What does it take for Returnees to Thrive? Part 1

Stuart Bullington has been working with Chinese students in the US, Asia and the UK for more than 20 years. He suggests that students need to be prepared in three ways in order to succeed when they return to China[i]. Firstly, they need to be discipled as a Chinese believer (contextualized discipleship). Secondly, they need to receive specific training in order to understand the issues they will face on returning home and to develop coping strategies (pre-return training). Thirdly, they need to be introduced into networks of churches and other believers in China (networking). In this article we will consider the first of these – contextualized discipleship.

Discipleship is engaging with new believers in conversations about what it means to live as a Christian. It occurs with individuals, in small groups and in larger meetings. Discipleship includes prayer, Bible reading, discussions, singing, listening to teaching as well as opportunities to serve in various ways, all within the context of supportive relationships. Chinese students experience this in Australia, but in many cases the context and focus is ‘English speaking Australia’. ‘Contextualizing’ for these students needs to be discipling with the ‘China context’ in mind. It is vital that the students know how to live out their faith as Chinese Christians in China. They need to know how to be a follow of Jesus in their homes and communities in China, how to be an appropriate witness before their family, friends and society and how to relate and fellowship with Chinese believers who make up churches and fellowships in China. But – how can they do this if they are unfamiliar with the Chinese Bible, are uncomfortable praying in Chinese and can’t discuss issues of faith using Chinese language? It is a sad fact that many Chinese students discipled in English in Australia go home to find they are unable to express their faith in Chinese to parents and friends in a way they can understand, and they find it challenging to attend a Chinese church. This is the major reason they fail to connect with other believers in China and become isolated.

Chinese students are often less than willing to engage with Chinese Christianity while in Australia. They prefer to use English for Christian activities and this flows over to their personal reading and praying. They find the Chinese Bible is complicated and not as easy to pick up and read, and many Chinese genuinely find it easier to read the English Bible and will push back on suggestions to do some of their reading in Chinese. Unfortunately, many well-meaning student workers have accepted the student doing this – believing that it’s more important for the student to understand the text than for them to engage its content with their inner Chinese-self.   As well as this, Chinese churches in Australia are generally conservative and traditional, and few would be ‘un-churched people friendly’ making it difficult for a Chinese student to feel comfortable attending.   Busy Australian campus workers often don’t have resources to provide mother-tongue Bible study opportunities for international students. All this means that there is little chance of the student being encouraged to grow as a Christian in a Chinese context.

What can be done? Firstly, it requires a change in mindset for ministry workers. This may mean rethinking some basic ministry principles and it may mean the challenge of allowing ministry activities to happen in a language you don’t understand. Secondly, it means learning enough about Chinese language resources so you can equip your students with a Bible in their mother tongue. Bible apps on the phone make this easy. Thirdly, it means encouraging Chinese students to spend ‘some’ of their time in worship/study/ministry in Chinese. They don’t need to stop using the English Bible, or leave their campus ministry or church, but they should look for ways to spend some of their time each week studying the Chinese Bible, praying and discussing what they believe in a Chinese context. In your ministry you can encourage small group studies or prayer groups to use Chinese instead of English. You can use study materials that are bilingual and encourage them to read the Chinese version. There are links to some resources below.

When discipling, we need to keep the end in mind: what are we discipling or preparing them for? If their future context is in China, then we need to do all we can to prepare them for that context so they can connect to the Church and thrive in their faith.




[i] Bullington S., “Diaspora Ministries: A View from the Field: Adding to Church Growth in East Asia by Discipling the Diaspora.”

Survey of Chinese Students in Australia

By David Xing, November 2016

In April 2016 Thriving Turtles conducted a survey amongst Chinese International students at four universities in Sydney: The University of NSW; The University of Sydney; The University of Science and Technology (UTS); and Macquarie University. The survey was targeted at Christian students who were recruited through on-campus Christian ministries of AFES FOCUS, Power to Change and Mandarin Bible Study groups.

Out of the 91 Chinese international students that completed the survey, 62 stated they were Christians. 23 were non-Christians and 6 were unsure. Only the responses from Christians were included in the analysis below.

