From Miracles to Oral Transmission to Real-life Testimonies: Evolution of Evangelism Methods in China

A picture of a person passing a cross to another one
A picture of a person passing a cross to another one (photo:
By Shiguang Li December 6th, 2023

In the past few decades, the evangelism methods of the Church in China have undergone transitions from sharing miracles and wonders to oral transmission and then to life-changing testimonies.

Many years ago, miracles and wonders led people to faith

It seemed that miraculous occurrences became a significant driving force for the development of the Chinese Church, especially in rural areas. At that time, most Chinese people were very poor, and the cost of treating a severe illness at a hospital could lead most families into substantial debt.

As a result, God performed numerous miracles; countless critically ill patients were healed in churches, and many possessed and mentally unstable individuals found healing through God. This led to a significant change in the attitudes of those who were previously skeptical or resistant to Christianity.

My grandmother, diagnosed with a terminal illness, was given a critical condition notice by the hospital. Unwilling to let her pass away, my grandfather sought medical advice even after returning home from the hospital. Fortunately, they encountered a Christian who informed them that healing could be found in the church. Consequently, the grandfather used a cart to transport her to the church. The grandmother's condition significantly improved after the second visit, and after the third visit, God completely healed her.

Ascribed to the grandmother's illness, the entire extended family, including the once unbelieving grandfather, embraced Christianity after witnessing multiple miracles and experiencing divine guidance. Consequently, their family was transformed into a home church, where many individuals found their faith.

In the past twenty years, the primary method of evangelism has been oral transmission.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, people noticed a significant reduction in miraculous occurrences, with some churches even experiencing their disappearance. Subsequently, most Christians came to know about the gospel through the words of other believers, who shared stories of miracles that had occurred within the church or among its members. However, nowadays, oral evangelism predominantly focuses on the basic doctrines of Christianity and the testimonies of believers, with once-prevalent miraculous events now being rarely reported.

Therefore, gospel pamphlets started spreading everywhere, and varied online spaces began hosting substantial information about the Christian faith. Enthusiastic Christians were found sharing the gospel by word-of-mouth at church entrances, squares, parks, and even on public transportation.

People have placed higher demands on evangelism methods in the new era, emphasizing relational evangelism coupled with life changing testimonies.

Rev. Xu Da, the senior pastor of a city church in a central province for many years, mentioned that, similar to many other churches, they primarily conducted evangelism through evangelistic campaigns and distributing gospel pamphlets in previous years. While the latter method was effective previously, it has seen a decline in its effectiveness in recent times.

Reverend Xu and his fellow workers found that the most effective way was through relational evangelism combined with stories of life change. They observed a severe lack of trust among people in contemporary society, making individuals instinctively wary even in casual interactions. Contrastingly, people in the 1970s and 1980s engaged in conversations with strangers with goodwill and trust.

Xu stated that their current belief was that the most effective method involved sharing the gospel through relationships rather than mere words, emphasizing the importance of living testimonies. He highlighted that when others witness such testimonies and ask questions about faith, the process of evangelism becomes simpler. In their church, many individuals were introduced to Christianity through this approach. Personal encounters showcased a distinct character that made believers stand out and subsequently guided people into the church.

The pastor discussed the struggles within the church, indicating that many believers failed to live exemplary lives without ineffective testimonies. Moreover, the conditions among pastors were sometimes worse than those among believers. Power struggles and the pursuit of fame and profit within the church caused many believers to face temptations, lose hope, and consequently depart from the church. Many believers were not genuine Christians but merely religious. Like the Pharisees, they considered themselves devout but faced severe issues. Xu attributed this to the lack of a genuine, intimate relationship with God, as they mistakenly believed their relationship with God was strong.

He narrated an incident from their church where a child fell ill and needed hospitalization and surgery. Both parents were full-time workers at the church without sufficient money to cover the surgery costs. Eventually, the church reimbursed all the surgery expenses. Xu explained that their willingness stemmed from their past hardships and that they realized how difficult it was to be a full-time servant.

He emphasized that if a full-time worker fell ill and required substantial funds, the church had to assist them, ensuring they had no worries and could serve wholeheartedly. The church needed to find ways to provide for and support them, ensuring financial stress didn't become a significant burden.

If the evangelistic approach reliant on miracles aims to alter the physical, the focus of word-of-mouth evangelism lies in transforming thoughts and beliefs, while testimonies aim at changing individuals' real-life circumstances. This transition, progressing from the physical to the mental aspects and then to comprehensive life transformations, unfolds gradually, moving from superficial to profound levels. Perhaps concealed behind the apparent shifts in evangelistic methodologies is the profound intention of God—seeking not only our presence but also desiring our hearts and aspiring for our complete devotion and allegiance to Him

- Translated by Abigail Wu

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