Empty pews and missing youth in the Chinese Church

By May 21, 2018

China (MNN) — When China Partner’s Linda Pervenecki traveled to China to do youth ministry, she thought she at least understood how old her ministry targets would be.

Turns out, things were more complicated than she thought.

“The younger generation is missing in some of the churches, so when we first started talking about youth ministry within an American context thinking they were talking about high school students, we realized they were talking about people under 50,” Pervenecki recalls.

Some of the churches already had ministries in place for “young professionals,” but China Partner quickly discovered that this really just meant anyone who hadn’t retired yet. The definition of “youth” was broad. China Partner would have to adapt its strategy.

(Photo courtesy of China Partner)

But why such a wide range? Pervenecki says it’s because of who isn’t coming to church. From high schoolers to college students and beyond, young people simply aren’t interested in church. Millennials, especially, “have different goals and mindsets than the previous generation. They’re just different thinkers.”

That’s a problem in a country with 590 million out of its 1 billion citizens under the age of 30. An indigenous pastor told Pervenecki “‘We have a lot of older people, a lot of women, and a lot of undereducated people.’ He wasn’t saying we don’t want these people in our churches, but it points to the problem of who’s missing in the churches.”

So local churches are trying to do something about it. “They are really trying to think themselves and looking for help to have a more effective outreach to be able to include all of the people of China so they’ll come into their churches and hear the message of Jesus,” Pervenecki explained.

Enter YouthServe, a branch of China Partner’s ministry that focuses specifically on people under the age of 30. They’re providing training for and dialogue with pastors in China, asking what they’re seeing, what works or doesn’t work, and what they need. YouthServe is also advocating the need for local churches to focus on ministering to young people.

Part of that comes through small group ministry. Pervenecki says small groups can be especially attractive to a generation that’s “always looking for connections and relationships”.

(photo courtesy of China Partner)

As pastors ask for training on “how to do youth ministry in their specific context,” YouthServe is going to need help. That’s why they partnered with youth ministry trainers from the Philippines to train over 160 leaders at a Bible school. That partnership will continue as both ministries move forward.

But they’re going to need more help. Even if you can’t be on the front lines, your prayer makes all the difference. “It’s always a joy to share when we do a training that we’re not there in ourselves, we’ve been sent by many people in the rest of the world who are praying for and supporting them, and it really connects us as a global Church that way.”

Pray that “God would multiply the seeds that have been sown so many more young people in China can find Jesus”.

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