“It’s been almost three years, and finally I can see my church visiting group at home again!" exclaimed Brother Zhang, who at the end of February recovered from a serious illness after learning that the visiting group was coming.
Visiting groups have restored their vitality as the pandemic had gradually eased at the beginning of 2023.
R City is located in the south of Zhejiang Province. Since the gospel was introduced earlier, the number of believers is high.
An unnamed pastor of the local CC&TSPM (China Christian Council/National Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, translator’s note) said: “In addition to the regular visits, our local churches have a good tradition, that is, at the end of each year, regardless of the size of the church, it will spontaneously carry out a 'blanket' visit from house to house.”
As for the specifics of the “blanket visit," the pastor told the Gospel Times that during the year-end visit, the local churches will not only visit the registered believers in the region door by door but also visit the Christians who have moved from other places and have not yet found a church.
“Our large-scale visits usually go from street to street. When the visitation ministry workers see that a certain household has a couplet at the door with Christian elements on it or Christian calligraphy and painting on it, they will knock on the doors to introduce the hosts to the church, say comforting words and prayers according to their actual needs, and encourage them to come to the church.”
In addition to in-depth visits to each community and street before the pandemic, church visiting groups often went into local hospitals and nursing homes to see individuals and provide care. During the visits, the co-workers would knock on the door of each ward to ask whether the patients were Christians and needed prayers. Once they found a soul in need of help, they would offer prayers for them on the spot and gather their contact details to do follow-ups.
It was through these meticulous “blanket” visits that more and more potential faith seekers and Christians entered the local churches.
“An elderly sister once thanked me for praying for her in a hospital ward 30 years ago. After so many years, I can’t remember when it was, but she does.” The pastor smiled and recalled, “It can be seen how much people cherish God's love and grace when they are suffering from illness.”
In addition to the coverage breadth, the local churches have achieved multi-layer coverage in the depth of their visits.
The pastor explained that for new seekers, the visiting group would be divided into four batches that take turns doing regular visiting. A good job of caring for the whole person includes Bible reading, prayer, basic training in the faith, and daily life care. When the seekers have established the habit of reading, praying, and gathering and have acquired a clear understanding of sin and salvation, the visiting group would continue to serve the next group of seekers in the order of the cycles.
“In our area, the purpose of the churches to lead believers is to raise them when they are born,” concluded the pastor. “And good visits are an important channel for us to raise believers’ lives.”
Compared to the visitation ministry in southern Zhejiang, which is rooted in the gospel and carries on the local spirit, the B church in northern Jiangsu doesn't have as many visits, but it has a more "futuristic" sense.
Before 2010, in an era when Internet technology was hotly debated as to whether it was a double-edged sword, Pastor C seized the trend and decided to lead the church into the construction of a “digital church” and unified the information of registered believers into an information data platform.
“If a believer doesn’t attend in-person services for several weeks, we can find the believer’s address from the database and combine the intelligent visiting system to send visiting groups nearby to visit. The groups will give comforting messages and update the situation of the believer,” Pastor C explained.
Y Church in the north of China relies on a well-established visiting system even though they do not have the “boldness” of knocking on doors or the support of information technology.
More than ten years ago, Y Church, as the central church of the city, started the reform of its visiting system while exploring the pastoral system. The church began to rely on a system of “central church, parish, and gathering point” to gradually establish a progressive and refined visiting model. With years of experience, the church of today has developed a clear set of "three-level visit" mechanisms.
Elder Z, who has served in the church for nearly 30 years, has witnessed the mechanism from its beginning to its gradual improvement. At present, he is also the co-worker responsible for the visiting group for the disabled. He introduced, “The visiting group of the central church has the widest coverage, mainly for believers who have suffered major events, such as sudden changes and severe illness; the visiting groups in the parish and meeting places do routine visits in their own areas.
In addition to the three-level visiting groups mentioned above, the church also has a "visiting group" made up of pastors. This group mostly visits and helps retired pastors, outstanding church members, and older church members. However, if the church or pastors need to be there because of special circumstances, the grass-roots fellowship or meeting point can give the church feedback in the form of layered reports and then do the visit.
“Because of the perfect visiting mechanism, all our visiting groups can care for the believers all year round like a sieve. If the fellowship visiting group can’t take care of it, the visiting group at the meeting point can quickly make up for it without missing any brothers and sisters. For believers with special needs, groups, parishes, churches, and even pastors will come to visit and let them feel the care and love of the church in all aspects,” Elder Z said.
In Elder Z’s view, visiting can not only help the lost souls, who are weak in the faith, return to the Lord’s arms as soon as possible but also help the church effectively resist the infiltration and invasion of heresy. “Especially when heresy is so rampant in our local area, a well-established visit system can also help our church find out the situation of heresy infiltration more effectively and protect and retrieve believers accordingly.”
Different from the visiting system of the churches in the above three places, in the special period when the pandemic was raging, S Church over the Yellow River and Huaihe River Basins took a different approach, starting from the strengths of laymen and encouraging everyone to become a “community” for mutual visits, care, and encouragement.
As a small church of only over 300, most of whom are middle-aged and elderly, the pastoral and visiting mode that S Church had been doing for a long time was somewhat “quite satisfying”. However, due to the pandemic, the church experienced severe trials and saw the direction for future ministry.
Located at the border of other provinces, during the pandemic period, the area where S Church is was often shaken by the pandemic. It had a considerable impact on the gathering order of local churches. “The church’s in-person meetings were intermittent and basically not open,” a young co-worker at the local church said.
It was difficult to have on-the-spot gatherings, and so was visiting. Pastor W, who is in charge of the church, said that during the pandemic, most of the pastors were locked up at home, and it was difficult to travel. ”It was a problem for individuals to travel around, let alone organize groups to visit.”
During the special period, the church began to change various ideas to ensure the development of the visitation ministry. On the one hand, the church announced the contact information of all pastors and visiting colleagues in the group and cared for the believers by phone or online. On the other hand, the church also began to promote “all-staff care” and encouraged every layperson to participate in the visit.
“Some elderly believers don’t join our followers because they don’t have mobile phones or for other reasons, so we encourage every believer to pay more attention to their brothers and sisters who know them and live nearby. By visiting nearby, we can disseminate more of our faith and pray for each other. If there are spiritual problems or needs that are really difficult to answer, we will give feedback to our pastors, and we will help believers solve their problems around the clock,” Pastor W explained.
During the Spring Festival in 2023, nearly 80% of the believers in the church returned to the church smoothly after the on-the-spot gathering was resumed. Even some older Christians who were not as up-to-date on news were brought back to the church by word of mouth.
“However, it is undeniable that at this stage, there are indeed many limitations and shortcomings in the form of an 'all-staff visit,' which can only be regarded as an emergency measure under the pandemic situation and is doomed to last for a long time.”
In his view, although the form of full-time visits has brought into play the initiative of every layman, it has also strengthened the love union between believers during the difficult period of the pandemic. However, due to the limited spiritual level of laymen themselves, it is really difficult to bring about real growth and the creation of life by simply communicating with each other to pray.
Through the efforts of the ministry in this special period, Pastor W and his colleagues in the team realized the necessity and urgency of improving the spiritual quality of laymen. In the new year, the church plans to further strengthen the frequency and quality of weekly gatherings and volunteer training.
- Translated by Charlie Li