Urban churches

The growth of Chinese Christianity has traditionally been located in rural areas, a trend which was apparent from the earliest missionary days as well as in the ‘Christianity Fever’ of the last decades of the twentieth century. However, since China’s ‘reform and opening’ under Deng Xiaoping and with the China’s growing urbanisation, there is an increasingly strong urban Christian presence in China. This is necessarily a varied picture, ranging from cities like coastal Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, where local Christian entrepreneurs have combined their faith with global capitalism, to the new cities of China’s economic boom where the majority of Christians have relocated from rural areas in search of jobs.

A number of recent surveys have pointed to the growing faith in China’s cities, a phenomenon which is shared by other religions, especially Buddhism. A large proportion of urban believers are young and well-educated people. Many meet in local homes and ‘meeting points’ rather than churches for reasons of practicality. This enables them to meet more easily with people of similar professional or cultural backgrounds, with extended family and friends, or other Christians from their particular work unit. These younger people come to Christ to find meaning and fulfilment in a fast changing environment. The most frequent first points of contact with Christianity are through family members or at the invitation of friends.

Many of these urban churches struggle to gain registration as a legitimate religious institution with their local religious affairs bureaux. While they usually maintain good working relationships with local officials, most restrict their own size and activities so as not to incur state sanctions. Church meeting points for migrant workers are particularly vulnerable. These workers often work seven days a week and cannot attend regular services. Their low social status, often illegal work status and menial employment also make them wary of attending registered churches. Others come from church backgrounds which are very suspicious of the registered churches. As a result migrants often establish their own church meeting points in homes or work accommodation.

Faith in the cities is no longer a hidden affair. A pervasive ‘spiritual crisis’ accompanied by a sense of moral decline has led many to seek a new faith after growing disillusioned with China’s growing materialism. Many Christians are now able and willing to hold openly to their faith, seeking Christ’s love and solace within China’s booming, restless cities.

 

Nanping church

Further reading

  • Nanlai Cao, Christian entrepreneurs and the post-Mao state: an ethnographic account of church-state relations in China’s economic transition, Sociology of Religion, Spring 2007.
  • Gao Shining, A View from Beijing of the Faith of Christians in China’s Cities, China Study Journal, December 2003
© Churches Together in Britain and Ireland 2010