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Demographics Beyond Numbers (2)

From the series God at Work: How the Church Grows in China

In my previous blog, we looked at demographics of Christians in churches including gender, age, and education level. These demographic factors could be compared with previous studies. The survey included other demographic questions that probed the individuals’ prior backgrounds and what influenced them to become Christians.

One of the surprising outcomes of the survey was seeing that the religious backgrounds of the interviewees was relatively unified. When we asked about religious influences while growing up the majority (74.6%) of church members had a Christian background. This is clearly seen in the figure below.

This implies that the growth of the church has mainly occurred among people with some Christian background. These “backgrounds” may date back to the 1950s or even earlier. These could also be the next generation of middle-aged people currently in church or Christian family and friends.

Another factor is that China’s social environment does not allow the free dissemination of Christian thought, so church growth still occurs in the form of “life affecting life.” This is consistent with the “underground” status of Chinese Christianity.

Although some members originally had Buddhist and atheistic backgrounds (in the Chinese context, the answer to “No” also falls into the category of “Atheism”), but most members of the church have a Christian background.

Compared with the 1.4 billion population, Christians are still only a small proportion, and the atheistic social environment has made it difficult to break out of the method of spreading the gospel from person to person. This shows that the importance of religious freedom for the spread of the gospel among other social and religious groups.

In addition to family background, the survey also looked at what motivates people to become a Christian. Often we hear that people experience God’s help in times of sickness or other needs and respond by becoming a Christian as a result. Our survey tried to understand the motivations of our respondents across a wide range of possible causes including:

  • To Know the Truth / 为要寻求真理
  • To Be Part of a Loving Church / 为要加入有爱的教会团体
  • To Go to Heaven / 为要将来灵魂进天堂
  • To Be Accepted by a Christian Person/Group / 为要让基督徒接纳我
  • To Get Healing / 为要得到医治
  • To Get God’s Help in My Life / 为要得到上帝的看顾
  • To Get Forgiveness of Sin / 为要得到上帝的宽恕
  • To Get Freedom from Fear or Spirits / 为要摆脱恐惧
  • To Get Removal of Shame / 为要除去羞耻
  • Other / 其他原因

The results are shown in the figure below.

This graph clearly shows that, as far as church members are concerned, the conclusions are completely different from the previous national household survey.

Our survey indicates the main reasons people believe in Jesus are not “because they or their family members are sick,” or even “to receive help from God.” These two reasons ranked third and fifth (23.6% of total respondents). Mostly, the reasons are metaphysical, to “know the truth” and “to go to heaven after death.” At the same time, people’s awareness of “sin” is almost as high as the desire for God to intervene in their lives.

The survey included Chinese Christians from different tangible and intangible church entities in various places. The thinking of church members shows a high degree of “metaphysical” concern. The survey shows that among Chinese Christians idealists outnumber utilitarians.

I believe that these metaphysical concerns are the primary driving force for the growth of Chinese Christianity in the past 40 years. This again shows that there were fatal weaknesses in the survey scope and design in the large-scale “household” survey from 2008 to 2009 which led to misleading conclusions. This focus on metaphysical concerns should also prompt additional research, thought, and work among those concerned for Chinese church growth.

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Steve Z.

Steve Z. (pseudonym) is a pastor, writer, researcher, and specialist on church development.View Full Bio

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