Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dispatch from China: Megachurch in China

By Barbara Elliott

Members of the China travel seminar of the Episcopal Divinity School visited the Chong Yi Church, a megachurch in Hangzhou on May 23. We visited with the assistant pastor and an elder, whose English was good. The elder completed his master of divinity degree last year and is in the ordination process, which will take two more years.

The Protestant church in China is post-denominational, meaning there are no denominations among the Protestant churches. This continues to be a work in progress, as described by the seminary administrators who are teaching future church leaders. In the seminaries, the range of denominational approaches is introduced to the students who have each brought their own traditions from their home churches, as well. We have been visiting and worshipping in a number of church settings and have seen the range of fundamental, evangelical, and more progressive church experiences.

Chong Yi Church was completed in 2005 with 2,000 members; now it has 3,000 attending the early Sunday service with traditional music and 7,000 attending the second service, which incorporates modern music. There are 1,500 volunteers who provide leadership for their ministries, which include pastoral care, mission or evangelizing, care groups to shepherd others, and Bible training. The Sunday school serves 1,000 children and youth each week in 20 classes with 100 teachers.

At Chong Yi Church, the Bible is the basis for the preaching, and it seems to be followed quite literally. When we asked about social justice and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer issues, our hosts paused, and then responded by saying that the Bible said homosexuality is a sin. We observed that the Great Commandment (which is engraved and printed on all their materials) calls us to inclusive welcome, but they only reiterated their position. Further discussion also revealed that the church taught that couples should be loyal to one another, and men and women who have cohabited before marriage cannot be married in the church. When we asked, our hosts did not describe having any programming for those who are immigrating into the community, living in poverty or homeless, or struggling with other justice issues.

Our hosts explained they are a “baby church”—newly organized and currently focused on expanding their membership. This process seems to be quite successful. The church has eight evangelical events each year, with musicians, video, choirs, and preaching introducing Christianity and their community. In the past few years, they have reached thousands people this way. For those who are interested, disciple training follows before baptism. This process has helped to grow the church to its current size and also resulted in a second church being built to serve a comparable number of new Christians.

Megachurches in China resemble those in other places around the world!

Barbara Elliott, MDiv ’12, is a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota, Duluth campus.

1 comment:

  1. I'm interested to know of your impression of the state-sanctioned nature of the churches which you visited in China.