Christians from a church in Shanghai (who asked us to remain anonymous) held their Sunday worship service on the street last week after authorities closed their church building. In a video released this week from Voice of the Martyrs Korea, the church members sing in front of their closed church building.
According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea representative Hyun Sook Foley, the closure of church buildings is an accelerating trend across China since the implementation of new religious laws in January 2018. But Representative Foley says though the trend may be concerning, Christians in China are responding with their own trend: Returning to old-time house church ways of meeting that are keeping the faith alive.
“When you listen to the video of the Christians in Shanghai singing outside of their closed church building, you can hear that they are not afraid of the authorities,”
says Representative Foley.
Christians sing outside of closed church building in Shanghai
“Instead, they (and the other Christians of China) see the present moment as God redirecting the Chinese church away from modern ‘megachurch’ models and to past models in which Christians met anywhere they could, anytime they could, using whatever Bibles and discipleship resources they had, to keep their faith and even to spread it.”
Representative Foley notes that some of the Chinese churches that Voice of the Martyrs Korea works with are shifting their worship away from the central church building into members’ homes, while others are meeting in public parks. Some even meet while walking. The goal, she says, is to decentralize church activities and to shift as much of the ministry as possible away from pastors and trained professionals to congregation members.
Representative Foley adds,
“Now the greatest need is to equip all these new lay-led and non-church building meetings with resources for healthy worship and discipleship.”
Representative Foley says that leaders from several hundred churches in 30 provinces of China have approached Voice of the Martyrs Korea and its US partner China Aid to supply 5,000 “Sunday School in a Box” packages over the next 12 months. Representative Foley says that the package consists of materials designed to equip parents of all educational levels to teach the full scope of the Christian faith to their own children and relatives outside of church buildings.
So far VOM Korea and China Aid have raised funds for 2,500 boxes, which will begin to be distributed over the holidays.
Representative Foley says,
“The contents of the box were chosen by the participating Chinese churches. They consist of materials that are still legal in some locations in China but not readily available: the leading legal children’s Bible in China, a compact video player, and a comprehensive curriculum of digital resources for parents and children. Because there is no underground printing operation involved and no central purchasing or distribution hub, it makes the cost higher than past centralized efforts. But it also makes the project much more difficult for Chinese authorities to stop or to oppose on legal grounds.”
Representative Foley notes that each “Sunday School in a Box” is designed to reach an average of seven to ten children and to be used by parents and lay leaders, not ordained pastors or professional Christian educators.
“For many years the Chinese church followed the Korean mega-church model,” she said. “Now Chinese Christians are realizing it is much easier to close one mega-church of 3,000 members than it is to stop 3,000 Christian parents from teaching their children and their neighbors’ children in hundreds of homes. This requires a shift in strategy and resources, but Voice of the Martyrs Korea and China Aid have committed to help provide Chinese Christians the tools to make this shift.”
Representative Foley says that the cost for one Sunday School in a Box is 75,000 KRW. Voice of the Martyrs Korea is challenging Korean churches and Christians to sponsor one or more boxes this holiday season. China Aid has issued a similar challenge to American churches, as have other Voice of the Martyrs organizations in Canada, Australia, Germany, Belgium, Finland, and Holland.