International Student Ministry in China

There are almost half a million international students in China, arriving from every corner of the globe. Here cultural complexity meets contextual limitations and gospel opportunities. Among this mixed, dynamic and growing field of ambitious influencers are the leaders of the future. How can the global church embrace this gospel opportunity? It seems that, with consistent growth, high numbers, and such diversity, China is becoming the “hub of hubs” for impacting the world through international students. International student ministry in China inevitably means it is pioneering. Yes, the challenges are immense, but so are the opportunities. Who will commit themselves to reaching, maturing and equipping these students to be salt and light throughout the world?

This ebook is available in multiple languages and multiple formats:

English: International Student Ministry in China

Chinese: 留学生在中国

Arabic: خدمة الطالب الدولي في الصين

French: Les Étudiants Internationaux en Chine

Korean: 중국의 외국인 유학생들

Portuguese: Estudantes Estrangeiros na China

Russian: Международные студенты в Китае

Spanish: Estudiantes Internacionales en China


Hidden in plain sight—in a country known more for religious repression than religious freedom—is an opportunity to reach the nations! With the third highest international student population in the world, China attracts future leaders from throughout Asia and Africa. Using the framework of diaspora missiology, this book examines how the challenges facing these students during their time in China can become entry points for the Gospel. The question is not whether the church can grow among them, but rather who will commit to serving in their midst. Creativity, partnership, and a willingness to view cross-cultural ministry through fresh eyes are the keys to addressing this pioneering opportunity.

Brent Fulton, Founder and President, ChinaSource

The international student population in China has become the third largest in the world, representing a huge mission opportunity for the gospel.  Phil Jones has summarized the current situation clearly and realistically, from demographic data to a compelling call for the church inside and outside China to not miss this historical moment to change the world through courageous ministry to this strategic population.  Inspiring!

Marc Papai, National Director ISM, InterVarsity/USA

Phil Jones’ article provides the most compelling and comprehensive summary depiction and rationale of the opportunity and need for developing international student ministry in China.  Equally significant and worthy of full attention are the practical questions to, yes, the Church in China, but also to the global Church, mission agencies, campus ministries, professionals in the marketplace, and to potential study-abroad students.  Truly, the global scholastic harvest field in China is ripe and ready, and this publication provides the foundational perspectives to take some next steps towards ISM in China.

Leiton Chinn, ISM Mobilizer, Former Lausanne Catalyst for ISM

Long ago Nebuchadnezzar sought to extend Babylon’s global footprint by enlisting the brightest and best from around his world for service. I am witnessing something similar in Beijing, China today. Indeed, the brightest and best international students from far away nations are here to study in China’s universities. And just as the Lord of the Hebrews had a purpose bigger than Nebuchadnezzar’s, the Lord of His Church has a grand kingdom purpose for many who will again scatter to be leaders. They are here now for us to serve. We’re surprised but rejoice to see many find, follow, and bear fruit for the Lord Jesus Christ in our international fellowship! And we are hearing great things about their impact across the globe. Do you want to reach the far corners of the earth? The best vantage point might be a global-city such as this.

Mark Blair, Beijing International Christian Fellowship, Zhongguancun

An Indonesian Muslim encourages a struggling nominal Catholic Filipino to a Bible study through a testimony of a Zambian Christian classmate. Phil Jones passionately describes the cultural mix and unique contextual challenges that the Chinese situation poses, and the unique opportunities to reach out and disciple international students. What a training ground China is for budding cross-cultural workers to scatter around the world! The trickle of testimonies of Cubans reached by Chinese returnees, Brazilians reaching out to Iranians, Nigerians re-engaging nominal Americans brings great joy, but with more mobilising what vast impact could those mobilised in China have back across the globe?

Nia Early, Beijing International Christian Fellowship

Phil Jones has put forth a strong and compelling case for shifting our sight to reaching International students in China. Using history, current Chinese realities and relevant global trends he asks thought-provoking questions about the role of the local and global church to this unprecedented opportunity to reach the world that has come to China’s door. He understands the multi-layered challenges facing international students in China supported by numerous examples.  Jones insists that this new population cannot be ignored and rightly so.

Lisa Espineli Chinn, Former ISM Director of InterVarsity/USA

I’m a fruit of international student ministry! And in China now we have a tremendous God-given opportunity to reach the nations. Seeing this epoch through the lens of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, we must live in the present, creatively using the freedoms we have, while holding eternal truth in mind. Global sending organisations must rethink their missiology, genuinely engaging with the diaspora of international students in China. God is calling both the Chinese church and the global church to reach and disciple these international students. Such workers can be strategic bridge-builders who “model the way” by living a life of Christ’s love and sacrificial discipleship.

Patrick Fung, General Director of OMF International

How can the global church be involved in this strategic ministry to reach international students in China?

Here are six ways:

  1. Find out more and pray for international students in China, and for those reaching them.
  2. Share with others about the needs. You can share this ebook, or some shorter articles here.
  3. Study in China as a mission-minded international student. There are many scholarships available at world-class universities at all levels.
  4. Encourage university students in your ministry to consider studying in China, and connect to various study abroad programs.
  5. Do a ministry internship in China reaching international students.
  6. Consider coming long term, committed to learning and serving amongst international students.
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Phil Jones

Phil Jones (pseudonym) and his wife have worked amongst international students including in China for over six years. Their passion is to see international students fall in love with Jesus Christ. Phil also serves as a Lausanne WIN (Worldwide ISM Network) Global Catalyst. To contact Phil, email pjones@lausanne.org.View Full Bio