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How Do You Spell “Success?”


Developments in China over the past two decades have created the conditions for unprecedented collaboration between Chinese Christians and those from outside the country.

With increased collaboration, however, has come more opportunities for miscommunication and missteps as Chinese and foreign believers attempt to work together.

This spring in the ChinaSource Quarterly we will take an in-depth look at the state of this collaboration, drawing upon newly available research on Christian leaders in China and those from outside China who serve with them.

One of the key insights emerging from this research on cross-cultural collaboration was how different visions of ministry success can become an obstacle to effective long-term partnership. Whereas overseas entities often focus on achieving specific measurable outcomes within a set period of time, Chinese believers place more emphasis on the nature of the working relationship, which takes time to mature.

One Chinese church leader recommended that overseas organizations stop quantifying results and focus instead on building relationships as the measure of their success.

Several overseas respondents in the study cited leadership development, project definition, commitment and follow-through as posing the biggest challenges. From the standpoint of the overseas partner, a project may be seen as not having been successful because it was not carried to completion in China as intended by the overseas organization. From the standpoint of the partner in China, who may not share the same project management mindset as the overseas partner, the project may have been a great success because it brought needed resources or learning to the local church.

Chinese respondents to the survey listed equipping, broadening their perspective, and interchurch encouragement as the top three opportunities in cross-cultural collaboration. In their experience, whether or not a particular project achieved all the metrics set by the overseas partner, it might have still provided any or all of these three benefits to the Chinese side. Thus they could view the collaboration as successful.

Furthermore, when overseas organizations hold in their hands both the plans for the project as well as the funding, they tend to control the process, leaving local partners unable to make directional decisions that may be critical to the progress of the local church.

These observation suggests the need for both sides to be clear with one another on expectations, and for overseas partners to try and view the project from the standpoint of their counterparts in China rather than solely in terms of how it supports their own organizational agenda.

For more insights on this and other questions in cross-cultural collaboration, you’ll want to be sure and read the spring issue when it comes out later this month. If you’re not already receiving ChinaSource Quarterly, you can subscribe here.

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource.  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 China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio