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The Chinese Church: Great Progress and Great Work Yet to Be Done


The growth of the Chinese church over the past several decades cannot be overstated. What the Lord has accomplished is truly beyond anything we could have ever asked or imagined. From 1949 to 1979, during a period of intense persecution, the number of Chinese Christians nearly quadrupled from around half a million to nearly 2 million.[1] In the early 1980s, at the request of Chinese house church pastors, over a million Bibles were successfully smuggled into China further fueling the spread of the gospel.[2] And today, some estimate there are over 100 million Christians,[3] many of who are influencing areas of society from small villages to sprawling urban centers. The spread of the gospel, however, hasn’t stopped here.

Over the past decade there has been a steadily growing passion for foreign missions within the Chinese church. In fact, many courageous saints have long since left their home for mission work abroad. Last January Christianity Today reported that the church in China hopes to send 20,000 missionaries by the year 2030, which would place them among the world’s top sending countries.[4] Yet, despite these incredible developments there remains much work to be done within the Chinese church.

One such critical work involves the planting of churches among China’s numerous minority groups, many of which remain largely unreached. According to the Joshua Project, there are currently over 400 of these unreached people groups in China. In other words, out of a population of 180 million people less than two percent are Bible-believing Christians who acknowledge Christ as their sole source of salvation.

What can be done to bring the gospel to such a vast number of people with diverse cultures and languages?

Thankfully, there is work already in progress. For years both indigenous Chinese missionaries (mostly Han Chinese Christians) and foreign cross-cultural workers have labored to make disciples among China’s minority groups. There also appears to be a growing awareness within the Chinese church of the importance of reaching these groups as evidenced by a recent publication highlighting China’s minority peoples.[5] Yet, despite these great efforts the reality is that the bulk of Chinese Christians and foreign cross-cultural workers are not engaged with unreached people groups in China.

Completing the task will likely require learning a new and difficult language to connect at the heart level, or engaging in the rigorous work of Bible translation. It will mean learning a new set of cultural rules, eating “strange” food, and being in situations that go beyond normal levels of comfort. For some it will mean saying goodbye to family and friends and exposing children to things like toxic air pollution, unsanitary food, or the difficult reality of being an outsider. In short, completing the task will require a level of commitment, courage, humility, and strength that only comes by way of the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray earnestly, as Jesus told his disciples in Luke 10:2 that the Lord of the harvest would send out workers into the harvest field of China’s unreached peoples. And let us pray that these workers would hold firmly to the promises of God as they seek to carry out the great task of missions, which will one day reach completion in glorious worship before our Savior.

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. Revelation 5:9 

For more information, read the 2016 winter issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, “Cross-Cultural Missions from China.” And watch for articles in the ongoing series “Missions from China—A Maturing Movement”

Image credit: Xijiang Miao Village byThomas Galvez via Flickr.

Mark Totman

Mark Totman is an expat with over a decade of experience living in China. He enjoys writing on a wide range of China-related subjects including language, culture and history, particularly as these subjects facilitate greater understanding of the Chinese context and encourage beneficial lives of cross-cultural service. View Full Bio