48 students will graduate before 2017. Of these only 6 (13%) are planning to return to China with 28 (58%) saying they do not plan to return to China. 14 (29%) were unsure.

14 students will graduate in 2018 or later. At this time none of them plan to return to China after graduation. 10 (71%) plan to stay in Australia and 4 (29%) are uncertain.

This survey indicates that most Chinese Christian students do not intend to return to China upon completion of their studies. Out of the 62 Christians, only 6 (10%) stated they planed to return. 38 (61%) say they plan to stay in Australia and 18 (29%) are unsure (see table 1).

The data also showed that students were staying longer in Australia over and beyond the 3-5 years required to complete a tertiary degree. Upon completion of the degree, the data revealed that 24 students out of the 62 Christian students would have stayed more than 5 years in Australia (see table 2).

In any case, Australia is a unique case study compared to Chinese Christians in other countries. For example, it is much harder for international students to the UK to stay on after completing their studies. In comparison, Australia has several options that allow students to remain in the country for work or travel. Further research of current Australian visa and immigration policies may explain why Chinese families are choosing to send their children to Australia, not just for tertiary qualifications, but also for long-term residency.

The China Ministry of Education (MOE) estimates that, as of 2014, 75% (1) of Chinese students who have studied overseas return to China. So although our survey indicates most respondents prefer to stay in Australia, it seems that many of those are not actually able to remain and end up returning to China.   The large difference in the number of those who plan to return (10%) and those who actually return (75%) suggests that many of those who return are not doing so willingly and likely lack appropriate preparation (emotional and spiritual) for their return.

The results of this survey seem to indicate that many Chinese Christian students prefer to stay in Australia after completing their studies. Understanding this preference for Australia as the ideal place to live and work shows the need to consider ways of motivating Christian students to consider the gospel needs of their homeland, to be willing to put aside their own desires for a comfortable life and to be willing to return to China with a missional vision to be a blessing their families, communities and nation.


(1) Song, L. (2016). Returnee Ministry at Home and Abroad. ChinaSource Quarterly, 18(3). Retrieved from https://chinasource.org//resource-library/articles/returnee-ministry-at-home-and-abroad


Table 1

Graduate 2017 (48 people) Graduate 2018 and after (14 people)
Plan to return to China 6 0
Plan to stay in Australia 28 10
Uncertain 14 4

Table 2

Years in Australia Christians Non-Christians Unsure
2 7 4 1
3 14 7 4
4 6 2 0
5 11 8 0
6 3 1 0
7 16 0 1
8 2 0 0
9 3 0 0
10 0 0 0
Total 62 22 6


A call to Partnership in Chinese Returnee Ministry

In September 2016 the China Source Quarterly Journal was devoted to the issue of helping Chinese Returnees thrive as Christians after returning to China.

Living in another country can be a life-changing experience. The longer the stay and the greater the immersion into that country’s social life, the deeper and more lasting the effects. Adapting to the new culture, making foreign friends, learning a new set of behaviors, and speaking in a foreign language shape the identity and values of sojourners in ways that can never be undone.

The changes that overseas sojourners experience may go beyond the necessary adaptation to a new language and culture; for many, the experience creates an openness to new ideas, new values, and even a new way of understanding life.

When the time finally comes to return home, the newly-arriving returnees often discover that the behaviors, identity, tastes, and values they acquired overseas do not transfer easily into the home culture. Many of the changes they experienced, including some that are highly valued, must now be reversed for the sake of fitting in.

Now what if, among the many changes experienced in a foreign land, some of the sojourners have converted to the Christian faith? This is certainly the case for thousands of Chinese students and scholars who have studied abroad over the past three decades. For those yet to return, how will their faith, acquired while overseas, and often learned from Westerners in a foreign language, be brought home to become part of their daily life in China? Will these new believers, as returnees, view their new faith as one of the changes that “must now be reversed for the sake of fitting in”? Or will they discover how to be both Chinese and Christian, finding their places of service in the churches of China, perhaps via returnee fellowships made up of others who, like themselves, came to faith while studying abroad?

You can read all the articles here.  We’d like to draw your attention to the following articles that are particularly helpful:

The Need for Chinese Students to Prepare for Their Return

by Stuart

This article is a good summary of many of the issues that Chinese Returnees face.

