The Beijing approach to church growth

Beijing congregations are growing even with limited resources. What are their secrets?

Zhong Zhaolin, MDiv, is a Seventhday Adventist pastor in Beijing, People’s Republic of China.

In Beijing, the capitol of the People’s Republic of China, there are more than 4,000 church members. These churches are located in areas such as Gangwashi, Chaoyang, Daxing, Yanqing, Caimanjie, and Xiaotangshan. In the metropolitan area, there are a number of larger congregations, and additionally, there are more than 100 family or house churches in metropolitan Beijing.* Each year more than 300 individuals join the various congregations by baptism.

Pastors in the Beijing area function similarly as pastors in other parts of the world—they visit members, give Bible studies, and organize church groups. Some of these groups remain as smaller house groups, whereas others become larger congregations. In this article, I will share some of the methods used by the pastors in our area with the hope that readers will be able to implement these methods where they work.

We place much emphasis on house churches because this has become one of the most effective ways of reaching the large population in our city. Another reason for using this approach is because in these areas we do not use public meetings to reach people with our faith. The public approach is not possible for us to consider, and, therefore, we have developed other methods such as house churches and smaller congregations.

In this article, I will focus on the formation of several groups in the Beijing area. One congregation started about two years ago with 20 members and now has more than 70 members. During the past year, 20 individuals joined by baptism. What is responsible for this rapid growth of the congregation? Is the approach unique to our situation or can others use similar methods?

Working together

One of the pastors in the area has several congregations, and he focused on the need for a team effort to start a new church. A group of church members was organized into a team so that a new church could be planted. Four experienced church members—though of rather different personalities and professions— started the evangelistic work. Each one performed a specific function such as preaching, giving Bible studies, and visitation. One of the group members organized family meetings for members in the community, focusing on the needs of those families. Another approach was visitation of individuals who were experiencing personal difficulties and praying for them and their families.

House churches

A number of our congregations are house or family churches. One such group has about twenty members; and even though the congregation is small, it has met the needs of various individuals. In one instance, a woman was contemplating suicide, but her affiliation with a house church brought her into contact with members who prayed for her and became her friends. She responded positively, and, in fact, she has brought her whole family; and they worship in this house church. House churches focus on the needs of the members, and they look to the Holy Spirit to meet their needs and the needs of those who visit the groups.

Training for service

Because house churches are small groups, it may be assumed that no formal training is needed, and yet that is not so. One of the pastors called upon another pastor who has experience with house churches to provide training. Additionally, members from other groups were used in the training program. Part of the training focuses on helping the existing members identify the problems that people are having and then finding ways to help them. Helping people with their problems has become one of the most effective ways of reaching them with a spiritual message. Also important is for the members and the visitors to develop social relationships, and the pastor, along with experienced members, to provide such training. Social and spiritual relationships are strengthened through a well planned visitation program.

The desire for good health has been one of the ways of reaching new members. In order to do that, our groups have focused on specific needs that people have. In one instance a couple was experiencing some serious health problems for which they could not find a solution, in spite of spending a considerable amount of money. Our groups suggested that they focus on their lifestyle and this new lifestyle helped them experience better health. But the benefit was not only for them—their children and grandchildren were also advantaged by the lifestyle changes they experienced. Now some of their children are asking for Bible study meetings in their home. The Holy Spirit has guided these house churches to address the pressing needs that people have and provide a new physical and spiritual life.

To tell people that God wants us to have good health is one thing, but more than that is needed. We need to be much more specific in our outreach to people and help them with health issues. For those reasons, we focus on nutritional seminar programs that help people stop smoking, seminars on stress, and other programs. By helping them with these needs, we also help them with their spiritual needs.

Jesus at the center

Each house church becomes a family unit, and by uniting in Jesus Christ they flourish and also develop effective evangelistic outreach. Family churches grow and multiply in our area because the members work together and train for service. By using this approach, they not only focus on their needs but also on the needs of the community. 

* For more information regarding house churches, please read Kwabena Donkor’s article titled, “New Testament House Churches: A Model for Today’s Complex World?” published in the April 2008 issue of Ministry. Please visit www.MinistryMagazine.org and click on Online Archives to view back issues.

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Zhong Zhaolin, MDiv, is a Seventhday Adventist pastor in Beijing, People’s Republic of China.

July/August 2010

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