04/24/2020, 13.02
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Protestants in China fear their Churches will become invisible

by Wang Zhicheng

According to some ministers, the coronavirus emergency is economically penalising communal life. This has favoured online outreach over real contacts, and church marginalisation due to the great power of the state. Yet the thirst for faith and prayers has increased.


Beijing (AsiaNews) – The COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on Protestant Churches and their members in China.

“If the outbreak continues for a year or two, large churches may gradually disappear,” said a Protestant minister in eastern China. “I think the future will emphasise a community of faith rather than a visible church,” noted Brother L.

The China Christian Daily published Brother L.’s thoughts as well as those of two other ministers Brother X. and Brother M., a pastor, on Wednesday. All three are young: L. and M. were born in the 1980s; X., a youth group leader, was born in the 1990s.

Since 23 January, almost all churches have suspended all large gatherings. Many communities have turned to the Internet, but not all of them. The situation has created problems that are pushing such groups towards ever greater “invisibility”.

L. cites the financial problem as the first reason. Since church members can no longer meet together, collecting funds has become impossible. Many communities, especially the larger ones, have to pay rent on meeting places and offices. For L., if the emergency continues for a year, there will be "massive problems".

Smaller communities have so far avoided the problem. They usually need smaller spaces and have lower expenses. What is more, since the government lifted the emergency, their members have already met, at least in groups of ten people or less.

By contrast, the larger communities are unable to start up again, and if they do, their neighbours will panic fearing the spread of the virus.

The second reason for "invisibility" is the proliferation of online religious services. According to X., even after the emergency, people will struggle to go back to the way things were. After relying for a long time on the Internet to experience their faith, people might prefer this more comfortable style, one that easier to follow, closer to their sensitivity.

With access to various liturgical services (even ten a day), some people will have found the online group that best suits their needs. As a result, some groups will lose members, whilst others will gain them, always online.

Even so, X. points out that for many communities, online participation is currently half what it was when members came together in person.

A third element of "invisibility" is the fact that Churches have been unable to work on prevention and healing, so that their testimony is less visible.

L. notes that in the Middle Ages, Churches were very active during epidemics and provided important services in society. At present, “plagues like this mainly rely on the power of the state and society for prevention and control.”

All three ministers agree however that the epidemic “will make many Christians thirstier for faith and pray more,” but they are not sure that this will result in a visible increase in the number of faithful in the various communities. Perhaps this will become more evident once the emergency is over.

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