If you want to know the past situation of rural churches, you need to ask rural elderly believers and preachers to get a general understanding from them, and you can also listen to their stories about changes to the church. The reason why rural churches are in their current situation lies in how people have changed. Is the environment changing too fast? Are we getting increasingly sophisticated?
By interviewing elderly believers I gradually realized that the prosperity of the church in the past was inseparable from the dedication of people. In the past, there were not only a large number of young people going to church but also many clergies who dedicated themselves and served full-time. In the past, many servants never thought about how much their salary was, how much reward they would get, and what kind of treatment they would receive for serving a church full time.
It turned out that all the young believers had a passion. If there were activities arranged at their church, they would attend them at once and never delay. I remember that when an old preacher was young, he had to walk more than ten miles every day to preach, attend, and lead prayers in various churches as his work. Sometimes when it was windy and rainy, he persisted in travell+ing and never stopped his work despite poor weather conditions. I heard from him that once there was a gathering which was nearly 30 kilometers away. He drove his own farming tricycle to take his fellow Christians there to study. It was in winter so sitting in an open-air tricycle was too much exposure to cold air. Everyone sat in a closed vehicle to warm each other and they didn't feel bitter or tired. They were more grateful and happier.
In fact, there were many young people in the church in the past. They were not afraid of hardship and fatigue. Sometimes they went to the brothers and sisters' houses to get together. When they heard that there was farm work to finish, they immediately went to help. They never gathered for the purpose of gathering but felt the warmth of the church and the enthusiasm and love between brothers and sisters.
In the past, although there were many aged people in a church, there was never a shortage of young people. Some young sisters went to the church to teach them to dance, and some young brothers taught them how to sing hymns. At that time, many young sisters or brothers were still willing to devote themselves to the church after they were married. There were also single brothers and sisters who got married for the sake of the Lord and finally set up a new family. Two people served the church with one heart and one mind, and they travelled around to preach.
Although churches didn’t use to have large venues, air conditioning or heating, luxurious decoration, and musical instruments, many people were willing to dedicate themselves to God. After knowing that there would be gatherings or training, many young brothers and sisters went to various villages to inform them of the upcoming events. They’d practice singing hymns in advance and rehearse dances for evening worship. At that time, the winter heating of the venues depended not only on the inner warmth of people but also on the temperature of the zealousness brought by dancing and worshiping.
Although our footsteps can't stay in the past, we should find the inner fervor of that time and the simplicity and we should learn the love of the Lord of the people at that time. We never complain about untimely birth, but we worry about our weakness, our stagnation, and whether our initial mind is discarded.
How grateful we are to be born in this era. There are things that were not available in the past. There is the Internet, mobile phones, and abundant network resources in this era. We don't sit in the open air when we gather and worship. We have professional audio equipment when we sing and worship, projection and large screens when we need to read scriptures, and loudspeakers when we preach. However, what is lacking in today's rural churches is the commitment of young people, and what is lacking is the inner focus and singleness of people's faith.
We usually see that in some rural churches elderly believers are older than 50. Some elderly people are holding crutches and pushing scooters. Reading the Bible requires reading glasses. It sometimes takes a month to learn a hymn. There are even many elderly people who go to churches because they are sick; some old people accept Jesus because they are often scolded by their daughter-in-law at home.
We will ask where the young people are in the present church. Is there no such thing as young people? There are still young people, but they don't want to stay and serve the church. Although it can't be said that the gospel absolutely continues to decline, the people who can spend time and commit themselves in the church are not as dedicated as before. Is it because the church's faith inheritance is not done well? Or is the family's faith inheritance not in place? It is worth pondering by each of us.
At present, rural churches are made up of mostly illiterate as well as elderly people. Most of the elderly are illiterate and have poor memories. There are not many things that can be remembered at each gathering. Some elderly still have a little knowledge of faith after believing for most of their lives. Therefore, the serious aging has brought a lot of resistance and tension to the church, because there are no young people. So many ministries can't be carried out, such as the establishment of a choir, Sunday school, camp meeting, etc. Although we don't have to rely on young people, the young are the future of the church.
While I was visiting one place, an old preacher raised a question. He said: If there are no more young people in the church, what should the church do after the death of the older generation of believers? In fact, this question, like a wake-up call, comes to us repeatedly, and it also makes me understand that the prosperity and continuation of the church need someone to give and someone to put on it because the prosperity of the church has something to do with every Christian.
- Translated by Charlie Li