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Chinese Church is fastest-growing in the UK, study reveals

23 October 2023

Bible Society

Pastor Wai Chor Chiu

Pastor Wai Chor Chiu

THE Chinese Christian community is the fastest-growing section of the Church in the UK: 27 new congregations have been set up in the past two years to respond to the needs of people emigrating from Hong Kong, a study published this week finds.

A survey of the community revealed a 29-per-cent growth in the Chinese Church in just two years. Almost 115,000 Chinese Christians worshipping in 201 churches in the UK: an increase of more than 25,000 people.

Three-quarters of Chinese Christians worship in independent Evangelical Chinese churches, but those who have arrived most recently from Hong Kong are more likely to join non-Chinese-language churches, the study, by Dr Yinxuan Huang in conjunction with the Bible Society, discovered.

Up to 200,000 British National (Overseas) visa-holders are expected to settle in the UK by the end of this year, under the scheme offered by the Government in response to the Chinese government’s imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong.

Dr Huang said: “This is an exciting time for the Chinese Church in Britain. It is seeing a time of incredible growth, which is also a missional opportunity as others from within the Chinese community are drawn to the Church.

“It is also a time when local English-speaking congregations can welcome people from Hong Kong to their services. There is a real opportunity for growth, but also learning from each other.”

The Manchester Alliance Centre, a Chinese church, has experienced six-fold growth: its 250-strong Cantonese-language congregation has grown to more than 1500.

Its pastor, the Revd Wai Chor Chiu, said: “When the UK Government welcomed Hong Kong people to move, it was quite exciting. The church is more than six times its original size.” Approximately 80 per cent of the congregation are from Hong Kong.

From being like a family, it had changed to be like “a big company”, he said, and the congregation was now split across multiple sites. “We welcome new friends; we will encourage them to join a Bible-study group first; then we will allocate them to difference fellowship or cell groups. We can preach the gospel back to the local people.” He said that the rapid growth had, however, been exhausting for church leaders.

The Revd Mark Nam, an Assistant Curate of Oldland and Longwell Green, in Bristol diocese, and founder of the Tea House, a national network of Chinese-heritage clergy in the Church of England (News, 20 August 2021), said that some Anglican churches had also welcomed large numbers of Hong Kong Christians; but there was a need for further investment to support them.

There has been significant growth in Church of England congregations in places such as Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Bristol. The congregation of B&A church, in Bristol, has grown by almost a half, and St Michael’s, Stoke Gifford, in north Bristol, has expanded similarly. But there has also been growth not just in traditional Anglican congregations, but in Fresh Expressions, such as the Hazelnut Community Farm (News, 22 September 23).

“Both the Methodist Church and the Baptist Church have hired people to take a lead on welcoming Hong Kong Christians,” Mr Nam said, “and I understand that the Methodist Church has experienced even more growth than the Anglican Church as a result. The Church of England could be more effective if it appointed a lead in this area. It would give greater confidence to Christians arriving from Hong Kong.”

The study also explored how Chinese Christians engage with the Bible, and its impact on their lives. It found that the majority of Chinese Christians consider Bible reading to be central to their faith and church experience, and more use a digital than a printed Bible.

One third of non-Christian Chinese people in Britain would be open to an invitation from a church, the study found.

It is the largest of its kind exploring Christianity in the Chinese Community in Europe. It was based on a survey of 1179 Chinese people in Britain from Christian and non-Christian backgrounds, and a series of interviews with Chinese Christians from 54 congregations.

The study concludes with a call for more resources for, and closer collaboration with, Chinese churches, to meet the demand caused by their rapid growth.

“As the Chinese Church grows, it faces challenges such as a lack of pastoral resources, a high demand for youth ministry, and the need for additional space to accommodate increasing numbers of attenders. Churches and Christian organisations in the wider British Christian community should actively respond to these concerns, developing strategies and mobilising resources to engage with this mission of God.

“Chinese Christian leaders, on the other hand, should also actively seek conversations and unity with other non-Chinese bodies of Christians.”

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