.

Thus, while the rapid migration of people from the countryside to the city has created many complex challenges for the house churches, it has also given rise to changes of thinking and the development of new strategies that ultimately will be positive for the growth of the church in China.

Image credit: God loves the People of the World by kafkaforprez via Flickr.

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ZHEN Mai Wei

ZHEN Mai Wei  works with the countryside house churches in China, mainly involved in leadership development.View Full Bio