Reaching Adults: The Importance of Ownership

This entry is part 17 of 24 in the series 30 Days on the Chinese Church

Do you want the English Ministry in your Chinese church to grow beyond a youth/college ministry? If so, it is necessary to reach English speaking young working adults and young families. But many Chinese churches struggle in reaching these groups. What does it take to reach them?

Many of the youth attend church because their parents bring them there. In fact, they often don’t have very much choice about whether or not they go to church. But when they go off to college it is a different matter, and they will make their own choices. When they graduate from college and start working (or go to grad school) they truly begin to feel that they are adults and should make their own decisions. Since they have many choices of English speaking churches, why would they want to remain in a bilingual Chinese church? What factors will enable them to stay?

The Importance of Ownership

It is interesting to listen to how people talk about the church which they attend. Some say “Why doesn’t the church do this?” while others say “Why don’t we do this?” These two questions seem quite similar, but the way in which they are worded reveals a huge difference in how people view their involvement in the church. To the first person, the church is “they.” Those who use this terminology see themselves as outsiders or guests at the church. They don’t truly belong. But the second person speaks of “we” and “our church” instead of “them.” This person views him or herself as a part of the church. They feel that they belong.

This feeling of “ownership” is an important part of reaching any group of people. If students feel that the church is their parents’ church then they will be unlikely to stay once they become adults. If we want to reach English speaking adults, we must make it possible for them to see the church as “their” church. What does it take to accomplish this?

This topic could become a whole series of articles on its own, but let me just list a few suggestions:

  • Are English speakers treated as fully equal to those who speak Chinese in official church functions and literature? Or is speaking Chinese required to be a full participant?
  • Are adults in the English Ministry treated like adults, even if they are “only” in their 20’s and 30’s?
  • Is there the potential for those who speak only English to serve in the highest leadership positions, including on the board? Or is there a “bamboo ceiling”?
  • Is the English Ministry treated as an equal partner in use of facilities and planning?
  • Are joint meetings and activities planned jointly by a team including leaders from both congregations?

I’m sure that you can think of other points, but this should get you started. I’m happy to say that CFC is doing quite well on these points thanks to the great support that we receive from the Chinese Pastor and Chinese congregation leaders. Of course for a church at an earlier stage of development in which the English Ministry is almost entirely made up of youth we can’t expect this level of participation. But if you hope to have any young adults to stick around in the English Ministry you must make progress in this direction. The youth do not expect to be able to serve as board members, but younger working adults will have a difficult time feeling that they “fit in” if they don’t see the potential to fully participate in the church.

Tomorrow I will continue this discussion with a second factor essential for reaching young adults and families.

Series Navigation<< English Ministry Pastor ShortageThe Power of Vision >>

2 Responses to Reaching Adults: The Importance of Ownership

  • You have good observations about the church. I love the term “bamboo ceiling.” When youth get mobile and can drive on their own, they make choices on where to go to church or even not go to church. People are on different faith journeys. Children of Christian parents need to make that faith their own. The phenomena and challenge of “2nd gen Christians” is an important issue.

    Yes, it is important to involve people in leadership. Yet, some would say, why stay in the Chinese church? That “world” does not represent their school life and work life that is multi-ethnic and multicultural. People stay because they have a burden vision to help the younger ones. They want to reach out to those who identify w/ the Chinese church – some come to find their roots. They serve to fulfill a calling.

  • PK says:

    Thanks for your encouragement. The term “bamboo ceiling” is not original. I first heard it from Art Lum, who served in EM for many years in the Bay Area.

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"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." -- C. S. Lewis