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Diaspora Missions Today

Challenges and Opportunities for the Overseas Chinese Church

In the March 2024 issue of ChinaSource Quarterly (CSQ), “The Global Chinese Diaspora,” the guest editors describe today’s Chinese diaspora as an “evolving tapestry.”1 The articles in this issue, whether they are about Hong Kong BNO immigrants flocking to the UK or Canadian Chinese Christians engaging in Muslim missions, European diaspora churches in dire need of preachers or Chinese newcomers in Australia, all demonstrate the diversity of cultural backgrounds and evolving nature of the scattered Chinese people. They also have good reflections on the history, current situation, and future of diaspora missions related to the global Chinese diaspora and overseas Chinese churches.

As a Christian worker involved in global Chinese diaspora missions, I particularly appreciated the cover story by Jeanne Wu.2 Wu examined latest trends of new economic immigrants and “running away” (“route runner”) migrants from China, as well as the impact of the “new normal” in both Chinese domestic politics and international geopolitics on diaspora missions. The author’s in-depth research and analysis is of great help to Chinese diaspora missionaries in reflecting on missional strategies.

I agree with Wu that,

The recent political developments in and related to China have impacted the movement and dynamics of the global Chinese diaspora. They have closed some doors for mission while opening others. Although there are uncertainties and possibly apprehension about the future, we have also seen opportunities opening at the same time, and these are not without their challenges.

For overseas Chinese churches, today’s diaspora mission indeed contains both opportunities lying within challenges and challenges lurking within opportunities.

More than 30 years ago, as an international student in the southern United States, I was converted in a Chinese Bible study group on campus and was also welcomed, loved, and helped by local American Christians who were involved in the international student ministries. So, I can say that I am a fruit of diaspora missions myself. Later, I became involved in digital evangelism and text ministry in Chinese full-time, and traveled to Asia and Europe to preach, train, and do short-term missions, serving Chinese diaspora churches. At the same time, my work has also included cultural bridging to promote cooperation between Chinese churches and non-Chinese Christian organizations. This issue of CSQ prompted me to think: How should Chinese diaspora churches seize the opportunity and meet the challenge of engaging in global diaspora missions today? I would like to share a few personal thoughts from the perspective of a Chinese diaspora missionary.

Chinese Churches and Local Diaspora Missions

In my experience, the response of overseas Chinese churches to diaspora missions is rather slow or lukewarm. In general, Chinese churches do not put high value on missions and pay little attention to the impact of the world situation on missions. Chinese churches also do not have adequate understanding of the necessity and urgency of diaspora missions. Chinese churches normally emphasize cross-cultural evangelism from developed Western countries to remote areas with large populations of unreached people groups. But in doing so, they may neglect and undervalue local diaspora missions.

In addition, many diaspora Chinese churches may not care much about their own communities or may feel that it is too difficult to evangelize the diaspora people groups around themselves, and they do not know where to start. I believe that mission organizations and Christian media still need to work harder to promote diaspora missions among overseas Chinese churches, to help them know God’s heart for diaspora missions,3 so they would “understand the times” (1 Chronicles 12:32) and be more willing to break through some of the inherent limitations and invest in global diaspora mission.

Opportunities for Lay People in Local Missions

In fact, the new era of diaspora missions offers more opportunities for lay participation than traditional cross-cultural missions and is a good way to mobilize Chinese brothers and sisters who are not full-time missionaries to take their first steps in missions. Today God is bringing people from different cultures, such as refugees with Muslim backgrounds or immigrants with Hindu backgrounds, to the places where we diaspora Chinese Christians are living, so we don’t have to take expensive long-distance trips, overcome tough language and cultural barriers, or face the risk of persecution, in order to reach out to other diaspora people who are from the country with the largest unreached people population (India) or dangerous “creative access nations” (the Middle East and Central Asia).