Returnees Committing to Church in China 

by Henry E. T.

This articles looks at the challenges for Returnees in committing to a Church when they return to China.

Returnee Ministry at Home and Abroad

by Lydia Song

This article looks at cooperation between China and western Christians in helping returnees to be a blessing to the Church in China

中国教会简介 (The Church in China – An Introduction)

This is a translation of the article The Church in China – An Introduction.



耶稣升天之后,使徒和信徒开始了早期教会活动。新约中的《使徒行者》记录了这段历史。 到了一世纪中晚期,基督教会遭到来自犹太人和罗马帝国的逼迫。直到公元312年当时的罗马皇帝康斯坦丁成为基督徒并建立罗马教会ii,逼迫才停止。基督教由原来的非法、被逼迫转而成为合法、受保护的国教。教会也不再躲藏,转而在罗马社会中占有非常重要的地位。 罗马统治了西方社会也影响了从中东到英国的社会和文化。公元1054年iii,教会在政治上和神学上产生了分歧,导致教会分裂。西罗马教会继续接受罗马的统治,被称为罗马天主教会,而东正教会在康斯坦丁堡(位于土耳其)确立了统治地位。这些教会都宣称自己直接受权于上帝。圣经只有拉丁文或希腊文的版本(当时禁止翻译成其他通俗的语言),也只能让经过特殊训练的神父阅读。

到公元1500,教会自行添加了很多额外有悖于圣经的传统和惯例。 在1500年代,马丁●路德等人开始改革教会,回归圣经教导。然而他们却遭到教会驱逐,从而建立了新的教会,也就是新教。

这些事件最终确立了现今的基督教三大分支:罗马天主教、东正教和新教。天主教和东正教都有各自的单一领袖和清晰的分级制度,这两个分支各自也相对统一,其教会遍及世界。 新教秉承最终权威来自于圣经而不是人,这一点导致在教会管理和神学观点上的进一步分歧,也就产生了不同支派(例如国教、长老会、浸信会等)


公元635年iv,一个叫 阿罗本(Alopen)的聂斯脱里派(景教,Nestorian)教徒(天主教的一个分支)来到中国并在长安见了唐朝皇帝唐太宗 (唐太宗李世民)。 他向皇帝展示了一本亚述(叙利亚),语的圣经,皇帝看不懂,就叫他留在中国,翻译圣经并讲授基督教。西安的石林里有一块刻于公元781年v的石碑,记录了基督教的福音如何在公元635年传到了中国。不幸的是,唐太宗死后,之后继任的皇帝不喜欢景教教徒,公元845年vi ,景教教徒被驱逐出中国,中国的信徒也被迫放弃信仰。

1245年到1253年vii间,教皇伊诺森四世(Pope Innocent IV)差派方济会宣教士(Franciscan missionaries)到中国,之后耶稣会士(the Jesuits)在1580年代viii到达中国。 这两组人都是罗马天主教的分支。 耶酥会宣教士大多是科学家,工作效率很高,他们为了方便直接交流而花时间学习中文。利玛窦(Matteo Ricci) 和南怀仁( Ferdinand Verbiest)是很有名的耶稣会宣教士,甚至为当时的皇帝当参谋和教师。

第一批新教宣教士于1800年代ix早期到达中国。当时进入中国非常难。根据皇帝的法令,只有外国商人才能进入中国。而且也只能每年住在广州几个月,剩下的时间住在澳门。 澳门当时是葡萄牙的殖民地,只允许天主教的宣教士进入。早期新教宣教士只能为商人做翻译才能进入中国。这一点后来也使中国人误解新教宣教士的工作,把他们和不诚实的商人联系到一起。

两次鸦片战争和随之的不平等条约签订后,中国开始向外国人敞开大门,宣教士可以住在中国、传福音、建立教会。很多早期教会很大程度上依赖外国宣教士的支持和管理。其中一个非常有名的宣教士是戴德生(James Hudson Taylor),他建立了中国内地会,有1000多名西方宣教士通过该机构在中国内地侍奉。 1800年代晚期到1900年代早期,中国经历了内战、自然灾害以及很多其他问题,处境非常艰难。为了将福音带到中国这些宣教士也经受了很多磨难。到1949年为止,中国的新教教徒不到一百万人。

