The Protestant Church in Fujian Province

The Protestant Church in Fujian Province

Fujian province is one of China’s smallest provinces, with a population of 34 million. Its coastal areas are thickly populated, and many of its people are farmers or fishermen. The Fujian people speak several dialects which are very different from Mandarin. Inland, there are many mountains and less productive soil. Over the centuries many Fujianese have emigrated overseas and founded strong communities not only in Southeast Asia but also in North America and Europe. There may now be as many as 12.6 million Fujianese living abroad as “Overseas Chinese” in 160 countries, although 95% live in Southeast Asia.

This means the Fujianese “diaspora” is about a third as big as those living in their ancestral province. Fujian was one of the first provinces to receive the gospel, as two of the five “Treaty Ports” opened to Western traders and missionaries after the notorious first Opium War in 1840-42 were in Fujian¾the provincial capital, Fuzhou (Foochow) and Xiamen (formerly known as Amoy). In February 1842 the American missionaries William Boone and David Abeel started work on the island of Gulangyu, opposite Xiamen.

Today, more than 150 years later, the island is renowned for its churches, high proportion of Christians and musical excellence¾many homes have pianos and many people play classical and Christian music.

Table of Church Growth in Fujian (baptized members)

1920 38,584 1996 630,000

1949 100,000 1997 649,000

1993 500,000 2008 830,000

NOTE: All post-1949 figures are from Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).

In recent decades the church in Fujian has enjoyed rapid growth. Today there are conservatively 830,000 adult members in the churches managed by the TSPM/China Christian Council. There are now more than 4,000 registered churches and meeting-points in the province. Churches account for 1,768 venues - the rest (over 2,200) are simpler “meeting-points.” The statistics reveal an explosion of church growth, as back in 1993, only 15 years ago, there were "only" 950 churches and 1,000 meeting-points - so in that period the number of registered places of worship has doubled!

As is usual elsewhere, all these churches are served by only 305 ordained pastors - far too few for a growing church. (Statistically, each pastor is responsible for nearly 2,800 believers!) There are also 17 elders, 56 teachers and (thankfully!) nearly 1,000 preachers and evangelists, many of whom serve part-time. There is also a whole army of “yigong” (voluntary workers) who are often the backbone of the church - praying, preaching, evangelizing, visiting the sick, managing the finances etc.

The registered churches in Fujian are actively involved in sharing the love of Christ in Chinese society. The churches in Xiamen, Fuzhou, Putian, Nanping and many other places have set up 15 Christian senior citizen’s homes. Several have received special commendation from the local government. Mrs. Chen, a retired teacher from Fuzhou University, had the idea of setting up such a home 10 years ago. She says: “After many trials, I experienced the unchanging love of God and I willingly cast aside the ‘old me’ to serve these old people.” Now she cares for more than 20 elderly residents and is helped by visits by the students from universities in Fuzhou.

At least four churches in Fujian have set up kindergartens. The one at Putian has already looked after nearly 2,000 children. The churches have also set up clinics. They are especially concerned to help people in the poorer, mountainous inland regions, including members of the She minority people who live in Fujian. One group of doctors has helped more than 20,000 people in the mountains. But clinics have also been set up in Fuzhou and other cities to help the poor. Since 1996 Christian doctors have been going out on the streets to provide their services free once or twice every month.

In 2008 the Fujian churches were particularly active in mercy ministries. At the beginning of the year when much of China was devastated by severe blizzards, they raised 670,000 RMB in relief - a record amount. And in May, when Sichuan was struck by the earthquake, Fujian Christians donated an amazing 32,420,000 RMB in a great outpouring of love for the earthquake victims.

There are also large numbers of independent house churches in Fujian. The Fuzhou region saw the rise in the 1930s of the independent church movement known as the “Little Flock” associated with Watchman Nee (Ni Tuosheng). At the time, many educated young people and students broke away from the traditional denominational and missions churches to meet in what they believed was closer to the New Testament pattern. Today some in this movement hold their own meetings on TSPM church premises - others continue as unregistered house churches. The Little Flock churches are particularly strong in Fuqing County, where probably about half of the more than 100,000 believers belong to this grouping. In fact, Fujian seems to be home to a large number of independently-minded Christians. Apart from the Little Flock there are at least 80,000 members of the True Jesus Church in the province - this is another indigenous Chinese church which was founded nearly a century ago. In general, local government in Fujian seems fairly tolerant of unregistered believers as it is rare that one reads of cases of persecution of house-church Christians in this province. Whether registered or unregistered, the church in Fujian would appear to have a bright future as it “holds forth the Word of Life” and demonstrates the love of Christ actively in society.

(Most of the above information has been taken from November 2008 Tianfeng and History of Christian Missions in China by K.S. Latourette.)