With the ongoing challenges of meeting together in person, one rural church pastor in Zhejiang Province was confronted with the need for small group ministry. In this interview available at China Christian Daily, he shared his vision and plan for introducing and sustaining small group pastoral care in the church he serves.
Interview: The Transition from Traditional Church to Small Groups
After graduating from a seminary in Taiwan, Brother L returned to serve in January 2021 at Baiyuwan Church, a rural church in his hometown in Zhejiang Province. In a previous interview, he had shared about the ministry he carried out in the rural church and how he viewed the aging of the rural church.
At present, Brother L is the only full-time pastor at Baiyuwan Church. He not only pastors and visits members, he also has to train the group leaders. His life is busy but fulfilling.
In this interview with the Gospel Times, an online Chinese Christian newspaper, he recalled how for a year he has led the rural church into becoming a church with pastoral care in small groups.
Gospel Times: When did your church get started with pastoral care in small groups?
Brother L: When I had just come back from Taiwan, we couldn’t meet in the church because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought, am I going to pastor like a streamer, or am I going to pastor in some other way? Online gatherings are okay, but the fear of God is missing, because some people listen while lying in bed, some tune in while washing clothes, and some have ears on the live-streaming service while chopping and cooking vegetables. From the point of view of pandemic prevention, we Christians should do our part, but we can’t please God if we don’t meet, because he tells us not to stop meeting. In this context, I wanted to start pastoral care in small groups.
I have observed that Taiwanese churches have carried out pastoral care in small groups for decades, but it is difficult for our traditional churches to hold group meetings. It is a matter of habit. So how should we start? In the beginning, I was not in a hurry to start the groups. I held vision talks on Sunday and then shared the plan for pastoral care in small groups at a meeting with the administrative board. I started with these two steps.
First, I made the vision of pastoral care in small groups visible to more people, which is a bit like the process of loosening the soil. Then I spent half a year training team leaders twice a week. I was the only lecturer; the participants included church volunteers, committee members, and believers who wanted to help. In September 2021, the group leaders who were trained officially began to lead the groups.
Gospel Times: So how many churches have this small group training?
Brother L: It is being conducted in two churches. One church has a congregation of 300–500 people, which is the church I grew up in. The other church has a membership of around 150 and is the Baiyuwan church that I’m managing now.
Gospel Times: How did it go?
Brother L: Since I’m in a rural church, when we started many elders in the church thought, “Oh, this is not for us. Urban churches can do it, but our rural churches can’t.” I was a little frustrated at first. I wanted to be in a church with many young people, but I was already in a rural church. So, I prayed to God about this.
Three months after the group training, the elders of the church gradually changed. At first, they said that pastoral care in small groups was not suitable for our church. Then, they said that the small group [concept] was good. After that, they started to say that our church should also have small groups. At the end of the day, an old man said, “I’m 80 years old. Can I be a team leader?” I saw an elder with swollen feet, but he still participated in the group training. I was very moved.
Gospel Times: They initially felt that the small group was not suitable for rural churches. What were their concerns?
Brother L: Firstly, they thought that since they are busy with farm work, they cannot spare time to study and lead a group. Secondly, there are not many people in the church who have attended school, so they cannot learn or lead a group.
Gospel Times: How were those two issues resolved?
Brother L: I taught them step by step and shared with them word by word, as long as they had the burden to carry on and were literate. For example, I might use four classes in my church to teach what I could teach in one class in an urban church. It is not how much I speak, but how much these brothers and sisters can understand. If they don’t understand, I stop and practice patience.
Let me tell you an interesting story. One Sunday, I went to a church to preach and share my vision. The church had stopped meeting since the outbreak of the pandemic. After listening to my vision, we had a meeting at noon and immediately decided the division of groups. That afternoon, the elders of the church asked me to talk for an hour and a half about how to do pastoral care in small groups.
Therefore, you can’t arbitrarily say that something cannot be developed or used in rural areas. As a pastor, you must be willing to pass on vision and patiently share it with the elders. There is the influence of the Holy Spirit, but people also have to pay the price of effort.
Gospel Times: How did it go after that?
Brother L: When the pandemic broke out in Ningbo, the local requirement was that there should be fewer than ten people at each meeting. So, we went from a group meeting to a family meeting, which was a step further. Then the reserve group leaders stepped up as team leaders.
The work of the reserve group leaders was even better than that of the original group leaders because they had spent a lot of time in training. Some people were busy preparing lessons and even had no time to eat.
I’m grateful for their work. I remember last Christmas, every brother and sister in the group came to worship. I thought to myself, “Wow, there are so many benefits of pastoral care in small groups.” The performance of a band formed by an old man and a child touched all the people. The old man played the huqin, an instrument popularly used in Chinese music, and a young child, about four or five years old, sang the song God Loves Everyone.
Gospel Times: Are there any issues that need to be addressed now?
Brother L: The current problem is that the pastoral team is not formed which means the church doesn’t have full-time pastors. They are all volunteers. However, the volunteer work is also heavy, and they have work to do at their homes, so the church cannot start many things at once.
Gospel Times: How is the pastoral care in small groups at the church with 300 to 500 people going?
Brother L: That church has a group leader, but there is no parish leader. Many of the group leaders are very stressed.
They don’t have a day to pass on the vision. They just say they must do pastoral care in small groups, but they don’t know how to do it. Some adopt the mode of fellowship, while some gather in small groups. But overall, the delivery of the vision has not been successful.
Since that church is my mother church, the brothers and sisters there have been kind to help me and I really want to help them. Their church council and full-time pastors are also supportive of my pastoral care campaign in small groups.
The prototype for our church small groups is already in place, so I will spend some time helping this church.
Original article: Interview: The Transition from Traditional Church to Small Groups, China Christian Daily.
Edited and reposted with permission.
Image credit: Mike Falkenstine, One Catalyst. The church is representative and not either of the ones mentioned in the article.
Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.