Future of Chinese Urban Church: Loose Structure, Unestablished, Cultural

By CCD contributor: Wang Zhengmin, October 12, 2018 11:10 AM

The choir sang hymns to mark the 90th anniversary of Yuguang Street Church, Nov. 3, 2018. (Provided by Wu Zhongyi)

Without a new model as its indicator, new urban churches in China find it difficult to move forward.

This article attempts to draw a referential approach through the analysis of the status quo of modern churches, the deduction of the characteristics of new urban churches that exist, and the lessons of current church development.

At present, everybody feels that the Chinese church will change. Then what will be the future model of the church?

I believe that all the churches we have seen are not newly emerged urban churches at all because they may not continue their vitality in the social structural upheaval currently experienced today. Newly emerged churches depend on the social establishment and civic life ethics. 

1. Three-self church

The three-self church is the model used by China's state church and mirrors the structure of the Church of England, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Evangelical Church in Germany. 

It is approved by the government and assists in perfecting the Chinese national spirit. Currently, the two theological trends of the registered church are to be "de-official" and sinicized. It shows that the establishment and theology of the state-sanctioned church will experience dramatic changes. It will be possible to integrate with newly emerged urban churches. 

2. House church 

The existence of the house church relies on an immature country governance order, which leads to its dependence on the dual fragmentation in our society. However, China is building perfect rules of law in spite of the twisted road. This suggests that the social context where the unregistered church exists and develops is being eroded. 

3. Urban church 

There is a common voice in the theological community that the urban church is regarded as to where the Chinese church is going because China faces the largest urbanization movement in human history. As mass numbers of the rural population moves into cities and urban industry and commerce gradually become the backbone of the national economy, many churches envision to establish urban churches.

The mainstream view is very closely related to the Zeitgeist. But even in the Europe and America, urban churches don't exist as a cultural phenomenon or a theological point of view in missiology. Therefore, I don't agree that urban churches will be the ultimate form of newly emerged churches. 

4. Community church

In some sense of the pastoral ministry, scholars who predict that the church's future stressed that they consider the community church to be the future pattern of the Chinese church. 

It is commonly believed that the church in the past was the theme church. Every church had its own theological theme where people who shared the theme gathered together and it held a unique pastoral atmosphere. However, such theme church hardly paid attention to the daily life of ordinary believers. 

In the pastoral ministry, the best pasture is in the community where there is a great degree of overlap in people's lives. The community church is the urban version of the rural church.  

5. Identity-themed church

Different from theology-themed or denomination-themed churches, this kind of church evolves into a campus fellowship, a church for marketplace professionals, the deaf and mute, the elderly, or entertainers.

People think that members in such churches can communicate decently, but it leads to high church homogenization. Consequently, insufficient information fail to reveal the complexity of real social life and the type of church is deemed defective.

These categories of churches mentioned above already exist, most of which start from zero. People call the kind of newly built churches as newly emerged urban churches that represent new characteristics. 

If there are leading white-collars and intellectual elites inside these churches, they are more likely to belong to this type. But it fails to be considered from the perspective of social structure. Therefore, I don't agree that none of them is the church's future.

What is the Chinese church going to be like?

In the future, young people are much better at acquiring knowledge and are anti-traditional. The society will be more diversified, tolerant, liberal, and secular. It will be hard to fill the young generation in traditional churches.

They don't concern about or directly overlook theological heritages valued by traditional churches. Unless there is a need, they won't learn patrology or Greek. In their eyes, one can become a Christian without learning these stuff.

Reluctant to follow conventional gathering patterns, the new generation is often absent in Sunday services on a regular basis. They don't ask pastors any questions and don't think there is any need to do so. In addition, there's no need to listen to the answers from pastors. 

They may be not moved by Jesus' crucifixion and just think that's it. Certainly, they don't follow some believers from traditional churches who pretend to weep for the sacrifice.

They don't care about denominations. They regard themselves as just Christians rather than know Jesus through a certain denomination. They aren't concerned about some domestic and international deeds out of traditional Christian values like the liberal wing and the right wing, immigration, and the Israel issue. Those are internal issues of religion and has nothing to do with Chinese people, including Chinese Christians. 

Young people are unwilling to form established churches because they don't regularly attend church or give tithes. Accordingly, many theological graduates who serve in urban churches, especially those who are overseas returnees, can't be paid with a fixed salary. They can't even afford housing and life. As a consequence, some highly qualified pastors lose the inspiration to preach and are unable to purchase books or visit believers. After marriage, their churches are more prone to break up due to life pressures. Many churches in the cities don't have good and fixed pastors but have part-time preachers who have a strong urge to control the church. 

The future church and youth will only pay for the production of knowledge they like, such as great articles on WeChat, a popular social media in China, and fine Christian works of art. 

The future pattern of newly emerged urban churches will be loose, unestablished, and cultural. Young people will pursue common Christian virtues, not some special ones that only belong to Christianity.

They aren't interested in traditions but will create a new tradition that would consolidate all the good traditions into a cosmology that is ecumenical, liberal, and noncentral to guide their marching road. 

Their theology will be the best combination of revelation and rationality, which will perfectly solve the Jerusalem/Athens controversy. They innocently listen to their hearts that obey God.

They will subvert traditional values like Max Scheler and also have the resolution to establish new values as Carl Schmitt claimed.  

- Translated by Karen Luo

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