When it comes to the church in China, the prevailing narrative ‒ the one most often conveyed in both secular and Christian media coverage ‒ is that China’s church is a persecuted church.
In my newly released book, China’s Urban Christians: A Light that Cannot be Hidden, I argue that this narrative falls far short in telling the story of the church in China today. In fact, focusing only on the church-state relationship can mask many of the pressing issues facing China’s Christians.
These issues are often “more practical than political.” As I explain in the book’s introduction:
For most of China’s Christians … political and social change are not the priority. The challenges they face lie much closer to home, as China’s Christians seek to define how the church should function in its new urban environment. Raising up a new generation of qualified leadership, managing church affairs, maintaining the integrity of the faith amidst an onslaught of secularizing forces, meeting the practical needs of believers, and articulating the church’s mission in a manner relevant to its urban context are among the issues that are top-of-mind for Christians in China today.
China is experiencing the most massive urban migration in the history of the world. The relocation of nearly 300 million people from the countryside to the cities has helped raise millions out of poverty, contributed to the rise of a new middle class, and, along with the one-child policy, brought about irreversible change in the Chinese family structure.
The church has gone from being a marginalized peasant phenomenon to an increasingly visible and influential urban movement. Urbanization has enabled greater connectivity among believers across the country, as well as between the Chinese church and the global church.
Through educational institutions and businesses, foreign Christians have had considerable impact. Meanwhile, returnees who have become believers abroad tend to congregate in major cities and serve as bridge people between the church in China and the global church. The internet and social media also facilitate this interaction.
It is this transformation of the church into a dynamic urban movement that constitutes the real story in China today. How the church weathers this urban transition will have far-reaching effects not only on the church in China but upon the global church as well.