经历多年内战之后,1949年毛泽东宣布新中国成立。不久之后,包括宣教士在内的所有外国人都被要求离开中国。留下中国教会自行发展。1951年,吴耀宗 发起了三自爱国运动(TSPM, Three Self Patriotic Movement)x, 代表政府管理教会。“三自“ 代表的是“自治”,“自养”,“自传”。 三自爱国运动的目的是让中国教会脱离外国影响,让教会与政府的政策保持一致。

1966年文革开始, 三自爱国运动被禁止,教堂被迫关闭、接受搜查、挪作他用。三自运动的领袖和牧师被捕,送到劳改营进行劳动改造。教会从公众的视线中消失,但是勇敢的基督徒继续私下聚会鼓励彼此。 这些“地下”教会遭到逼迫,基督徒不得不隐藏信仰,生活很艰难。 圣经、赞美诗和所有基督教书籍都被没收焚毁。基督徒背下部分圣经,在聚会中背诵整篇经文来彼此鼓励。 尽管不为公众所知,教会在这一时期仍然继续增长扩大。

1978年邓小平成为中国领导人,开始实行改革开放政策。1979年,在丁光训的带领下三自爱国运动重新开始。1980年中国基督教协会(Chinese Christian Council, CCC)成立,联络三自爱国运动和新教教会。这两个组织被成为“两会”xi。其功能就是代表政府来监管教会。1980年代,教会慢慢回归教堂开始礼拜。牧师从劳改营中释放,有些人开始作为三自教会牧师侍奉。中国基督教协会也开始办培训课程培训新牧师。

1949中国基督徒的人数估计不到一百万人。而如今(2016)该数字大概在七千万到一亿之间xii。 其中大概两千八百万人参加三自教会,剩下的则去没有注册的家庭教会。





政府让家庭教会要不和三自教会注册,要不解散,因此家庭教会在官方上是非法的。实际上要注册很难甚至是不可能的。大多时候家庭教会只要满足三个标准就允许其继续xiv。 第一,教会规模要小,会众人数只能是30-40人;第二, 不能有任何外国人参与其中;第三,不能评论政治或批判政府。在另一层面上,当地政府的态度会影响该地区家庭教会的自由度。


家庭教会很难满足人们对教会的所有期待。没有经过培训的牧师可能讲道冗长乏味,甚至是毫无帮助,不符合圣经。在中国的很多地方,有音乐才能的人很少,聚会点可能需要把声音控制到最低以防打扰邻居(他们有可能会向警察举报教会)。在这种情况下,礼拜中敬拜音乐的质量可能会让人大失所望,无法受到鼓舞。再者,由于缺乏场地和合适的人,教会里可能没有主日学或儿童事工,家长们在礼拜中可能需要一直抱着孩子坐在自己腿上。可能40 个人会挤在一间客厅里,紧闭窗户来降低音量,甚至是在炎热的夏季也是如此。

这些因素使在海外教会待过的人感到很难适应,因为他们所期待的是由受过培训有经验的带领人所带领的成熟教会。 中国留学生经历的可能是直接表达出的关心和爱护。但是回到中国,国人并不习惯公开表达情感,而是以间接的方式表达爱与关心。这可能让中国的海归感觉不到关爱。


中国也有邪教存在,有些专门针对家庭教会。邪教成员会混入家庭教会,想方设法抢夺会员或者分裂教会xv。家庭教会无法去公安机构举报,而且因为家庭教会之间很少互相沟通,邪教成员能转到下一间教会开始新的循环。 因此,家庭教会在接受新成员方面可能会很谨慎。



如果你想进一步了解中国基督教历史中的具体人物和事件,可以在线访问“华人基督教史人物辞典”。英文:http://www.bdcconline.net/en/   中文:http://www.bdcconline.net/zh-hans/


[1] Daniel H. Bays, A New History of Christianity in China (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 7.

[1] Tim Dowley and Pat Alexander, eds., The History of Christianity, Rev Sub edition (Oxford, England ; Batavia, Ill., USA: Chariot Victor Pub, 1990).

