Religion in China

A friend forwarded me a fantastic article this morning by David Briggs. There are two extreme (and incorrect) common views of Christianity in China.

1. Everyone in China is an atheist.

2. A large percentage of people in China are Christians.

Both of these ideas (for different reasons) are hindrances to missions in China. But the aforementioned article is one of the most balanced views of Christianity in China that I’ve read yet. Some of its strong points (with some commentary – sorry!)…

1. There is a HUGE group in China – bigger than any other religious group – of people who might be called ‘cultural worshipers.’ According to the survey cited in the article, 31 percent of people surveyed responded “having at least one Buddhist belief or participating in at least one Buddhist practice.” These people do little ‘Buddhist-istic’ things every once in a while, but they wouldn’t even call themselves Buddhists! Family pressure, tradition, and superstition stack against these folks’ consciences, creating a group similar to that notorious segment of American population that might be called ‘Christmas and Easter Christians.’ This is a very significant group and any church-planting effort should keep these people in mind.

2. The numbers of Christians in China – 3.2 percent of those surveyed professed faith in Christ. That would make 33 million or so believers in the nation. Maybe some are afraid to admit their faith – so Stark cites another model in the low 60 millions. The truth is that (even by the wildest numbers)* the VAST MAJORITY of people in China have never heard the Gospel or even been invited to church. Acting like Christianity has already become an unstoppable force in China leads to, among other things, bizarre missiology.

3. Only 15 percent of Chinese are ‘real atheists.’ So while there’s a place for this kind of apologetic, it’s far from necessary with the majority of people.

4. Still making up China’s largest religion, 18% of people surveyed claimed to be Buddhists. Even 12% of Party members claim to be Buddhists! (leaving 5% of Party members that are members of other faiths)

So, lest there remain any doubt – there is most definitely a need for people to come to China and preach the Gospel to Chinese people.

* By the way, doubting there’s over 130 million believers in China can make you missiological persona non grata. Never understood that – how does disbelieving in the existence of some Christians somewhere that there’s no evidence for mean you’re against Christians? I wish they were there, too – I also wish there was a pot of gold in my armoire. Note – when you’re talking about a group of 100 million people among a billion, the number you’ve met personally is statistically insignificant. (for example, 111 million people watched the Super Bowl last night – how many people do you know who watched it? How could you begin to extrapolate that number to the rest of the nation? Below a certain percentage, it really doesn’t matter who you know)

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5 Comments on “Religion in China”

  1. Cameron February 9, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Happy Chinese New Years! I’m in China right now too visiting my family for half a year. I married into a Chinese family. I am a American Christian and none of my family here is a believer. Wanting to talk about Christianity is nowhere on their radar, like many Chinese. I’ve been studying many statistics on Christianity in China and have heard both of the extremes you talk about. I appreciate the balance you present. I look around everyone here in Zhengzhou and want to preach the gospel to people so bad through my wife (as I am just learning Chinese).

    If you want to check out my blog too it is:

    My Chinese family will read my blog after my wife translates it so I am making sure I incorporate many Christian insights I am seeing within the culture here.

    ~ Cameron

  2. invisible February 17, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    Wow! There are actually real missionaries in china. I am currently trying to figure out if God is calling me to be a missionary to China, and this blog has opened my eyes. Thank you. I will pray for you and the people of china. God Bless.

  3. C.R. Mooney July 7, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    great piece. i have a neighbor who was in china last year with campus target, lots of work to do there. our prayers are with you and all the workers in china.

    • Vengador August 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

      Really? Probably located down South? They have a small team in our city – nice guys. Thanks so much for your prayers!


  1. Three Unpleasant Realities About the Church in China | The Parallax Perspective - July 21, 2012

    […] figures, they often get a response that calls their commitment to evangelism into question. One missionary in China put it this way, By the way, doubting there’s over 130 million believers in China can make you […]

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