BIBLE SOCIETY NEWS | Cynthia Oh
The church in China has grown rapidly since the 1970s and some experts have suggested that China could become the world’s largest Christian country in the next 15 years. So the possibility that China’s church could ever be empty seems remote; impossible, even.
Yet two Sunday school teachers, Li Ning and Xie Jian, are worried about just that. They serve in Endian (Grace) Church in Jiulong District, situated in western Chongqing in southwest China.
According to a 2012 report by the BBC, more than a quarter of China’s population will be over 65 years old in 30 years’ time. According to Li, out of the 600 members in Endian Church, about 70 per cent are 65 years and above. At the weekly prayer meeting she helps to lead, she is surrounded by active septuagenarians and octogenarians. This isn’t unusual across the church in China. The majority of China’s Christians live in rural areas, which is also where the majority of China’s elderly reside. “We are, on one hand, encouraged by the faith and fervency of our elderly believers and their commitment to the church, yet, on the other hand, we wonder where the next generation would come from. There might not be anyone coming to church in a few decades’ time! This is the challenge we face now,” shared Li, 41, an agriculture entrepreneur who has a 15-year-old son.
Both Li and Xie are investing their time in nurturing the young in their church.
“Children are not just the future of the church, they are also the future of the family and the nation,” Li said.
“In the past, due to a lack of resources, the church mentality towards children’s ministry is like that of a childcare service. The main purpose is to let the adults focus during the service and keep the children occupied. We just provide them with some biscuits and drinks, that’s all,” said Xie.
“But now, church leaders are seeing the importance of educating and bringing up our young with Christian values and morals.
“Since our church has moved into the new building and there is a room allocated for the children, we have implemented a more systematic way of conducting children’s ministry.”
Endian Church used to meet in a rented room in a teahouse for ten years before moving to a building of their own four years ago. Today, they have about 20 children in their Sunday school class with ages ranging from 2 to 12. Xie, 40, who is father of a ten-year-old boy, takes up the dual role of a musician and assistant teacher while Li is in charge of conducting the lessons.
Li believes that children have their own spheres of influence where they can shine for Jesus. “By God’s grace, my son, who is his class vice-chairman, has influenced his classmates positively. According to his teacher, there is better class discipline compared to other classes. I believe that Christians should know their place in society and make an impact wherever they are. And we should start educating them from young.”
With the support of Bible Society, Endian Church has recently received Sunday school materials for students as well as teachers’ manuals. The series of Sunday school materials, published by the China Christian Council/TSPM is known as “Good Fruits” and caters to various age groups.
“We are thankful for the support of Bible Society and look forward to using the materials in our children’s ministry. Now with the new material, it will be easier for us to prepare more engaging lessons for the children.”
United Bible Societies’ Programme Manager Ng Hwee Hong said, “We believe that we should engage our young with the word of God. One way is through having a good children’s ministry. It is our prayer that with a stronger focus on children’s ministry, we might be able to pass on our faith and values to them.”