Each year, more and more of China’s 1.37 billion people are saying to each other ‘sheng dan kuai le’ – Merry Christmas!
Much like the UK, Christmas in China represents a major commercial opportunity, first for exporting plastic Christmas decorations to Europe and the US, but also for Chinese shoppers in the country’s vast malls, decked out in beautifully decorated Christmas trees five-stories tall.
As well as the usual Christmas gifts, stores sell apples wrapped in coloured paper, given to one another on Christmas Eve as a sign of peace (the word for Christmas Eve, ‘ping an ye’, literally ‘silent night’, sounds similar to apple, ‘ping guo’).
Church – the place to be seen
Yet Christmas in China also represents the year’s best evangelistic opportunity for Christians to invite friends to church events to hear something of the first Christmas.
Refreshingly, there is still a novelty factor to attending Christmas services for the Chinese, with churches tapping into a curiosity that starts with Jingle Bells and Father Christmas as Western Christmas imports and, by God’s grace, ends with young people in their droves discovering for themselves why a baby was born in a manger to a virgin mother in a Judean backwater 2000 years ago.
Interestingly, the approach of the Chinese church tends to be to separate the Western cultural element of Christmas from the biblical message at a much later stage than any mission training college might be comfortable with (!), but this method seems to be highly effective in a country increasingly open to the West.
Whilst the Communist Party still keep a beady eye on all church-related activities, Christians are able to sing carols in malls (words, of course, checked beforehand for ‘subversion’) and to give out invitations to Christmas services, which fill churches to overflow.
It is not uncommon in major cities to see queues for Christmas services wrapping twice around church buildings – and this in a country where churches reopened only as recently as 1976, following Chairman Mao’s death and the end of the Cultural Revolution.
God on the move
As we approach our own season of Christmas evangelistic services in Cheltenham, the exponential growth of the Chinese church should be of great encouragement to us. God is clearly on the move in his world, adding daily to those in his church.
Whilst it is difficult to estimate the exact number of Christians in China, it is thought that in 2014 there were around 35 million in government (‘Three Self’) churches and at a conservative estimate, just as many in unofficial house churches.
According to the Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, by 2025, China will have 160 million Christians, which will exceed the number in the US.
Our recent time in China involved visiting a house church one week, a government church another and on still another occasion a church for ‘foreigners’ (passports had to be shown on arrival!). In all three, alongside the usual difficulties and stresses that face any church around the world, there were clear signs of life, vitality and growth, with God’s blessing clearly upon them.
This Christmas time, please pray for:
- Returning Chinese students you may know who have become Christians in the UK, that they would integrate into church life in their home culture.
- Chinese church leaders in cities you may have connections with, in both government and house churches, for boldness as they declare the message of Christmas without fear of disruption and opposition.
With every blessing over the Christmas season.
Melody and Tim Martin