Chinese Church VoicesReturnees

Have We Failed Returnee Christians? (Part 1)

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly 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.


The number of Chinese Christians continues to grow, both inside and outside of China. As large numbers of Chinese move and travel abroad, particularly to the West, many encounter Christianity for the first time. Many of these Chinese come to faith while abroad.

After living abroad, Chinese Christians often have trouble transitioning into church life once they return to China. Their experience of the overseas church is often dramatically different from their experiences in Chinese churches.

Brother Sang Shang, a returnee himself, highlights the difficulties returnee Christians face in an article on Gift of the Magi. He criticizes overseas churches for their “utilitarian” approach to evangelism that falls short in preparing Chinese for their return to China. He also notes how the Chinese church is ill-prepared to minister to these returnees.

The article’s sharp critiques raised many dissenting or counter views from Chinese Christians after Sang posted it. We will include a selection of these comments posted by readers responding to the original article in part two. Due to the length of the article, we will publish it in two parts. This is part one.

Reasons Why a High Rate of Returnee Christians Fall Away—a Lack of Care for Souls

2017-01-26 Brother Sang Shang

The Overseas Church Does Not Care for Their Souls

While abroad, they believed in Christians but not in Christ

If you listen to salvation testimonies from returnee Christians, most will sound like this:

Just after I arrived in X, Christians XXX treated me really well. They were loving; they took me to church; the people at church were very nice and very loving. They cared about my studies, my life, and they invited me over to their house for dinner. On the weekends they would drive me to the supermarket to buy groceries. They would help me move house, would help me find a job—I envied their lives. I really hoped to become like them. I was very moved, so I prayed the sinner's prayer. Later, I was baptized.

This sort of testimony seems nice and is very touching. But, we need to ask: Is this the gospel? Is this experiencing the life of the church overseas, or is this a testimony of redemption? Do they actually believe in Christ, or in the Christians?

We very rarely hear returnee Christians with this kind of witness to Christ:

I went to X and Christians XXX took me to church. I started to learn about the faith. I read the Bible and after listening to sermons I felt a deep awareness that I am a fallen sinner who has offended God. I need the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was nailed on the cross for my sins. He paid the ultimate price for me. The shock of the cross of Jesus Christ moved me. I wanted to repent of my sins and accept Jesus Christ as my Savior. I am willing to follow all of the teachings of the Bible and worship God through holiness of life to the glory of God.

Which one of these is actual belief in the Lord and true repentance? I believe the answer is obvious!

The utilitarian overseas church

In the end, many overseas churches are focused on the lives of returnee Christians, not their souls.

Why aren't they concerned about the souls of foreign students? Because it requires a tremendous amount of effort and work. It takes blood, sweat, and tears to walk alongside these sinners from the Chinese mainland who have been "cultivated" by the party-state for years. And, there's no guarantee that you'll see fruit.

If you share the gospel according to the Bible with foreign students, reprove them of sin, and call them to repent and live holy lives, of course they won't like it due to their sinful nature. Pretty soon many students wouldn't be going to church. The church's ministry to foreign students could become desolate.

According to the Bible's teaching, if the Spirit is not present and working there will be no fruit. The Spirit will only bear fruit in those who are God's truly elect. Overseas churches like the big achievement-based type of thinking in the church. They like to count heads, but they don't actually care for people's souls.

Many overseas churches compromise truth in light of humanity's sinful nature. They use secular models of management and sociology in the church in order to build large-scale student ministries. Many people are baptized and make a decision and then are counted as Christians.

They do not care for people's souls

Because of that compromise, student ministry in overseas churches is just mainly parties, social activities, hanging out, support, and shallow Bible studies. There is a very big market for this because they are taking care of the physical needs of the students. They immediately see "fruit" and feel a sense of accomplishment!

The message of the gospel in student ministry is seriously watered down!

It's not very often that overseas churches truly care for the souls of foreign students. After students return home, the overseas churches seldom continue praying for their souls. They immediately throw the hot potato back to the Chinese church. It just so happens that many Chinese churches are simplistic and rough. So, it's no wonder that a high number of returnee Christians fall away.

Decision prayer [sinner's prayer] = a decision? Baptism of body = regeneration of the heart?

Normally when students come to church, the church will shower them with time and resources. They'll spare no expense to lead students to pray the sinner's prayer. There is absolutely no bar for them to meet in order to be baptized. Once students are baptized there's no concern for them anymore. The time and resources are devoted to new students who haven't said the prayer and been baptized.

Let's ask: No matter if they are over here or on that side of the world, it’s the same God, the same Bible, the same Spirit who reveals and leads returnee students; the same world, the same kingdom of heaven. If the overseas church really led returnee Christians to God and they were genuine Christians, then how can they fall away?!

The single fact and one reason they fall away is that many "returnee Christians" did not really believe in the Lord in the first place. Many overseas churches need to collectively repent for this, to go before God and confess their sin.

Not enough time for the overseas church

There are, of course, some minor objective reasons for their falling away that cannot be ignored. Many students only spend a short amount of time abroad in the educational system. They spend one or two hurried years abroad and then return home. The overseas church doesn't really have enough time to give them in depth, systematic teaching to help them change.

In fact, it's a great miracle in itself if one sinner can truly repent and believe in the Lord. They need to go through a long process with many steps. It's not a snap-of-your-fingers-and-be-done-with-it thing. If the overseas church can't do everything, it only needs to plant the seeds and water them. It's better to link up with the Chinese church to hand over the work of harvesting and cultivating. But, you need to be sure to spread "real" gospel seed! Moreover, you need to continue to pray for the souls of those Christian returnees.

We have a brother who spent two years at a church in the US. Before he returned to China, that church thought he was not yet a true believer, so they did not ask him to say the sinner's prayer and of course did not baptize him. But before he returned to China they helped him carefully exam several Chinese churches and gave him a recommendation. After he returned, they kept praying for him. Last month, this brother was baptized in our church.

I think this church in the US is a very good testimony and example. This is an overseas church worth modeling and learning from.

The social mentality of students studying abroad

Many students who go abroad do not speak the local language well and it is difficult for them to integrate into the local culture and community. Loneliness can appear out of nowhere. The overseas Chinese churches gather together a large number of Chinese and all of the sudden the students feel a sense of acknowledgement in their identity. They turn the overseas Chinese church into a social place, but they don't go because they yearn for the teachings there.

Once they go back to China, everyone around them is Chinese. Every place is "social" for them. They don't need the social circle of the church anymore. The church doesn't have any utilitarian value for them. They promptly punt on the church. There are a lot of people with ulterior motives like this in the overseas Chinese church!

I believe that this type of people makes up a considerable proportion of Christian returnees who fall away. True returnee Christians might slip up in a moment of weakness, but they would not be lost.

Original article: 海归基督徒高流失率的原因  (麦琪的礼物- The Gift of the Magi)  

Image credit: by Anne Worner, via Flickr.

ChinaSource Team

Written by members of the ChinaSource staff.  View Full Bio


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.

Donate