Over the past few decades, overseas Chinese churches have invested a great deal of resources in China-oriented missions and evangelism of students and scholars from China. However, as China becomes more closed to overseas missionaries, the number of Chinese students coming to the US declines, and Chinese churches have a harder time reaching out to students and scholars from China, there may be a surplus of mission resources. Many brothers and sisters who are committed to missions are also fluent in English, so it would be natural for them to switch their focus to local cross-cultural mission and evangelize non-Chinese international students and new immigrants. This is a precious opportunity from heaven that laymen should seize. We cannot sit on the sidelines and let missions become something that only full-time missionaries pay attention to and participate in. We should rise and actively participate in diaspora missions by making good use of our “royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

The Need for Cooperation

Chinese diaspora churches need more cooperation with local non-Chinese churches and international mission organizations on diaspora mission. The Cape Town Commitment of the Lausanne Movement,4 in discussing diaspora missions, calls for cooperation: “We urge immigrant and indigenous churches together to listen and learn from one another, and to initiate co-operative efforts to reach all sections of their nation with the gospel.” Chinese Christians have the advantage of being familiar with the Chinese language and culture and can thus help non-Chinese organizations and churches in many ways, serving as a cross-cultural bridge. At the same time, overseas Chinese Christians can learn from non-Chinese organizations and churches.

However, there is still too little cooperation between overseas Chinese churches and organizations and non-Chinese churches and mission organizations. There is cooperation between diaspora Chinese churches and organizations in different regions. For example, Chinese Christians from multiple churches in the US would join short-term mission trips to Europe or Africa to help Chinese churches in those regions that are relatively lacking in resources. Even in this kind of cooperation, we often encounter the problem of self-protective “hilltop-ism,” which prioritizes the interest of one’s own ministry. Overseas Chinese churches and Christian organizations need to pray that the Lord would give us a more forward-thinking spiritual vision, to break down man-made walls, to let go of preconceived ideas and lack of faith, and to be willing to work hand in hand with non-Chinese organizations and churches for the sake of the Great Commission.

Chinese returnee ministry is a good example of where Chinese churches and organizations can cooperate with non-Chinese churches and organizations in diaspora. Today there are many non-Chinese churches and organizations doing diaspora Chinese missions around the world, and most of the people they evangelize and minister to are still students, visiting scholars, young professionals, and parents visiting their children from China. The vast majority (80-90%) of students and scholars go back to China as returnees. (Most visiting parents are also returning to China, though they may not be counted as returnees.) Even if only 5% of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students and scholars studying abroad come to faith in Christ (statistics are admittedly scarce), there are thousands of returnee Christians returning to China each year. Sadly, because many returnees are new Christians and have shallow roots in the faith and the current environment in China is even more unfriendly to Christians, it is estimated that 75% or more of returnee Christians will stop reading the Scriptures, praying, or going to church after they return to China, so they would be counted as “lost after returning.”5 It is an obvious and heartbreaking deficiency in diaspora mission work among Chinese students and scholars.

Chinese churches and non-Chinese churches and organizations that have led these returnee Christians to faith in Christ urgently need to do disciple training and spiritual mentoring for these mainly young returnee Christians before they return to China, to strengthen their faith, to encourage them to continue following Jesus after they return, and to prepare them for the basic skills of participating in church ministries. Our purpose should be to help them return to China with the call of the Great Commission and to be the seed of the gospel in China. This is a great and important need in mission work for overseas Chinese students and scholars.

However, I have observed that, although many Chinese churches realize the urgent need for such a ministry to returnees, they lack the motivation and resources to do systematic discipleship. At the same time, some non-Chinese mission organizations have invested workers and resources in this area, and they have been able to use effective methods of pre-return disciple training that can significantly reduce or even eliminate the “loss rate” of returnee Chinese Christians.

Unfortunately, very few Chinese churches are willing to support and participate in these ministries. Chinese churches usually have more ties with churches in China, and they can help non-Chinese mission organizations in several ways, including referring returnee Christians to local churches or fellowships in China. Cooperation between Chinese churches and non-Chinese mission organizations is a necessary and “win-win” strategy for returnee ministries. The autumn 2016 issue of CSQ was titled “A Call to Partnership in Chinese Returnee Ministry”6 and is worth reading for those who have the heart for this special ministry. Since 2016 there have been many changes in China’s domestic and international situation, and I hope that ChinaSource will soon publish another CSQ on this theme, and I hope it will help more overseas Chinese churches and organizations understand the needs in this area and be more willing to cooperate.

