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Is This Revival?
Long decades of decline have made many Christians in the West defensive and insular. Could we be missing a major movement of God in our midst?
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.
July 9th, 2002