A Particular Concern and Critical Question
ChinaSource Vice-President of Partnerships and China Engagement, Joann Pittman’s post last week titled, “How Many Christians Are There in China? It’s Complicated,” quoted our Founder and Catalyst Dr. Brent Fulton’s response to Christianity Today‘s request for his reaction to the Pew Research Center report titled “Measuring Religion in China,” which was released on August 30. Brent’s reply especially spotlighted an issue of “particular concern:”
What is concerning is that while it is impossible to know the true number of Christians in China or gauge the growth or decline of the church in a comprehensive manner, anecdotal evidence would seem to support the observation that the church’s growth has plateaued. Of particular concern is the state of the church among adults and youth.
In the past fifty years, China’s growth experienced two significant growth spurts: the explosion of the rural church in the 1970s and 1980s and the emergence of a vibrant urban movement in the 2000s. Those who grew up in the rural revival are now in their fifties and sixties. Many in the urban congregations are now middle-aged. In the years since these surveys were conducted, youth and student ministry, along with Christian-run schools and activities such as summer camps, have been severely curtailed due to the pandemic and to government restrictions on religious activities for children under 18. The survey data showing that Christians were the least likely to have grown up in homes with parents of the same faith also seem to suggest that Christianity is not being passed on generationally. How the church will meet the needs of its next generation remains a critical question.
Besides the internal family challenges related to passing the good news to the next generation, pastoral leadership succession is also static. In many cases young pastors feel pressure and receive minimal pastoral care. Financial challenges are great and there is a feeling of helplessness. One post-millennial mainland pastor said that “there are ‘no successors’ for the present generation of church workers.” (See Chinese Church Voices, “The Problem of Succession.”)
“Full Time Children,” “Lying Flat”
Over 11 million mainland students graduated from college this year, which is twelve times more than graduated twenty years ago. As of June of this year, 21.8% of young people ages 16–24 were unemployed, which includes a great number of recent college graduates.
As a result, a growing number of young people are “lying flat” or rejecting the societal pressure to overwork and overachieve, such as in the 996 working hour system: 9:00am-9:00pm 6 days a week (996).
Many graduates are becoming “full time children” in their families, cooking and cleaning in exchange for a salary or food and housing.
The complicated issues that parents, children and church leaders are facing in the mainland seem almost impossible to overcome and yet…
Good News Afoot
Despite what feels like overwhelming odds, we are hearing encouraging reports that our sovereign Heavenly Father is still drawing children and youth to himself even as he is raising godly, loving parents to nurture them. Holistic youth ministry, addressing many of the issues mentioned above, while helping young people to be rooted and grounded in Christ, as well as equipped for a lifetime of hope and purpose in Jesus, is taking place in spots, under the leadership of called and equipped youth and family leaders in the mainland. The Holy Spirit is drawing parents and children closer together through unique, relevant, and timely ministry wineskins that he is empowering. There’s a small sample size at present, but the strategies are remarkable in their scope and kingdom dynamic.
ChinaSource is committed to serving the church in China and the Chinese diaspora as it seeks to raise up children, youth, parents, and Christian leaders so that the gospel of Jesus Christ will be powerfully passed on from generation to generation. Along the way we look forward to participating in a global prayer effort to intercede for the children and youth of China. It would be great if we could, with prayerful discretion and wisdom, compare notes together regarding what God is doing in these areas, as well as inform one another about appropriate prayer platforms. As we do, we will also be blessed to learn so much from how God is leading our brothers and sisters in China.
Nothing has changed since Solomon preached “Remember your creator in the days of your youth,” (Ecclesiastes 12:1a) except maybe for many whose “days of trouble” (Ecclesiastes 12:1b) come much earlier in life. The Almighty God is steadfast and true in his promise to “turn the hearts of the children to their parents,” in his son’s name. We have the privilege to participate together in a variety of ways.
A Mini Reunion
A special thanks to everyone who attended the first in-person ChinaSource Connect event we have had since pre-covid days. The ChinaSource team thoroughly enjoyed worshipping, sharing. and praying together with all of you who braved Los Angeles traffic on August 31, to join with us for what one person called a wonderful mini reunion! We look forward to keeping you updated about ChinSource in-person and virtual Connect events in the future.
Ways to Pray
- Praise the Lord that he is still calling children and young people to himself through loving parents, as well as committed youth workers across China.
- We’re thankful for reports that the Holy Spirit is guiding parents and Christian leaders in wise, creative, and powerful ways, to help children and youth find their calling and purpose in Jesus Christ.
- Pray that the Lord will raise up the next generation of church leaders in China.
- Ask God to imbue Christian parents in China with wisdom, courage, and love as they seek to nurture their children in Christ.
- Pray that global Christ followers will intercede on behalf of the children, youth, parents, shepherds, and youth leaders of China.
News and Notes
ChinaSource Team News
- On September 14, Joann Pittman participated in the inaugural gathering of a new networking group in the Twin Cities called Community of Leaders Advancing Missions (CLAM). CLAM is a group of like-minded missions leaders that will meet bi-monthly to meet connect, explore pathways for networking and collaboration, and share news of what is going on in near and far cross-cultural ministries among those of us who live in and around the Twin Cities.
- Brent Fulton was quoted on August 30 in an article in Christianity Today, called “Have China’s Christians Peaked? Pew Researches the Data Debate.”
In Case You Missed It
A selection of recently published items:
- A Journey of Captivation and Identity, ChinaSource Blog, September 18.
- How Many Christians Are There in China? It’s Complicated, ChinaSource Blog, September 15.
- ZGBriefs, September 14.
- Why the Mother Tongue Matters, ChinaSource Blog, September 13.
- Bearing With: Recognizing and Accepting Differences, ChinaSource Blog, September 11.
- Arise Asia: Inspiring the Next Generation, ChinaSource Blog, September 08.
- ZGBriefs, September 07.
- Flood Victims Aided by Chinese Believers, ChinaSource Blog (CCV), September 06.
- A Sacred Space, ChinaSource Blog, September 04.
- 神学词汇—A Tool for Translators, ChinaSource Blog, September 01.
- ZGBriefs, August 31
- The Chinese Church Does Missions (2) Beyond China, ChinaSource Blog, August 30.
- Love In Action, ChinaSource Blog, August 28.
- Let’s Connect, ChinaSource Blog, August 25.
- ZGBriefs, August 24.
- The Chinese Church Does Missions (1) Within China, ChinaSource Blog, August 23.
- Alive, ChinaSource Blog, August 21.
- Indignation or Creativity?, ChinaSource Blog, August 18.
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