What drives a Chinese to become a Christian? (Part I)

A Protestant pastor carried out a national survey over two years (2017-2018) to understand “the mechanisms and characteristics” of the dizzying growth of Protestant communities in the People’s Republic of China. Despite problems linked to security and control, 120 churches from 18 provinces of China participated.

by Bernardo Cervellera

09/01/2020, 14.19

Rome (AsiaNews) – What drives a Chinese to become a Christian? What desire does he or she have, which is fulfilled in being baptized? What impact does family tradition have, the witness of a friend or a pastor? What is the composition of the Christian communities in China? These are just some of the questions that a pastor, writer and researcher, who signs himself with the pseudonym Steve Z., tried to answer with a survey, the results of which were published in several articles on the highly considered Protestant website “China Change”, throughout the month of August 2020.

In the first of a series of four articles, “Seeking to Understand Church Growth in China”, published on August 10,the pastor points out that his investigation is the first that seeks to understand “the mechanisms and characteristics” of the impressive growth of Protestant communities in the People’s Republic of China.

Protestant sources affirm that the number of Protestant faithful is around 100 million; others stop at a soberer 60 million. In any case, their number is much higher than that of official sources. For example, the Blue Book from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, published in 2010, records only 23.05 million Protestants, distinguishing between 15.56 million baptized and 7.49 million non-baptized. In 2018, the White Paper of the Council of Statefixed Protestant Christians at 30 million.

Pastor Steve Z.’s survey is not a nationwide census and therefore does not answer the question of how many Protestants there are in China, but tries to understand the reasons why communities are growing.

The survey was carried out in 2017 and 2018, through visits or questionnaires sent to communities of faithful and church leaders. The investigation particularly reached out to Chinese (Han) communities and not those of ethnic minorities. But it collected data from unofficial and official communities (Three Self Movement), rural and urban, migrant and urban communities.

All responses to the questionnaire had to be written. This created some difficulties. The period in which the survey was carried out marks precisely the period in which the government repression against churches and religions intensified – especially after the launch of the New Regulations on religious activities – and this has determined the giving or not giving answers, taking into account problems of “safety and control”.

The author reports that out of 1000 churches contacted, only a little more than 10% – 120 churches – took part in the survey. Due to the delay with which responses were delivered, the study is based on 70 churches in 18 provinces of China. In addition to Xinjiang, Tibet, Yunnan, and Guangxi, which were not invited to take part in the survey because of the minority issue, there is no result from the following provinces: Jilin, Hebei, Tianjin, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Fujian, Jiangxi, Ningxia, and Hainan.

The survey sent to the 18 provinces yielded 1655 questionnaires from faithful and 110 questionnaires from church leaders or preachers.

The churches that participated in it are divided as follows: 11 rural churches, 43 urban churches, 5 migrant worker churches, 6 traditional Three-Self churches, None of the churches was founded by overseas missionaries planting churches, 3 of them have a long history and have been meeting since before 1979.

The results of the survey will be presented in the Part II.

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