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Zooming to New Frontiers

How many of us were regular Zoom users before March 2020?

Video conferencing software has been around for years, and yet virtual meetings were rarely used by Christians—especially at the local church level. But the restrictions of Covid-19 brought something new that has propelled us all forward in terms of using virtual meetings.

Chinese churches were swept quickly into the total lockdown of their country. Their lockdown was real as we saw in photos of huge boulders put in front of roads leading into certain villages in the Wuhan countryside. Soon after that the shutdown spread to almost every city—no traveling for months. No in-person church meetings or trainings were possible.

How Did This Affect the Chinese Church?

It had a thawing effect on the forms and traditions that have been the default way of doing church—and for that many people are thankful. Looking back over the last year and a half at what has happened many are standing amazed at what God has done through it all. No human program has had a chance to affect such great change on the traditional forms of church in Chinese culture but in some branches of Chinese Christianity it actually happened.

Before the events of 2020, many churches were still dreaming of growing larger and having a bigger building like those in neighboring countries. They rented large office space and held meetings for hundreds as long as their security situation allowed for it. Most churches had been moving away from the “house churches” of the 1980s and 90s for some sometime.

But with the lockdown came a sudden thaw of ecclesiological ice, an opportunity—an exceedingly rare one indeed—to use new forms of doing church. Wise leaders quickly jumped to use Zoom technology. In a matter of weeks Christian leaders went from having almost nothing to do during the lockdown, to being in Zoom meetings every day of the week.

But something else happened on a larger scale. Online trainings were offered for leaders. And unlike the past these were free, with no travel needed, and they were open to anyone who was willing to learn.

As opposed to traditional theological training, focusing on leader development has a more generic nature and is being used by God to bring Christians across the spectrum together again.

Suddenly groups of thousands of Christian ministers were meeting for two to three hours a day for week-long trainings. What else were they going to do with all their time during the lockdown?

Here they were, normally super busy and very rarely able to stop and consider how to be a healthier leader or how to grow a healthy church. And now, like when a heavy snowfall brings a bustling city to a standstill, everyone—including busy pastors—was confined at home. Many church leaders finally had time to reflect. A big question they reflected on was, “What is the church?” “How can we do church when many of the forms we once used can no longer be used?”

Since many leaders have been hyper-focused on evangelism and Sunday services, they may have never grown in a biblical understanding of church and leadership development. Consequently, there has been a lot of pain and frustration in these young, growing churches.

Rather than worry about stopping normal church services, these wise leaders quickly made the decisions to limit their groups to 10 people or so, and then to train more leaders who would be able to lead these groups.

The “house church” model made a strong comeback.

In one area 1000 believers divided into 100 groups. The pastor records sermons and sends them to group leaders who play them at their home groups. They also encouraged their small group leaders to lead their own groups and more leaders were developed.

But as mentioned above, perhaps the biggest unfreezing was in the area of training leaders online.

Before 2020 an evangelist would often travel many miles and need to pay for transportation and lodging, or in some cases the host church would cover the cost. Because of security concerns the group usually numbered no more than 20 or 50. It would last several days and then everyone would go back home. Almost nothing would continue after the training took place.

But now hundreds, and even thousands, can join the training from their homes. And after the training is over it is quite easy to follow-up with further training sessions for encouragement—all online.

New Wine Needs New Wine Skins.

Wise and flexible leaders are going with this opportunity in a new direction. After the new normal returns some of them have said they do not want to go back to the way it was previously. Now they have many more small churches and many more leaders. There is less pressure on the top leader and more focus on discipleship. What we often don’t realize is that small group or one-on-two or one-on-three forms of discipleship are not the norm for Chinese pastors. They have been using large-group teaching styles.

Is this a breakthrough? For some it certainly has been.

Never underestimate what God can use for growth of his church!

Image credit: Chris Montgomery on Unsplash.

Brady Livingstone

Brady Livingstone (pseudonym) is a cross-cultural worker with many years of China experience.View Full Bio

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