[1] Patheos, ‘Religion Library: Eastern Orthodoxy’, Patheos: Hosting the Conversation on Faith, 2008, http://www.patheos.com/Library/Eastern-Orthodoxy.

[1] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid., 12.

[1] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China.

[1] Ibid., 43.

[1] Ibid., 164.

[1] Ibid., 189.

[1] Louis Bush and Brent Fulton, China’s Next Generation: New China, New Church, New World. (China Source, 2014), http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00I3NWT00?keywords=China’s%20Next%20Generation%3A%20New%20China%2C%20New%20Church%2C%20New%20World.&qid=1456715781&ref_=sr_1_1&s=digital-text&sr=1-1; Kukmin Daily, ‘China Will Have the World’s Largest Christian Population in 2030’, 22 June 2016, http://www.kukmindaily.co.kr/article/view.asp?page=&gCode=7111&arcid=0010724477&code=71111101.

[1] Kukmin Daily, ‘China Will Have the World’s Largest Christian Population in 2030’.

[1] Bush and Fulton, China’s Next Generation: New China, New Church, New World.

[1] Ibid.






The Church in China – An Introduction

A Chinese translation of this article is available here

This article is intended to be a brief introduction to the church in China for Chinese who have become Christians while overseas and want to understand something about the church in China before returning there.

A common misunderstanding by many Chinese today is that Christianity only came to China very recently. In actual fact the first documented arrival of the Christian faith to China is during the Tang dynasty in 635AD[i]. In order to understand what was happening in China, we must first understand what was happening to the Christian church in Europe and the Middle East.

The early church began with the Apostles and early believers after Jesus ascended to Heaven.   The New Testament, and especially the book of Acts, gives us this history. By the mid to late first century, the Christian church was experiencing persecution both from the Jews and from the Roman Empire. This state of persecution continued until 312AD when the Roman emperor Constantine become a Christian and established the Roman church[ii]. Christianity went from being illegal and persecuted to being legal, protected and effectively the religion of the state. The church came out of hiding and took a very prominent place in Roman society. Rome ruled the Western world and influenced society and culture from the Middle East to Britain.

In 1054AD[iii], political and theological disagreements that had developed in the church caused a split. The western Roman church continued to be led from Rome and was called the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church established itself under leadership based in Constantinople (in Turkey). Both these churches insisted that their leadership came directly from God. The Bible was only available in Latin or Greek (translation into common languages was forbidden) and could only be read by specially trained priests.

By 1500AD, the church had added a lot of its own extra-Biblical traditions and practices that contradicted the Bible. In the 1500’s, men such as Martin Luther set out to reform the church and return it to the teaching of the Bible. However, they were expelled from the church and formed a new church, which came to be known as the Protestant Church.

These events are what led to the three main strands of today’s Christianity: the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Protestant Churches. The Catholic and Orthodox churches each have a single leader and clear hierarchy. They are fairly unified and each identify as a single unit spread around the world. Protestants hold the Bible, not man, as the final authority, and this has resulted in further divisions on issues of church government and theology that have brought about different denominations (e.g. Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist etc.).

This also explains why the first three waves of Christian mission to China were Catholic missions. The Protestants took around 300 years to establish themselves in Europe before they began to look at taking the gospel message into other parts of the world. Although they were the last to come to China, they had the greatest impact and the Protestant church in China is much larger than the Catholic church.

In 635AD[iv], a Nestorian (a subgroup of Catholics) Christian by the name of Alopen came to China and met the Tang emperor Tai Zong in Chang An. He presented the emperor with a copy of the Bible in Syriac, which the emperor could not read. The emperor asked Alopen to stay in China, translate the Bible and teach about Christianity. There is a stone monument in the Museum of Stone Tablets in Xi’an, which was carved in 781AD[v]. It tells the story of how the Christian gospel came to China in 635AD. Unfortunately, after Tai Zong died future emperors did not look kindly on the Nestorians and in 845AD[vi] foreign Nestorians were expelled and Chinese believers were forced to give up their faith.

Between 1245 and 1253[vii] Pope Innocent IV sent Franciscan missionaries to China followed by the Jesuits who arrived from 1580s[viii]. Both these groups are sub-groups of the Roman Catholic Church. The Jesuits were particularly effective scientists and missionaries and took the time to learn Chinese so they could communicate directly. Men like Matteo Ricci and Ferdinand Verbiest became famous, even working as advisors and tutors to the emperor.

