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Are China’s Churches Too Much Alike?

In a recent post we looked at the diversity of China’s church—often overlooked by those who seek to make sense of Christianity in China by sorting believers into political or theological categories.

Now a pastor in China is suggesting that one of the church’s main obstacles is the exact opposite: Chinese churches are too much alike.

Writing in China Christian Daily, Wang Zhenmin calls homogenization one of the major crises facing China’s church. Surveying urban church life in China today, he laments that the teaching, discussions, programs, and online activities of Christians in China are sorely lacking in diversity.

Believers answer questions and exchange prayer requests perfunctorily, says Wang. Since everyone shares the same basic outlook, discussions on pressing issues yield little in the way of innovative solutions. WeChat postings may touch on a wide range of international affairs, but these have little connection to daily life. Christians are extremely knowledgeable on many topics but unable to effectively share or address personal concerns. They “know stories of Nepalese Christian martyrs but are unaware of which bus they should take.”

The root of this homogeneity, Wang says, is “a homogeneous theology that lacks substance and leads to unitary doctrines. . . . There is a universal explanation of society.” Within the resulting “closed internal church ecosystem” the church lacks the means of self-renewal.

Pastor Wang’s analysis could obviously be applied to churches outside China as well. Yet the situation in China appears particularly acute, perhaps due to the impact of rapid urbanization on the church’s development.

As Christians have clustered in the cities and spawned new churches, urbanization has had a concentrating effect, bringing together a critical mass of people, ideas, and resources to create a new Christian culture. Meanwhile, pervasive social media have provided the means to propagate this culture throughout cities and across provinces. This mutually reinforcing interplay allows for an ongoing conversation that meets believers’ immediate emotional needs and may make them feel more knowledgeable. Yet, according to Wang, it ultimately limits their potential to live out their faith in practical ways.

The solution?

In a word, disruption.

I hope that even more accidents and emergencies can fall on the church to bring about more . . . liveliness so that routine group gatherings and devotionals can be reduced. I hope for more smiles that come from the heart, freedom, and calmness that come from God.

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio