Christianity in China Grows Mostly by Need-based Conversion, not Religion Acquisition in Family

The Song family (Provided by Gospel Times)
The Song family (Provided by Gospel Times)
By CCD contributor: Li DaonanSeptember 21st, 2020

In one of the religious growth models, the majority of persons who follow a religion do so because of belief and practice within their family. Those who follow the religion taught and practiced in their family due so because of the religious atmosphere. Since the adults in the family follow a particular religion, young members naturally associate themselves with the religious belief of their families.

This point can be verified by Rodney Stark's theory. Conversion to Christianity from the time of Constantine until the Protestant Reformation relied on social networks and social care to attract believers. It may have spread after the Enlightenment in that country by family generations.

This is even more the case with Islam. Because Islam has the characteristics of a national religion, religion acquisition in the family has become the main mode of evangelism.

However, China is an exception. Becoming a religious believer in the family is not the most important growth model. The most important growth model is need-based conversion.

The growth of Christianity in China depends on its unique religious environment. Following various political movements such as the Cultural Revolution in the past centuries, other religions were eliminated. Finally, Christianity became a dominant religion. Therefore, when the environment changed, Christianity naturally had no competitors. Those potential believers who might want to convert to other folk religions had no choice but to convert to Christianity.

Once a person is converted, the family should play a vital role in the spread and growth of Christianity, but in fact, it does not.

Family is the main place where social interaction takes place. Socialization refers to the transformation process from a natural person to a social person. Family plays an important role in the socialization of humans. Besides family, school is also an important place where social life takes place. When persons convert to Christianity, there is often a competition between family and school. This weakens the role of the family in conversion.

Becoming Christian through family influence depends on a variety of  factors relevant to how children grow up. If Christians are not the majority in their family, then it becomes difficult for family members to be converted.  

For a variety of reasons, most persons in China do not become Christian because they have believers in their families. However, apart from the need for conversion, religion acquisition in the family is second only to the need-based conversion. Yet, in traditional Chinese Christianity, it is family does not play an important role in the development of Christians.

In preaching the gospel, the Church emphasizes the benefits of believing in Jesus, for example, curing diseases and overcoming crises. Therefore, we always place need-based conversion first.

Up to now, the traditional Christian doctrine lacks the importance of family building. When I was a child, my concept of Christianity was that believing in Jesus guaranteed the whole family a place in Heaven. If there is one family member who doesn't believe it, then the family cannot be reunited in heaven. This type of gospel message is one of intimidation and seduction and it can't bring about family conversion.

Christianity's neglect of building a family is also reflected in the fact that there are only general doctrines in its family conversion plan. There is no detailed guide to practical operation. In other words, slogans are louder than action. In addition, slogans are subject to the demand for conversion. The message is usually something like this: after believing in Jesus, your whole family will be successful. That is particularly attractive to those unsuccessful family members.

What’s more, in the process of family socialization, the behavior norms and guidelines provided by believers for children often conflict with society. In this way, even if a child is converted to Christianity and becomes a member of a church before entering the society at an early age, once the child enters the society, due to the conflict, they often abandon the previously accepted Christian norms and give up their conversion to Christianity and church membership. Twenty years ago, the vigorous Sunday school movement in Wenzhou did not bring the tide of faith conversion after these Sunday school members entered the society. You know, most of these members were born and raised in Christian families. It is said that the proportion of Sunday school members who were converted to Christianity after graduating from college is less than 7%. However, among these converted minority they may give up their faith in the future growth process.

The reason is that the Church ignores the family building as well as the link and continuity between Christian ethics and social norms.

The key point is that traditional Christianity cannot establish personality for the new born members in family norms. It is often an unsound personality with many defects. When the person enters the society, he can’t connect with social ethics norms and standards. Therefore, it is impossible for the person to effectively interact with other social members and participate in social groups. He either stays in a church or abandons this Christian norm. There is no better alternative.

Jesus attaches great importance to the role of the family in the spread of the gospel. He raised children to an unprecedented height. Even today, we seem far behind: "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me." (Matthew 18:1-5) It can be said that children have always been the center of Jesus' concern and the central object of evangelism, but this does not seem to be the case in traditional Christianity.

Traditional churches attach importance to the need for religious conversion, which leads to their neglect of family socialization or their inability to build an effective family because of their limited educational level.

With the continuous improvement of social welfare and public cultural facilities, the status of Christianity in need-based conversion may be replaced by social security, which will lead to the stagnation of Christian growth. At this time, acquired conversion in the family should become the main window of Christian growth, but the present situation may not be so satisfactory. That is worthy of reflection by every Christian.

-  Translated by Charlie Li

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