This entry is part 10 of 25 in the series 30 Days on the Chinese Church

How does a bilingual Chinese church maintain unity? It has to be more than history or convenience. There must be a vision that encompasses both congregations.

The Search for a Vision

If the EM (English Ministry) and the CM (Chinese Ministry) view themselves as nothing more than two congregations sharing a building, then either one is free to move to a new location if they find a better deal. While this is one possible arrangement, it is not what most Chinese churches want. Shared dependency (e.g. youth ministry vs. financial support) forms a closer tie, but what happens when one congregation no longer “needs” the other? Why should they stay?

I am convinced that real unity as a single church needs to flow from a common vision. At CFC we have occasionally had leadership meetings in the EM in which we discussed our vision for the EM. But after a while I realized that we cannot really think about our vision without taking into account the fact that we are part of a bilingual Chinese church. Even if the EM has a vision to plant a separate Asian American church, the remaining Chinese congregation will still need an EM, so the need for a common vision remains.

When I was a missionary in Taiwan we had a co-worker meeting in which we discussed our ministry strategy. There are many churches in Taiwan and many ministry needs, so we were asking ourselves where we should focus our efforts. To narrow it down, we asked ourselves what we were in a position to do that the churches in Taiwan were not doing or were unable to do. In other words, we looked for our unique contribution.

What are some of the unique opportunities available to an EM in a Chinese church? Here are some thoughts to get you started:

  • impact the younger generation of ABCs for Christ (most ppl become Christians before age 17)
  • reach 2nd gen but still quite Asian adults, who grew up w/ a Chinese cultural background and are comfortable with that
  • support and minister to ABC young adults serving in smaller Chinese churches in which they do not have a peer group
  • minister to bi-racial couples including at least one Asian/Chinese
  • mobilize ABCs to reach scholars from China
  • reach out to non-Christians who want to learn Chinese or are curious about Chinese culture
  • help recruit and train people from nearby non-Chinese churches for ministry in Asia (share our expertise!)
  • help people in the Chinese congregation learn about other cultures

I’m sure that you can think of other things. We need to take advantage of the unique opportunities that we have as an EM in a Chinese church.

Ways to Maintain Unity

What are some practical ways to build and maintain unity in a Chinese church? First of all it’s important to understand what does not work. Forcing both congregations to do everything the same way has the appearance of unity, but actually creates a lot of strife. This approach seeks unity like that in the army: everyone wears the same kind of clothes, eats the same food, walk the same way, and talks the same way. But unity in the church does not mean uniformity. Paul makes that clear in 1 Cor. 12. Instead, it is more like the unity of an orchestra. There are many different types of instruments playing different parts. But they are playing from the same score and following the lead of a conductor. We can allow diversity as long as we share a common vision and purpose.

Here are some practical ideas for enhancing the unity between the EM and the CM in a Chinese church:

  • Joint worship services have a symbolic value as a demonstration of unity, but they have limited value in making the church more unified. Events that are more personal in nature are more effective.
  • Joint ministry projects help people to get to know one another by serving together. Sometimes we have had a team of people taken from both congregations help serve food at a local rescue mission.
  • One fellowship group can do something to serve a group in the other congregation. For example, a few years ago a team of our English speaking college students helped to serve food to a meeting of our Chinese speaking senior citizens. Both groups really enjoyed the experience, even though in some cases there was a language barrier.
  • Joint fellowship meetings can be effective. One time we had a joint meeting between our English college group and our Chinese Young Adult group (which included many grad students). They formed a panel with a few member from each group, and talked about life growing up here in comparison with life in China. Everyone learned a lot.
  • We had a panel of English speaking college students and young adults share with a group of mostly Mandarin speaking parents about what it is like to grow up in the U.S.

These are some of the things that we have done. I’m sure that you can think of other suggestions. But we probably do not do these sorts of things often enough because everyone is busy and each group has its own program. We have to be proactive in deliberately planning some unity building events into the schedule.

Now it’s your turn. . .

  • In your experience, what are the best ways to build unity between the EM and the CM in a Chinese church?
  • What are the greatest barriers to unity? How might they be overcome?
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Join the Conversation


  1. Thanks for stopping by. Are you part of an English ministry in a bilingual Indonesian church? If so, I would be interested to hear how your church compares to a bilingual Chinese church. What are the similarities and differences? What are the biggest challenges that you face?

  2. 1. Establishing a safe ground is the first step. This is tricky because in the Western mind, the way to create safe ground is to establish ground rules and set up accountability procedures. In the Asian mind, this is very threatening. Traditional Asians prefer forming bonds around common elements of life: eating, games, singing, etc. in situations where no one is put on the spot.

    2. The greatest barrier to unity is giving up. So many have. Many have withdrawn emotionally and stayed physically. To overcome this, an insightful and gentle minister (lay or staff) needs to restore genuine fellowship or bless people and send them to a church where they can form bonds of trust and accountability.

  3. Structures are important, but so is relationship. If I had to pick one, I would say that the key is relationship building, starting with the leaders of both congregations. (Does that make my thinking “Eastern”?)

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