This Year in China

Standing at the threshold of a new year, the perennial question comes to mind, “Whither China?” Since prognostications about China’s future more often than not prove to be off the mark—sometimes by a very wide margin—trying to anticipate with certainty what may happen in 2016 is somewhat of a fool’s errand.

Perhaps a more constructive approach would be to test current assumptions about where things are heading. Given what has transpired over the past year, do our “givens” still hold true, particularly when it comes to the church and its role in China? The answer to this question may say a lot about our preparedness, or lack thereof, to face whatever comes to pass in the new year.

Here are a handful of working assumptions about trends shaping China’s future that the ChinaSource team and board came up with during a strategic planning process conducted prior to 2015, along with some “reality check” comments about their relevance heading into this year.

Urban church strong and well resourced; increasing openness for church to express its faith.

On the one hand, increased professionalism in church leadership, more sophisticated congregations, better facilities, a variety of programs, a growing vision for world missions, and forays into areas such as education and youth ministry suggest that the church in China’s cities is thriving. Over this otherwise bright picture, however, hangs the specter of hundreds of crosses coming down in Zhejiang province, as well as noticeable restrictions on Christian publishing, and on foreign involvement in the church. What do these portend for 2016?

Increasing global role of China, felt particularly within Asia, in pursuit of the China dream; need to view the world through China’s eyes.

With the inauguration of the Asia Infrastructure Development Bank; the much-heralded One Belt, One Road initiative; and a globetrotting President Xi making state visits to Washington and London, China’s rise was front and center in 2015. From beauty pageants to global internet protocols, its ability to promote its own narrative has been pronounced. How China’s Christians view their role in a rising China needs to be part of the global Christian conversation in 2016.

Social media playing a major role in the awareness of the gospel, the church, Christian growth, and interaction among believers.

WeChat seems to have emerged as the medium of choice within China’s very lively online Christian community, where groups of all kinds proliferate and believers across the country connect on a regular basis. This currently seems to be one area where regulations have not kept up with reality, raising the question of whether the general tightening on online communication already being seen will translate into specific restrictions on Christian activity in 2016.

NGOs will need help transitioning their role as an expatriate organization to one of mentor, model, encourager, innovator, and true partner with the indigenous church.

New foreign NGO legislation could potentially put many existing organizations out of business in China or at least force a drastic rethink in their operations. Organizations that proactively make contingency plans by examining their roles and long-term prospects will be better positioned to face the possible legislative challenges in 2016.

Potential changes in the relationship between government and church.

With “rule by law” taking hold in every area of society, it would seem that a new approach to dealing with the church is long overdue. It is not a question of if, but when and how, the current regime will define the relationship, either by legitimizing China’s dynamic Christian community in its various forms or by seeking to restrict its influence.

What are your “givens” when it comes to approaching China? How might they need to be adjusted in 2016?