Chinese Church Voices

The Difficulty of ‘Urban Missions’ in China

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.

In this article, translated from the site, the author looks at the challenges of doing urban missions in China. His main point is that doing urban missions, traditionally defined as ministering to the marginalized, is difficult in China because it assumes that Christianity is already part of the mainstream of culture, something that is not true in China. He then calls on the church to look for ways to engage with society rather than standing in opposition to it. Only by doing this will Christianity gain influence in Chinese society.

The Difficulty of Urban Missions in China

The term 'urban missions' has been translated into Chinese as. It refers to a model of evangelism in an urban setting. Previously, the term missions was thought of as evangelism among unreached people groups, especially those in Africa or Central Asia, and particularly among Muslims. With the acceleration of globalization, evangelical scholars have come to realize that the city itself needs to be evangelized; as a result, urban communities have increasingly become the focus of urban missions.

Historically, urban missions referred to the advancement of the gospel within a particular sub-cultural community. Sub-cultures naturally appear on the edges of the mainstream culture of an urban area or a primary cultural group. For example, those who are involved in government administration and resources form the mainstream culture of Beijing. It is the post-university workers () struggling to make a living[1] or the migrant workers temporarily living in Beijing who are most marginalized.

When the term urban missions is used abroad, there is a basic presupposition that Christianity is already a part of mainstream culture and society. In this case, the sub-cultures that develop naturally or from the cultures of immigrant communities become vulnerable and remain at the margins of the mainstream culture. In these situations, one of the purposes of urban missions is to help facilitate the integration of grassroots communities into the mainstream of society.Viewed in this way, doing urban missions in China is virtually impossible because Christianity is not a part of the mainstream culture. Whether were talking about traditional or modern society, whether the Three-self or house church, Christianity remains on the margins of Chinese society and still has a weak voice. Therefore, when we talk about urban missions, the Chinese-speaking church is still lagging behind. To be sure, there are prominent intellectuals or business people who are active in Christian fellowships in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou; however this does not prove their leading role in Chinese society. One of the reasons is that traditionally, once a person came to faith, there was little effort made to integrate faith with society. On the contrary, Christian faith was usually seen as being in opposition to society.

According to theories of urban missions, Christianity is assumed to be part of the mainstream culture; however, this is not the case in China. If we want to remedy this, we must clearly understand the overall context of modern China, particularly marketization and globalization. Our country has begun to gradually give up its conservative and traditional culture and become a modern society. We are no longer living a lonely and natural existence; rather in good faith we are building altruistic resourceful relationships. If we can realize that this is the biggest mainstream cultural phenomenon of our era, we can then begin moving the church from the traditional school into the modern school and begin using social culture to expound the Christian faith. In this way, Christianity will become the mainstream culture.Once it becomes part of the mainstream culture, then urban missions can really begin, and society will become more unified. It is true that the future mainstream of Han Chinese society is beginning to take shape; however, this is only one part of the modernization process.

The difficulty of urban missions in China is that current mainstream society is centralized within a system. The church itself is limited in quality and finds it difficult to influence societys organizational structure. When it cannot influence the system, and when confronted with certain phenomena of this period of transformation, namely an imperfect national legal system and poor religious management, Christianity, especially house churches, begins to rebel against the system. In other words, the predominant attitude of todays church is not a desire to become mainstream or to influence the mainstream; rather it is to resist the mainstream.

In the future, it is inevitable that a new attitude toward the culture of industry and commerce will emerge. Its possible that the church will be seen as resisting modernization if they continue to resist traditional government authority. In fact, this kind of resistance has already been seen on the part of so-called fundamentalists in western countries.Chinese-speaking churches must avoid this type of miscommunication and disengagement from the society at large. The church has the opportunity to take its place within a new mainstream culture that is taking shape within China. If we can seize the opportunity and pour our faith into the future, then we will see Gods gracious blessings.

Original Article: ( (translated and posted with permission)

Image credit: Tommy N. Amransyah, via Flickr

[1] Ant People college graduates who may or may not be legal Beijing residents and/or those who live in cramped conditions and struggle to make a career for themselves.

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