Interview: Traditional Church Can Target the Characteristics, Needs of Urban People

A picture of a city with tall buildings
A picture of a city with tall buildings (photo:
By Li ShiguangNovember 24th, 2022

For a long time, many people regarded the focus of traditional churches only as gatherings while disregarding outreach and mission. There are few newcomers to the church in the course of a year, and the church is totally different from society. For many reasons, the church is reluctant to step out into the world, for it often resembles an ivory tower.

Pastor X, who was raised as a Christian in a traditional church, is aware of this phenomenon. Therefore, after working in a secular job for many years, he suddenly felt a call from God. He then quit his place of work and began to devote himself to service in the church.

At the beginning of his service, he hoped to be an "explorer". He did not resort to the traditional church model he had been familiar with when growing up but started afresh. On the basis of the excellent traditions of the ancient church, he studied the current trends and experiences of a church-planting church, combining them with current changes while exploring new modes of church development.

He saw that several decades ago, due to social and other environmental causes, rural churches were mostly easily revived. Believers demonstrated a penchant for "including many older people and women of much lower cultural quality". But now, due to the process of urbanization, the population of believers gradually includes an increasing number of urbanized residents. Therefore, he realized that more attention should be paid to the characteristics of urban churches. Especially in view of the fact that urban professionals (the middle class, college graduates, business people) now form a large part of all believers, great spiritual need is evident among them. Their size makes them a target group for the church.

When he started this reform more than a decade ago, most urban churches were still operating as traditional churches. Pastor X's innovations were met with a great deal of misunderstanding and opposition, and there were initially few supporters.

Pastor X seemed to have anticipated this situation, and he spent much time explaining to his fellow workers why they should mainly target the urban middle class. He emphasized two things at the beginning: first, the characteristics of cities, second, the characteristics of the workplace.

"If, like many traditional churches, we only talk about the cultivation of believers, it will be difficult to meet the rational needs of these people. It will be difficult to guide them towards meeting the practical needs of life and spiritually. They basically can't fit in the traditional church and the end result is that they can't stay." As a result, he says, churches often struggle to attract urban people. "It's not that they don't want to believe, it's just that they can't find a church that fits their faith and commitment."

He especially mentioned his own experience, noting the rapid modernization of Chinese society over the past two decades. In the process involving the modernization and urbanization of China, the middle and the working classes have become the most important groups. Their primary needs include employment, marriage, parenthood and psychological issues.

"It’s been proven over the years that the younger generation can make a big difference in the church. Their talents, gifts and energy can be put to good use. In our church, serving is not just the work of the church staff. Everyone can and needs to be involved in serving."

With the large middle class being a major target of the church, preaching about their lives should be a major consideration. Sermons should include much content on life and careers so that the young and the middle class will listen carefully and be interested. And there should be little instructive content in the shape of the sermons of the traditional church.

Over the past ten years, Pastor X has been gratified by the fact that during the process of urbanization, more and more churches of his type keep appearing. Due to the changes within society, the church cannot stick to its traditional mode. It needs to continue to explore and change according to the evolving situation of society.

- Translated by Nicolas Cao

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