Chinese Church Voices

As the Migration Pendulum Swings

Challenges Faced by Rural and Urban Churches

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

During Chinese New Year there is a massive population shift from urban to rural areas as Chinese visit their families in their hometowns for the holiday. While cities empty out during this time, so do many urban churches. The rural churches that have been experiencing decline in the past decade see a brief revival as Christians return home.

In this article from China Christian Daily, the author shares about the challenges to both the rural and urban churches that accompany the population “pendulum swings.” He cautions that some churches mistakenly interpret these population swings as a sign of true revival and leave evangelistic work aside. Moreover, he notes that these migrant Christians—the ones who often contribute to church growth—struggle to integrate into urban areas and urban churches. Both urban and rural churches continue to learn how to minister to an ever fluctuating floating population amidst China’s urbanization drive.

Observation: Rural Church Embraces Pendulum Revival as Migrant Workers Return in Lunar New Year

Editor's note: When it comes to Spring Festival, the Chinese Lunar New Year, hundreds of millions of Chinese people flock to their hometowns from the city, resulting in the world’s largest annual population movement. During this time, rural and urban churches experience a brief pendulum shift—urban churches empty while rural churches are crowded; after the festival, Christians in their hometowns flood back to cities. Because of China’s rapid urbanization, this phenomenon that has lasted for the past decade will carry on for at least the next five years. In this article, a Christian from Jiangsu shares his own experience about this phenomenon over Spring Festival.

A rural church in Henan Province

In the days approaching Spring Festival, I went to the city where my older sister lives for the first time. On February 4, 2018, the first Sunday of the month, she urged me to leave the house as soon as possible because the church we would drive to would be filled with people attending the communion service. Unexpectedly, we found that many seats were empty in the church even though we arrived late.

After the service, I was surprised to discover through the pictures my Christian friends shared on WeChat (a popular social media platform in China) that several urban churches were empty. But rural churches were full of people.

The reason is that the majority of migrant workers returned to their hometowns, including a large number of Christians.

It reminded me of both the vacuum felt in rural churches and the seeming revival of urban churches.

While the church in the countryside declines, urban churches fail to see real revival. The seeming revival of urban Christians is in fact the result of the flow of the rural population into the city. As a matter of fact, there may not necessarily be many new converts in the city.

What’s more, migrant workers still struggle to understand their identity in churches. Urban churches nurture the migrant Christians most of the year, taking for granted that they should give tithes and offerings to churches in the city. But their rural churches that are always financially disadvantaged may wait to receive their large offerings during the Lunar New Year festival. Which one should they choose? To which church do they belong?

Taking administrative costs into account, some churches don't regard migrant Christians as long-term sheep but emphasize commitment to their workers. However, there is much tension in such “commitment." Let's take an extreme example. A man in my hometown church supports his family by farming. He joined a church ministry but then wanted to work in a city because he needed more income. The church wouldn’t allow him to leave the ministry and instead threatened him with curses that a preacher who left his ministry would be punished by God with a ruined family.

Therefore, most local church workers in rural areas live poor lives, while rich Christians work away from home almost all year round. Over time, rural churches tend to lack a good influence in their locale.

The same is true of urban churches. Many urban Christians are bound by church ministries and have little time and freedom; the ministry saps their vitality in the prime of their life.

In the end, there is a danger that crowded urban churches could have little impact in their cities. Migrant workers form groups that struggle to integrate into local life, resulting in a church divided between migrants and city residents. Some churches care for them, but there are still unstated hierarchical differences.

Because of the indifference of urban churches and the inability of rural churches, migrant workers are often left to fend for themselves.

Original English Article: Observation: Rural Church Embraces Pendulum Revival as Migrant Workers Return in Lunar New Year, China Christian Daily

Header image credit: Pendulum by Shannon Kokoska via Flickr.
Text image Credit: China Christian Daily
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