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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Like a mustard seed


How minority churches in Asia prepare for a time of harvest

June 18, 2024

A church service in Nanjing, China, is pictured. (Contributed photo)

Christians are minorities in Asia and the Pacific. The area is known to be home to the most Buddhists in the world, with a projection of 476 million followers in 2050. Nonetheless, the Christian population may rise by about 33% and reach 381 million in 2050.  The highest growth in church membership occurred between 1970–2020. In countries like China, the phenomenon of house churches continues to grow, which is in direct contrast with the global North, where church membership is declining.

With house churches, believers are authorized to worship from their home, usually in one large room that fits 20 to 50 people. They may have several gatherings during the week. Some of these groups are still considered “underground,” and the government may close the venue for the slightest misunderstanding or violation of the law. This happens when the group is not affiliated to the “mainline” denominations recognized by the government. The state has the right to control the activities and all businesses of a “legal” house church.

Church growth is due partly to the success of local Chinese missionaries. The leaders have an influence on their fellow worshipers. Thanks to the basic ecclesial and Scripture training they receive, these leaders easily captivate new members.

The state closely follows this expansion, but that does not prevent those groups from obtaining more and more of a following. The regulations imposed by the state are supposedly aimed at restricting the influence of the West. Church leaders would permanently try to balance legislation, morality and culture. They claim that they achieve better outcomes as they consider this growth along with their civic loyalty rather than nurturing a cradle for civil disobedience.

Chinese Protestants are organized in two groups: the Three-Self Patriotic Movement created in the 1950s and close to the Chinese Communist Party, and the informal house churches. The house churches are believed to have between 45 million and 60 million members. The latter benefits from an affiliation that is younger and better educated. That is only one facet of how a minority and “underground” movement navigates a dominant and repressive regime.

It is no secret that in the past 40 years, Christianity has been declining in the global North. Surprisingly, evangelism continues to win people in many Asian countries like India and China.

A study of world Christianity forecasts that by 2050, 77% of all Christians will live in the global South, but our institutions are not fully aware of the implication of such shift on the future of global missions. As the world is shrinking, churches have not yet realized the impact of such repositioning in their activities. On the contrary, churches continue to organize themselves as self-subsistent and egocentric. Many themes will change drastically, as the context and environment evolve. How would we train our leaders?

The way we do mission will change radically: What kind of ecosystems will prevail 25 years from now? What will be the impact of economic wealth in our relationships as groups and nations?

 In an attempt to respond to these questions, the Rev. Prof. Dr. Jerry Pillay, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, addressed the 15th General Assembly of the Christian Conference of Asia last October in India. He described the signs of the times through the “poly-crisis,” or shocks being faced around the world today, such as geopolitical problems, and crisis in the domains of energy, economics and the climate.

Pillay said: “Human beings, as moral agents and agents of social change, possess the power to make positive moral choices and engage in liberating actions aimed at the transformation of society in accordance with the moral norm of justice. Justice demands that we focus especially on meeting the needs of the poor and oppressed both domestically and globally. Justice must also be extended to non-human life. Thus, economic policies and systems must also be evaluated socially and ecologically on the basis of their benefits and harms to the well-being of all in our interdependent relationships. In harmony with divine purpose, the human being (especially the Christian) must be radically involved in the struggle for justice, and willing to suffer courageously for the redemption of the human community.”

Hery Ramambasoa, Presbyterian World Mission’s Area Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific

Today’s Focus: Time of harvest in Asia and the Pacific

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Jim Kirk, Associate, Disaster Response USA, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Mission Agency 
Mike Kirk, Director & General Counsel, Legal Services, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)

Let us pray

Lord Jesus, thank you for inviting all of us, both young and old, to participate in your mission. Guide our congregations as we disciple our people, giving them opportunities to see your work in and through them in the world. Amen.