The zero-Covid policies of the Chinese government and the increasingly hostile attitude of the Chinese authorities have made it very hard for the Chinese church to carry on business as usual, at least as ‘usual’ was defined 10 years ago. The challenge for many churches is how to pastor their congregation when it is difficult to open the church doors or gather in person. "Because of the pandemic itself and the related control measures, church doors have been closed more than they have been open. One church in a northeastern city with more than 1,000 members counted that for the past 828 days, the church had only been open for 157 of those days.”
Observers have noted a threefold pattern of response from church leaders in China. “More small groups, more household-oriented and more online”. The church has increasingly become characterised by meeting in small groups, by fellowshipping in a particular believer’s home (“household-oriented”); and by more worship services, meetings, and training being conducted via the internet (“more online”).
Positive results are emerging from these recent trends. “Small group pastoral care is about focusing more on the lives of believers, so that believers can build a relationship not with the church or with the pastor, but with God, so that they can stand in the presence of God no matter what circumstances they are facing.”
Thus the direction in which the Chinese church has been forced to go has resulted in spiritual benefit to many believers. Whereas previously they may have been an unnoticed part of a large 1000 plus people church, today the small group or family-related trend leads to greater individual focus on growth in relationship to the Lord with sometimes helpful pastoral oversight. “These trends are not confined to small, scattered meeting points, but are also increasingly evident in large churches all over the country that have had difficulty in meeting in person consistently over the last two years or so due to pandemic control measures.”
“Some brothers have had a rewarding time observing a few small group meetings in homes. They found that such meetings were relatively small in size, with as few as three people, and as many as six or seven, gathering in believers’ homes, sharing in fellowship, talking about faith or the next steps in church work and other insights, and cooking together after the discussion. All of this greatly improved interpersonal relationships - and everyone had fun in the process.”
Of course, there are dangers. “Some churches had too many small groups, and the church could not manage them well. There have been cases where group leaders have drawn away members. Also, there have been cases where cults have infiltrated the church and cult members have become group leaders in order to trick believers into heresy.” Because of these changing circumstances, more and more churches are placing greater emphasis on the training of core church workers and the building up of believers (“more online”).
It is unclear how long the current conditions will last and, therefore, how long these trends will continue.
- Pray for wisdom for pastors and leaders to structure well these new realities.
- Pray for protection from ‘wolves’ who would seek to use the small group structure to deceive believers.
- Pray for protection for the Chinese church and continued growth in this new era.