Data on the Chinese church helps us meet people’s true needs

‘When we collect data, we are collecting people’s true needs,’ Dr Yinxuan Huang tells me from his office in London. Dr Huang is undertaking the first systematic research on the Chinese Christian community in the UK. He’s quick to point out, though, it is not a single group but is very diverse. Many Chinese churches in the UK will have Mandarin, Cantonese, and English speaking congregations.

The research comes at a watershed moment for Chinese churches, with the pandemic and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people from Hong Kong. Funded by the British and Foreign Bible Society and hosted by the London School of Theology, The Bible and the Chinese Community in Britain research project aims to shine a light on the needs and opportunities in one of the fastest-growing ministry areas in the UK. Dr Huang hopes his research can help shape churches’ ministry in the years to come in ways that effectively share the good news of Jesus and serve the Chinese community.

Identifying the gap

Dr Huang explains there are two stages to his research. First, a nationwide survey of 1,300 people – split between Christians and non-Christians – aims to reveal the opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with the Chinese community in Britain. ‘We want to discover how people connect with the Christian faith [and] the spiritual, practical impact of the Bible,’ he says.

The second stage consists of interviews with around 40 Chinese church leaders. These will help him assess the state of the Chinese Church, the kinds of ministry they are doing, and the opportunities and challenges pastors see.

Comparing the two stages of the research allows Dr Huang to create what he calls ‘a supply-demand gap’: identifying the difference between what churches are doing and what people really want. His hope is the research will equip churches to improve their ministries.

Creating space for fresh and creative dialogue

One insight is that most of the questions Christians had were about how to respond to issues in politics and society. Churches, however, have generally treated these as taboo questions, Dr Huang says. So, the research highlights an opportunity for churches to consider how to make space for fresh and creative dialogue about political and social issues.

Dr Huang was encouraged that 40 per cent of the non-Christians surveyed were ‘interested’ or ‘very interested’ in an aspect of Christianity. Compared to the general British population, the Chinese community in the West might be a counterexample to the narrative of secularisation.

On the other hand, 40 per cent were ‘very indifferent’ or ‘hostile’ towards Christianity. Several social and religious factors, such as the cultural heritage deeply embedded in Confucianism and nationalism in mainland China, may explain this. The Chinese Church, however, can still profit from understanding where such indifference and hostility come from. Churches can ‘adjust their ministries if they have a more comprehensive understanding of the characteristics of the overseas Chinese mission field,’ he explains.

Before starting this project with Bible Society, Dr Huang undertook his own research. Early in the pandemic, he felt he must record this historic moment. In his spare time, he spoke to Chinese church leaders and international students in the UK to hear their stories. These conversations highlighted the Chinese Church’s swift response to the pandemic and, sadly, the widespread racism Chinese Christians and international students faced. Dr Huang’s research was shared by the BBC and The Guardian.


Providing support through uncertainty

A key theme from his latest conversations with pastors is uncertainty about the future. With new arrivals from Hong Kong, many churches have doubled or even tripled in size. Pastors need to know how to shepherd their new flocks.

Yet, he says, the words on many pastors’ lips have been ‘I don’t know…’

A lack of pastors, resources, the challenge of language, culture and politics are common themes from his conversations. Pastors also expressed a desire to have a common space where leaders can ask questions and share their burdens. Through the research team’s symposiums and networking events, he hopes to connect leaders and form ’a church family ready to support each other’.

Engaging with humility

When I ask how other churches can support the Chinese Church, Dr Huang points me to the key quality he has learnt to cultivate through 15 years of research: humility. Engage with the Chinese community: ‘try to be part of it and feel what they feel and listen to their stories,’ he advises. ‘What the Chinese Church does not need is a five-year-plan about how to reach to the Chinese. For anyone who wants to help the Chinese Church, it is vital to be part of it – just like how Hudson Taylor was 150 years ago.’ You must make the first move, he adds and get out of your comfort zone.

‘We need to not only welcome people but try to embrace these brothers and sisters as part of our church family.’

‘One dinner together will make a whole lot of difference,’ he concludes.

Reuben Grace

OMF (UK) Content & Books Coordinator

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