Another area where Chinese churches and organizations can and should cooperate with non-Chinese churches and organizations is digital evangelism. I have been promoting the use of the internet and new media for evangelism among Chinese churches for many years and have seen the progress that Chinese churches have made in this area.7 In fact, after the pandemic, overseas Chinese churches, like the global church, have become more active in using the internet and new media for their ministries, including those doing diaspora missions, especially in campus, young professional, and returnee ministries. The diaspora Chinese church has gradually accumulated significant online resources with high quality content in Chinese. Similarly, many non-Chinese missional organizations and churches continue to develop their digital ministries, and their English language online resources are becoming increasingly abundant.

I hope that Chinese and non-Chinese organizations that create online resources for diaspora missions can cooperate on Chinese and English content, so they can complement each other’s strengths and share resources more effectively. For example, Chinese organizations with Chinese language websites can translate English articles from the English websites, and vice versa. Related content in the same language can also be reposted and shared among Chinese and non-Chinese media ministries.


The Cape Town Commitment of the Lausanne Movement8 says,

We encourage church and mission leaders to recognize and respond to the missional opportunities presented by global migration and diaspora communities, in strategic planning, and in focused training and resourcing of those called to work among them… We encourage Christians who are themselves part of diaspora communities to discern the hand of God, even in circumstances they may not have chosen, and to seek whatever opportunities God provides for bearing witness to Christ in their host community and seeking its welfare.

According to a 2012 Pew survey report, nearly one-third of the Chinese population in the US are Christians (including Protestants and Catholics).9 The population of immigrants from China and immigrants for whom Chinese is their first language continues to increase rapidly, so the overseas Chinese church is bound to continue to grow. The overseas Chinese church itself is a church of the diaspora with diversity. Today, faced with the opportunities and challenges of diaspora missions brought about by globalization, the church should actively participate. We hope that God will give the church the spiritual vision and kingdom-mindedness to take part in diaspora missions, and that we will see opportunities for encouraging lay missions. We hope that the overseas Chinese churches will make good use of the advantages of language and cultural intelligence that they have as a diaspora group, and cooperate more proactively with non-Chinese mission organizations in the areas of Chinese returnee ministry, text and new media ministries, and other ministries, so that together we can make good use of our resources, seize this opportunity, and bring the gospel to more diaspora people.


  1. Jidian, “Diaspora Mission in the Bible” (in Chinese), Behold Magazine, April 6, 2021, accessed May 20, 2024,
  2. Jeanne Wu, “The Global Chinese Diaspora,” ChinaSoure Quaterly 26, no. 1 (March 2024),
  3. See note 2.
  4. The Cape Town Commitment of the Lausanne Movement,
  5. Lydia Song, “Spiritual Growth from the Perspective of Chinese Returnee Christians” (in Chinese), CFCI Forum,
  6. “A Call to Partnership in Chinese Returnee Ministry,” ed. Stuart, ChinaSource Quarterly 18, no. 3, September 2016,
  7. Sean Cheng, “Using New Media for Digital Evangelism on Chines Cyberspace”, ChinaSource Quarterly 25, no. 3 (October 2023),
  8. See note 3.
  9. Fenggang Yang, “Three Phenomena of American Chinese’s Religious Faith” (in Chinese), New York Times Chinese website, July 20, 2012,
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Sean Cheng

Sean Cheng

  Sean Cheng is a Chinese diaspora missionary in action, experienced Chinese Christian media editor, and veteran digital evangelist. He served as Asia Editor of Christianity Today (2022-24) and Director of Evangelism for Overseas Campus Ministries (2011-19) and manages the personal evangelistic webpage Jidian’s Links.  View Full Bio

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