The challenges facing Hong Kong churches

In 2021 the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement – a church support network – surveyed churches to explore the impacts of the 2019 protests, implementation of the National Security Law*, COVID-19, and emigration trends on them. The results show that immediate adjustments need to be made by Hong Kong churches in both personnel and ministries.

Effects of high emigration rate among Christians

The research suggests that nearly two-thirds of churches have members who have emigrated, and 80% have members with concrete emigration plans. It can be inferred from the research that emigration may exceed 30% in the future.

The situation is striking and troubling, as this trend brings about a brain drain of pastors and laity. Churches are frequently affected financially and in terms of leadership. There are small churches whose deacons, board chairmen and senior pastors have emigrated, causing the immediate crisis of the church closing. The gap in leadership replacement can result in a sense of fatigue and helplessness in the congregation that remains.

Growing new leaders

In our research, we asked, ‘In anticipation of the future scenario, what ministries need to be strengthened?’ Leadership training is rated as the priority. Many pastors and leaders are feeling perplexed about the future and have become dispirited during the downhill trend of church ministries. Other priorities included, in order of importance, fellowships/cell-groups, evangelism, youth ministry, and church worship.

Some churches have adopted cell-group gatherings in households in response to the changed political climate, with the possibility of further changes in the future.

Journeying with emigrating church members

Regarding the best way to journey with members who intend
to emigrate, most survey respondents favoured individual counselling (66%), followed by pulpit teaching (44%) and resource referrals (42%). Individual counselling protects one’s privacy and gives room for individual sharing. Virtual ministry may also facilitate members who have emigrated to participate in online worship with their home church while they are in transition.

 

The need for powerful preaching despite difficulties

We also asked, ‘In response to the current sociopolitical atmosphere, which of the course(s) of action from the list below have your church planned or considered?’ Of the nine choices listed, the two most frequently planned for are to ‘Change public sermons to private ones’ and ‘Adjust the content of sermons’, scoring 14% and 11% respectively. At the same time 17% and 22% of pastors surveyed are ‘considering’ these options respectively. Some churches had already adjusted their sermons at a relatively early stage. In the past, preachers could mention social issues such as voting, refugees’ plight and forced relocations in their sermons. Now that society has changed, many preachers will avoid mentioning social issues altogether.

The Church as a mission body needs to ponder its relationship with society. The Church has a God-given public mission of demonstrating God’s attributes of righteousness and mercy. We cannot become a private club. As church ministers, we cannot but deliberate on how to contextualise our message using real-life examples, including social issues, in accordance with the good news of Jesus. This is something we have to learn in a new context.

Pray for persistence

In the face of the abrupt and major changes in Hong Kong, many believers and church leaders choose to emigrate, bringing an air of parting sorrow to God’s family.

While many churches can adjust, there are also church
leaders who feel quite lost, trapped in anxieties and doubts. In the midst of this, let us pray that the Sovereign Lord of history would help the Hong Kong Church to persist in building his body grounded in his truth, training leaders and making disciples. May he sanctify and strengthen that they can press on courageously to glorify his name!

Pastor Nelson

General Secretary of the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement

* The official name is: Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region