China has a vibrant growing megachurch — actually more than one. Yes, communist China, the same country that ousted missionaries in the early 1950s and banned Bibles for many years. As a recent Time magazine article commented, “Across the country, Christians are worshipping with a fervor once unimaginable in a communist society.” A recent Chinese newspaper article even predicts a day soon when China's house churches will send missionaries to other countries!
Two weeks ago my wife and I, along with a friend serving as our interpreter, went to the city of Hangzhou (pronounced hahng-JOE) on a Sunday morning and worshiped with the congregation there. Hangzhou, the capital city of Zhejiang province, is thought to have the largest concentration of Christians of any Chinese province — about 300,000. China's total Christian population, from house churches to government-approved congregations like the one we visited, is variously estimated to be between 50 and 200 million, about two thirds of which are Protestant.
The sermon was 45 minutes of the 90-minute worship service. Tears came to our eyes as we heard the Bible openly read and boldly proclaimed in this country where owning a Bible was illegal not many years ago.
Atop the facility is a huge prominent exterior cross visible for many blocks. Then, once you come inside the sanctuary, another huge cross is prominent behind the pulpit. The impressive facility seats over 5,000 and on a typical weekend draws an attendance of several thousand.
After the service, we had an illuminating interview with the senior pastor, Rev. Joseph Gu. He says 70% of the congregation is under age 45 and that the church has more than 1,000 volunteers. Its biggest challenge, he says, is leadership development.
The church's logo symbolizes a heavenly key to represent its vision “to fulfill the Great Commission, to open the door of human hearts.” Its motto is that “believers need to become disciples.”
The name of the church is Chong-Yi, which means “worship the only true God.” It was originally established by China Inland Mission more than 100 years ago. During a time of prayer in 1999, some church workers received a vision to build a large central church facility. Two years later the city government allocated 3.3 acres of land to build a new facility. The location was in the heart of a major commercial center. The congregation laid the foundation stone in 2003 and held a dedication service in 2005. More than 95% of the funding came from local Christians around the province.
This church with a large, high-visibility facility is not alone. Churches like Chong-Yi have opened new doors, showing that it is possible both to put a huge cross in a Chinese city as a symbolic statement that the love of Christ is present in the people there.
Indeed, Chong-Yi Church's bold move gives more visibility and legitimacy to the gospel, as we saw in a conversation with the taxi drive who took us to church.”What do you know about this church?” I asked him, with help from an interpreter friend who accompanied us.
“I know just where it is,” he replied. “It's our city's biggest church.” He said he has not attended it, and volunteered that he had gone to church only once in his life — as a child with an aunt. “I remember she always prayed before meals,” he told us. We encouraged him to visit Chong-Yi some day. “I don't know anyone who goes here,” he responded. As this church and others continue to reach out, perhaps one day he will.
The website to Chong-Yi Church, entirely in Chinese, is www.chongyitang.org. Another very large church in China is in Dongguan in Shenyang, a new building with 8 stories, is said to number in the thousands as well. Likewise St. Paul's in Nanjing is said to have a congregation that numbers in the thousands.
To learn more, please see my global list of the world’s largest churches at www.leadnet.org/world.
Warren Bird, Ph.D., is Research Director at Leadership Network, and co-author of 21 books on various aspects of church health and innovation.