In my homeland of Australia you don’t
need to spend long checking out churches before being struck by one
phenomenon – the sharp rise in the number of Chinese congregations. Enquire
further and you will probably find that the numbers of worshippers at these
congregations are also growing.
My church has a thriving Cantonese
congregation. A nearby church where I worshipped for two years has a growing
Mandarin congregation, and is considering starting a Cantonese one.
This phenomenon is not just confined to
the wealthier Eastern suburbs, where many affluent Hong Kong migrants live.
It’s happening all over the city. The pastor of a small Baptist church in a
less well-to-do inner-city suburb told me of his church’s Mandarin-language
worship service: “They’re always having baptisms. And they’re very generous.
They’ve bought a major sound system for the church.”
Recently I had dinner
with a multi-cultural officer of the Baptist church. He told me that Chinese
church members had overtaken those from Romania as the most numerous of all
ethnic groups within the local Baptist Union.
This year's visit of the Dalai Lama put a media spotlight on the growth of
Buddhism in Australia, which is largely the result of sharply increased
levels of Asian migration in recent years. Because the media are generally
not interested in Christian good news stories they have missed the other
side to the tale - the growth of the local Chinese church and the fact that
so much of this expansion comes from migrants who arrive as Buddhists and
then find Jesus.
An example of what is happening is
Melbourne's Evangelical Chinese Church, which I visited recently. Started in
1978 with 10 members, it now attracts some 1,400 worshippers (including
children) to 10 services each Sunday, in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, at
four locations. And it is still growing.
Its 10 pastors come from almost as many
denominational backgrounds, and the church itself is resolutely
non-denominational. "Love prevails in this church," says one of the pastors,
Dr W.Y. Ang, who was formerly a dentist. He estimated that around half the
people from the various congregations are from a non-Christian background,
and he cited the example of a woman member who had spent some years in a
Buddhist temple and is now a fervent Christian.
A feature of the church is its outreach
activity. Each year it releases up to 20 people on short-term mission to
Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, China and the Ukraine.
Under the Lord's guidance the church has
registered the name Evangelical Community Church and will be using this
title in some of its congregations in the future. Already it is attracting
non-Chinese worshippers to its English services. It is hoping it might be
able to find some Australian pastors and start ministering to other groups.
Is this revival?
I don’t really know. But it is a
phenomenon that is being replicated in many cities in the West. And of
course it reflects what is happening within China itself, and in some other
parts of Asia.
So perhaps the more important questions
are as follows: Is the church in the West aware of what is happening? And
what is it doing in response?
* See also my commentary, “With
God on Their Side”.