Late last year, China abruptly ended its stringent zero-COVID policy. After three years of lockdowns, quarantine camps, remote work, and virtual church services, people were finally free to be together again. However, not everyone was ready or willing to come back to church.
This article from China Christian Daily looks at the ways several churches are supporting continuing members, reaching out to lapsed members, and seeking new believers during this challenging transition.
After three years of the pandemic, the church in China can finally open its doors and resume all kinds of ministries. However, church attendance is much lower than before, with some experiencing a significant decrease of up to half.
Apart from the elderly believers who passed away due to illness during the pandemic, many believers, especially young people, have migrated to coastal cities due to the economic pressures caused by the pandemic.
The frequent opening and closing of the church during COVID-19 has made some people accustomed to online gatherings and lose enthusiasm for participating in face-to-face gatherings. In response to this situation, churches across the country are seeking ways to address it.
Care for Existing Believers
Some suggest that a church needs to provide effective ministry tailored to the existing structure of its members, with the priority being to retain the current believers. The church should analyze the composition and situation of existing believers. For example, if the majority of church members are elderly, ministry should be geared toward their needs and characteristics. The sermon messages should be more understandable, and the key points need to be emphasized repeatedly. The church can also carry out visitation and prayer ministries and establish literacy classes and nursing homes according to specific situations. One church in Northeast China, which has been established for 30 years, is facing the aging issue among their believers. To address this, the church started a “Senior University” that offers calligraphy, cooking, and music classes. A staff member said, “Senior members are an important asset to the church. They are stable and love the Lord, contributing consistently.”
Guiding Lost Believers Back through Activities and Visitations
During the pandemic, some believers got used to online gatherings, while others stopped coming to church due to some difficulties and challenges. Reopened after the pandemic, many churches have started organizing Bible study classes and retreats. One pastor suggested that churches could first organize sports events or outdoor activities to create a lively atmosphere before conducting preaching training. The same applies to training courses, where students can be taken on field trips before the training to enhance their learning effectiveness. In June, a church in a certain city organized a sports event through which the pastor gathered young male believers who hadn’t been to church for a long time. During the event, they exchanged WeChat contacts and formed a group, which enabled the church to further care for them.
In addition, if believers are not attending church, church staff can visit them to understand their difficulties, offer prayers, and provide assistance. A pastor mentioned that a visit during a believer’s time of hardship could support them for several years.
Further Expansion and Emphasis on Outreach Ministries
For most churches, stagnant ministry and the loss of believers were inevitable during the pandemic. Churches need to focus on how to expand further, gain new believers to compensate for the loss, and even achieve growth in the number of believers.
A church in Heilongjiang province places great emphasis on evangelistic outreach ministries. Setting a clear goal each year, the church designates a different theme for each of the twelve months, with four months dedicated to the theme of “evangelism.” Believers reach out to their relatives and friends and share the gospel with them. They then invite interested individuals to join small groups for weekly activities and eventually bring them to church. After church services, these newcomers engage in a systematic study for nearly half a year, with the church continuously accompanying their growth until they can serve in ministry. In the Sunday service, there are often new seekers attending, with around 20 people when the attendance is high.
Two churches in Guangzhou open their doors to visitors, taking advantage of their locations in bustling areas. Visitors can come for sightseeing and to take pictures. One of the churches places all kinds of prayer cards on tables, such as prayers for finding a spouse, working smoothly, the well-being of parents, childbirth, the education of children, family harmony, and a happy marriage. The corresponding prayers are concise and easy to read, and visitors can write down their specific prayer requests on the back of the cards. In some churches, visitors can take and read brochures introducing the church and basic Christian teachings.
Despite many challenges, churches across the country continue to explore missions and seize visions, paving their own path for development.
Original: “Case Study: Churches Retain Believers After COVID-19,” China Christian Daily.
Edited and reposted with permission.
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