Why Today's Churches Don't Meet Expectations of Young People as Buddhist Temples Do

An Interior view of a Chinese rural church
An Interior view of a Chinese rural church
By Li DaonanJanuary 1st, 2024

As the current economy goes down, my friends are under great pressure. The pressure is not only financial, like mortgages, car loans, and debts, but also spiritual, which is especially true for young people.

A friend of mine used to be a company executive who had more than ten years of experience, but he simply resigned and stayed at home because he felt the bottleneck in his career and was confused. After some time, he chose to volunteer at a temple. He gets up at six in the morning and goes to bed at nine in the evening. His main job is sweeping the courtyard and helping to cook in the kitchen. There will be two Buddhist lectures after lunch and dinner. Although it is much manual work, he chooses to be away from downtown and calms down.

When we met, it was the end of his volunteer shift. I recommended the church to him before, but he chose the Buddhist temple.

He said that when he first went to a church, he felt very good, and everyone was very friendly to him. However, after a week, he found several issues that he could not adapt to.

First of all, the church’s schedule is too fragmented in time. They have a meeting place, but it can only be used on Sundays. Although there are a variety of Bible studies, the time is not enough to enjoy a quiet moment in life.

In addition, when they met, members of the church regarded him as a beginner or a seeker, but not a believer. So he felt he was not treated as one of them. Feeling like a guest, it made his already overwhelmed mood more intense.

Third, although members of the church are very enthusiastic about him, there are too many rules and regulations. He quit his job because he was tired of the company’s complicated rules and regulations, poor performance, and interpersonal pressure. Then, in the church, he was subject to so many taboos that he was unable to relax.

Finally, he took part in activities in the church, but there were no non-religious activities except studying the Bible and attending testimonial prayer meetings. He felt as nervous and depressed as he was on the eve of his college entry examination in middle school or reporting his performance to his former employer.

Temples, on the other hand, recruit volunteers, provide accommodation, and do not focus on personal beliefs and religious identities. They usually volunteer for a month, and they can stay longer if they want to. Their voluntary activities do not have much religious content; they are simple jobs such as tending flowers and plants, cleaning, guiding orders, or handing incense to pilgrims. They will neither do Buddhist services nor be forced to participate in Buddhist activities, including giving lectures and preaching.

According to media statistics, the registration of volunteers in temples is enormous, and some even have to wait in line for several months. The trend has tripled compared with 2019. Like Buddhist temples, Taoist temples are also very popular. When the temple is open, anyone can enter, regardless of faith or identity, which has also contributed to the prosperity of today’s Buddhist and Taoist places.

In contrast, the closeness of the church is still based on the traditional acquaintance society. To some extent, only those who have been baptized and are still committed to or baptized in this church can be accepted as full members. Therefore, it is difficult for a member who does not meet the above conditions to be accepted into this church.

People are already tired physically and mentally under the social and economic downturn, and they want to have a rest and refresh their spirits. The activities provided by the church do not seem to meet the expectations of some young people today.

The biggest difference between the arrival of Jesus and Jewish culture lies in “resting in peace” and “light burden," while the constraints of Jewish laws on people make people physically and mentally exhausted. Looking at today’s church, it is obvious that the inherited tradition comes more from Jewish law.

The church can also arrange some activities to attract young people to take a rest, but the church should give up some strict positions.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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