I just returned from a land where the church is booming.
I found the conditions there fascinating. The Christian population may double in the next few years. The church is growing so fast no one really has an accurate current count. How is it thriving–with characteristics that most may find counter-intuitive?
- Almost all the churches are small–typically no more than a couple dozen members. When they grow beyond that, they sprout new churches.
- Nobody cares about the typical church ABCs–attendance, buildings, and cash. Instead they focus closely on the One Thing–a growing relationship with Jesus.
- They aren’t divided into tribes that are distinguished by theological hair-splitting.
- They don’t attend ministry conferences.
- They can’t name even one famous pastor whose ministry they could covet.
- They receive no help or tax-free status from the government. In fact, the government stands in the way of the church.
What can we learn from this land, where tens of thousands commit their lives to Christ every day? We need to pay attention. Assuming current growth trends, this will represent the largest Christian population in the world. Where is this place? China.
Thank you Jesus! Thom thanks for the words of hope in a near hopeless world! I know I mentioned it before but I really do believe a properly tweaked LifeTree Cafe can make a great foundation for a “local church” aka “gathering of believers in the body of Christ Jesus.”
You are right, old buddy! Here in the west, the church is often its own worst enemy. I have just recently begun a call to serve inside a state prison. It is so exciting and energizing to have people walk up to you and ask if you are going to do Bible study or small grooup, and when is the next worship service, instead of trying to schedule around “Dancing with the Stars” or “American Idol” or whatever else might get in the way!
Not surprised. We’ve been doing “home church” for about 3 years. We share a meal (communion.) We study the Word. We pray. Our giving is not paying a mortgage, a salary, etc. We’re responsible for our own spiritual health rather than depending “clergy.”
Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I’m so glad that you returned well and are able to share with others what you witnessed. Donald Trump thinks China is a thread to our nation because it’s growing economically. Little does Mr. Trump realize of the real power growing in China! God is at work in China and nothing can stop Him! Let us continue praying for the christians in China, one of the reasons no one knows the count, and they don’t worry about buildings or cash – the ABC as you call it – is because the communist country restrictions and fear of Christians.
I think the American Church is very much a product of the larger culture. In the States we tend to like our individualism, our bootstrappiness, our “stuff” which is supposedly an indicator of how successful we are, etc. A lot of that mentality is imported into the Church and thus we end up focusing our time and energy disproportionately on the wrong things.
Reading these comments and others from the past, I have to ask, “Has the American church lost their first love?” Making disciples and holding one another accountable daily in their spiritual walk? Lately I have been observing and hearing much from what has been happening in various churches. Jesus has always preached using words like “remember” and “I tell you this” for a reason. For myself, I just returned from CHINA to the US spending almost a decade there, and now that I am back in the US it almost seems its become more of a business a “non-profit” than a community of believers who want to make a difference in each others lives and the surrounding communities. Forgive me if I may have stepped on any toes, but now that my family and I are back, we are searching, not for the perfect church (because there is none), but a church (not a mega church) that is making a difference in their community. Should the church be spending all its energy on adapting to the community, rather than the community adapting to the church? On a much more positive note, and one thing for sure, as Americans, we do have something to be VERY grateful for, and that is our freedom. As much as the US is changing, we still have our beloved freedom. Freedom of choice.
What good has our freedom done us? Half of us are inward focused, cultural laggards sitting in country clubs based on social/political issues that are opposed to the gospel and the other half are (the half accused of compromising the gospel for community appeal) are chained to pre-millenial institutionalism. The average lay person can’t distinguish God from the Bible and every act of faith is motivated by fear.
This post articulates one of my deepest fears, the mainstream American church is obsolete.
Newcomer to this blog. First comment. Many things to be said, but I’ll just say two.
1) I have been to China (only 12 weeks total so far). I’ve worshiped with believers there and avoided the authorities in clandestine ways for other additional reasons. The persecution is real and palpable. I attribute all success of the Chinese Christian churches to God, obviously, but I believe he is using the persecution of his people and his Church there to flourish them. But the persecution seems also to be winnowing down the ranks of the “church” in China to the point that there is a higher per-capita rate of actual Christians in attendance at a church’s given meeting. This creates a different atmosphere for and experience of worship. Moreover, the “membership” of a church (and therefore the necessary out-workings of such a thing) is more “pure” (if that’s the most appropriate descriptor) as the ministries of the church are performed by believers (in the name of Jesus, overtly) as opposed to a mixture of believers and nonbelievers.
For American (“western”) churches, we are beginning to see a shrinking of our numbers because of the larger “unofficial” persecution Christians are facing here everyday. I’m not worried about the future of the American church; I’m excited. I long to be back in places like China, wherein worship in spirit and in truth happens most often (as close to that as is possible when performed by as-yet unredeemed souls).
2) I grew up at a church of 5,000 members that does not fit the negative mold commonly attached to discussions on the American mega-church. I do not attend there now, as I have been called to full-time, vocational ministry at another church. I will not mention the other church’s name; however, they send hundreds, if not thousands of people each year on international missions trips. They send around the same amount to Stateside missions, and even more do ministry in the local community than probably both of the previous categories combined. Further, in addition to the sending of people, in 2010 and 2011 the church gave over $1,000,000 to missions of all sorts. There was even a night (ONE night) earlier this year where nearly $70,000 was collected just for international disaster relief.
While those numbers are boggling to the mind, the church remains focused on local ministry and planting churches globally. In the past 6-7 years, this church has planted a church in several countries, several states, and several in surrounding communities. They’ve done that the right way, too. These churches are staunchly gospel-centered, performing real, tangible ministry in their locales, aiming toward globally. (By the way, who else can’t wait to see Chinese missionaries going on mission for Christ to the United States of America!?! — The South Koreans [and some other countries] already are!)
A growing trend is the mega-church, and I do not believe this will change for at least a generation, if at all in my lifetime (I’m 32.). But not all of this is bad. Think about it. If a church’s staff’s salary is roughly 33% of the church’s budget (as is the case in my small, rural church of 75–I make $32,000/year and am the only staff) then roughly 50% (after utilities, insurance, etc.) of the remaining monies go toward ministry. (This is granted a facility, I realize.) If the previous church were more the norm, then based on their 2010 numbers, the salary of the staff is about 25% of the budget (big staff, but 5,000 to be plugging in) and almost 60% was pointed directly toward ministry.
I say that to say that the mega-church model does not have to be bad. Granted, my home church is an exception to most of the rules. As the persecution amplifies, we will see more church goers want to hide in the bigger churches (strength in numbers) so the big churches will get bigger and the smaller churches will die. But how many churches are really needed for each person, really?
Just my thoughts.
Brian, I believe we all fit in the category of being inwardly focused. We are just getting a glimpse (compared to other cultures/countries) what it means to truly be on the battlefield. Without the guidance and leadership from most of the American churches, the Nationals would have the encouragement we bring to them. It is amazing however, going to a 3rd World Country and ministering to the people, but on the flip-side the end up encouraging/challenging your faith. Paul went thru as well when he traveled.
Thank you Clay for sharing your thoughts!