BEIJING, China – It is a warm Sunday morning in Zhongguancun, China’s Silicon Valley, relatively quiet and empty on a weekend. Just 10 minutes’ walk away, is Haidian Christian Church and a different scene emerges.
People mostly in their 20s and 30s, amongst them some Caucasians and Blacks, are thronging the church to attend one of its six services. According to Rev. Dr. Wu Weiqing, Senior Pastor of the church, each service receives an average of 1200 people and the church baptises about 400 new believers annually.
A Strategic Mission Field
This might not be a common sight in China a few decades ago where the urban church was mainly attracting older folks. Even as churches reopened in early 1980s after the Cultural Revolution and Christianity started to grow, it is often associated with the rural population, the old, weak and needy. Indeed, majority of the Christians in China today are still found in the villages.
But with the country developing and urbanizing at a breakneck speed, things are changing. Now, more than half of China’s population are living in urban areas. According to the Wall Street Journal, a record 280 million migrant workers have left their farms to work in the cities.
What then are the implications for urban churches? Rev Wu believes the dynamic economic environment presents unprecedented opportunities for the emerging urban church. “This is not just a church but a mission field – people will go back to their home town and bring their faith back,” said Rev. Wu, speaking in fluent English.
The church is indeed situated in a strategic mission field. Not only is Haidian the hub of China’s tech industry where Baidu (one of China’s top three tech giants together with Alibaba and Tencent) is headquartered, it is also a university district home to the nation’s top universities like Tsinghua (Qinghua) and Beijing University (Beida).
And these are the people that the church has been attracting – the young and tech savvy crowd. Since opening its doors in 2007, the church has grown from 800 to 8000, with many of the congregants aged between 20-35 and almost 90% coming from other provinces. It has been observed that the church’s contemporary style of worship has been drawing in a young crowd of inhabitants from the district.
“It is important that we know our audience and what they need,” said Rev Wu who has a doctorate degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, uses an iMac and is assisted by a team of four other pastors. “People are searching for a higher power, the meaning of life, and want to realise the value of their own lives. It is the power of the gospel; the liberation and healing Jesus offers that attracts them.”
Focus on the Word, Discipleship and Outreach
To ensure that believers mature in their faith, the church is paying attention to how they shepherd and disciple their people. “In China, I think we’ve forgotten what is a church. We’ve been too focused on building the physical house, and have somewhat neglected building up the body of Christ,” reflected Rev Wu. “So, we urge and encourage our congregants to join a small group for Bible study and fellowship so that faith will take root. We also have small groups for new comers and seekers.”
Indeed, the vision of the church is for ‘everyone to be a Bible reader and a disciple of Christ who lives out the life of Christ’. “The Bible is the unchanging word of God; the best wisdom and truth is found there. It is critical in the maturation of believers’ faith, the most important channel and source of food to gain strength. We want to see people being independently dependent on God. We need to grow up, not just drink milk but eat solid food.”
One of the ways to engage people with the Bible was a recent church-wide initiative to hand copy the Bible. More than a thousand members were involved in the project, from ages 8-80. “We were heartened to hear testimonies of how families, couples and small groups came together to hand copy the Bible and even to pray Scriptures, verse by verse as they copy.”
To start believers on a path of spiritual formation and discipleship, the church sets topical focus for itself every year to help people live out their beliefs and values. This year’s focus is on the family, work and parenting. These topics will then be shared over the pulpit and in small groups.
As with other churches across China, Haidian Church faces the of lack of workers and difficulty in retention of new comers as it continues to grow. The church has fellowship groups reaching out to university students and young adults in need of mature group leaders who can be good role models.
Training and equipping are thus needed to raise up these new leaders. “We are looking into collaboration and partnering with Christian organisations and learn from other overseas churches how they train leaders.”
Besides discipleship, Ps Wu also believes that the church needs to ‘bring the gospel out’. “The gospel shouldn’t be trapped inside the church. A good and healthy church is a sending church.” So, he has led the church in outreach programmes and community services. To support the church in her outreach efforts, United Bible Societies partnered with Beijing Christian Council/ TSPM to provide Gospel Booklets with topics and issues faced by young people today.
Encouragement from the Word
The health of a church is often dependent on the health of its leaders. Besides serving as the senior pastor of Haidian Church and being responsible for 8000 congregants, Rev Wu is also serving as the Vice President of Beijing Christian Council and a member of the Beijing Municipal People’s Congress. And he’s also a husband to a fellow pastor-wife and father of a 22-year-old daughter.
“The first thing I do in the morning is to read the Bible. It’s my daily bread, streams in the desert, vitamins to stay alive each day,” shared Ps Wu who is looking forward to visiting his daughter in the U.S. where she has just completed her studies. “She’s looking for a job at the moment and sometimes struggles with trusting God. I will send her Bible verses to encourage her.”
“It’s not easy being a pastor in China – politically, culturally, socially and physically. We carry a heavy responsibility. It feels like walking on tight rope, balancing the demands from different groups of people, being careful to keep the laws and regulations. But my encouragement comes from Hebrews 12:1-2,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
I believe moulding and growth come through trials and sufferings.”
Pray for Haidian Christian Church, Rev Wu and many other pastors of urban churches in China that they will be strengthened in the Lord, continue to be faithful in fulfilling the call that God has for them and build churches that shine like cities set on hills.
Story: Cynthia Oh
Edited: Angela Teo
Photos: UBS CP
2017 © United Bible Societies China Partnership