China (MNN) — At the beginning of 2012, the world’s population surpassed 7 billion.
The UN’s census taken in 2012 also indicated that China and India are the youngest countries in the world. For missionaries in China, that might mean their biggest focus is on the youth.
A recent trip to China with China Partner shed some light on the situation.
Erik Burklin of China Partner says their decision to start a youth initiative in China was made because of the great need.
China Partner works with registered churches in China, and they get a first-hand look at how the churches are doing.
Burklin says, “Most of the registered churches are very old, mostly attended by women and the uneducated. And so, there’s a huge segment of society that is not present in our local church.”
This missing segment is the young people of China. While the UN considers anyone under 30 “young,” China considers anyone who is single, a young professional, or under the age of 50 “young.”
That’s a big chunk of people who are not going to church on Sundays, and there’s no guarantee they’re hearing the Gospel anywhere else.
China Partner equips the churches, and they want to help them engage this younger culture more effectively.
One way they hope to do this is through summer camps starting in 2015. Along with English summer camps–a very popular option, they want to offer sports and arts camps. These types of programs are especially attractive to the youth and are a good way for them to encounter the Gospel.
China Partner’s goal is to help the churches establish a platform that speaks to the younger generation and ministers to them with a long-term mindset.
“Maybe China partner could, with our new youth ministry initiative, really help a local church think beyond the now and think more into the future, and realize that if we don’t reach the next generation, our churches will die out eventually,” Burklin says.
There is growing interest in the church from college-aged people. However, this corresponds to the number of ministry programs available for them.
Burklin informs us, “What you almost never see is a ministry toward [ages] 18 and under. Those are the high school years in China.”
At this age, high school students are under extreme pressure to perform academically. That pressure comes from their parents who want them to do well on college entrance exams. What they do in school now largely affects their future.
“[The parents] don’t want their child to go to church or to do any other extra-curricular activity, and that’s why this is so difficult and a big challenge for the Chinese Church,” Burklin explains.
Another challenge is the age of the churches, their congregation, and their mode of operation.
“Young people are very honest,” Burklin says. “Young people are very direct. They don’t want to just go to a church where there’s a bunch of old people and they just kind of get lost in the crowd.”
One way China Partner is hoping to address this is through an emphasis on small groups. Small groups offer teenagers a place to talk openly about their faith and to learn in a concentrated environment.
A long-term goal of China Partner’s is to plant churches that do something a little different from the old, established churches in China.
Some of the newer churches grow by the hundreds in just a few years, an encouraging trend, indeed.
It’s as simple as having a younger pastor or newer music. “We’re noticing that whenever there is a young pastor who has ideas of being different and being more progressively thinking outside the box, maybe, those are the pastors that are more successful in reaching the next generation, or the younger generation, to come and share Christ with those individuals,” says Burklin.
However, these are not tactics of attraction necessarily, but ways to make the Gospel communicable to a younger generation living in a completely different context than the previous generations. They’re keeping their Gospel message relevant and grounded in truth.
“We always emphasize in our training– everything is Bible based. We are bringing in teachers who really have a heartbeat and a passion to teach from Scripture itself.” Burklin sees the Bible as their textbook for teaching.
Aside from equipping and training the churches for spiritual formation, China Partner doesn’t want to interfere. Burklin says they’re not there to teach methodology of teaching.
Many pastors, who in western eyes have little methodology at all, are experiencing staggering numbers of fruitfulness.
Burklin says, “You ask them, well how is it possible that you had up to 30 to 100 new baptisms just in one year and they always shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Well, we don’t know, but we know that the Holy Spirit is moving.’ And that is so humbling when you see that.”
The church movement is growing. “They’re being literally salt and light in their society, and that is so wonderful to see,” says Burklin.
What can you do to get involved with this exciting movement?
First of all Burklin says China Partner would appreciate your prayers. “We’d love for listeners to pray for the Body of Christ in China, pray for the leadership of China.”
The last request, to pray for the leaders of China, may seem like an unrelated request, but it’s not. Burklin bases that request from Romans 13, where God asks his people to submit to his governing authority.
This verse is part of the identity of the Chinese Church. Burklin says, “What I love about China and the Chinese Christians is that’s exactly what they do. They really respect the government. They don’t agree with everything that they’re doing, but they respect it. And I think, as a result of that, they’re being a wonderful testimony. In fact, we know of government leaders who have accepted Christ as a result of that.”
Can you imagine what that dedication to God’s commands might look like in America?
Look for more information to come about summer camps in 2015 and beyond.