The first Protestant missionaries arrived in the early 1800s[ix]. It was very difficult to get access to China. By the emperor’s decree, the only foreigners allowed in China were traders and businessmen. These could also only live in Guangzhou for a few months of the year and had to spend the rest of the time in Macao. Macao was a colony of Portugal and the only missionaries allowed there were Catholics. The only way the early Protestant missionaries could get to China was to work as translators for the traders and businessmen. This created a lot of problems later, as Chinese misunderstood the work of Protestant missionaries, seeing them as connected to the dishonest traders.

After two opium wars and the resulting unequal treaties, China became open to foreigners and missionaries were able to live in China, evangelise and build churches. Many of these early churches relied heavily on support and management by the foreign missionaries. One very famous missionary was James Hudson Taylor who founded the China Inland Mission, which had more than 1000 Western missionaries ministering in inland China. The late 1800s and early 1900s were a very difficult time for China with civil wars, natural disasters and other problems. These missionaries endured many hardships in order to bring the gospel to China. By 1949, there were just under 1 million Protestant Christians in China.

In 1949, after many years of civil war, Mao Ze Dong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. Shortly afterwards all foreigners, including missionaries, were asked to leave. The Chinese church was left to stand on its own. In 1951, Wu Yao Zong formed the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM)[x], which on behalf of the government took over management of the churches. “Three self” stands for “self-governance”, “self-support” and “self-propagation”. The goal of the Three Self Patriotic Movement was to break connections with foreign influence and to bring the church into alignment with government policy.

In 1966 the Cultural Revolution began. The TSPM was disbanded and all churches were closed, ransacked and then used for other purposes.   TSPM leaders and pastors were arrested and sent to labour camps. The church disappeared from public view, but brave Christians continued to meet secretly to encourage each other. This ‘underground’ church was persecuted and life was difficult for Christians, who had to keep their faith a secret. Bibles, hymnbooks and all Christian literature were confiscated and burned. Some Bibles were hidden, copied by hand and then shared around. Christians memorised parts of the Bible and would recite whole passages in meetings to encourage each other. The Church continued to grow during this time, although it was largely invisible to the public eye.

In 1978, Deng Xiao Ping became the leader of China and began a program of opening China to the rest of the world. In 1979, the Three Self Patriotic Movement TSPM was restarted under the leadership of Ding Guang Xun. In 1980 the China Christian Council CCC was established to liaise between the TSPM and protestant churches. The two organizations are known as “Liang Hui”[xi]. Their role was to again oversee the church on behalf of the government. Through the 1980s, church buildings were slowly returned to churches and services began again. Pastors were released from labour camps and some of them agreed to serve as pastors under the TSPM. Seminaries were started by the CCC to train new pastors.

In 1949 there were less than 1 million Christians in China. Today (2016) it is estimated there are 70-100 million[xii]. Of these, around 28 million[xiii] attend the TSPM churches and the rest attend unregistered house churches.

The government sought to close down the house churches that had started during the Cultural Revolution and to bring all the Christians under the TSPM churches. However, they faced two main barriers:

Firstly, there were far too few TSPM churches to fit the greatly expanded number of Christians. The number of Christians had grown dramatically under persecution and now churches were bursting with people wanting to attend. The government did not want to acknowledge this growth and initially refused to allow any new churches to be built or established. With limited meeting points it just wasn’t possible for all of China’s Christians and those who were exploring faith to be able to meet in TSPM churches. Most TSPM churches had (and still have) large congregations with sometimes more than a thousand people crammed into each service. To this day, at the end of a service people leave quickly to make way for the next congregation, which is waiting outside. Since it is illegal to meet outside of officially registered premises, it can take years to build relationships that provide needed fellowship, and many people feel lost and overwhelmed in these large and impersonal churches.

The second barrier was a lack of trust. During the Cultural Revolution, the government had used the TSPM structure to identify and then arrest or persecute Christians and church leaders. Even after 1979, government control and interference in TSPM churches was obvious and the government regularly makes the point that the church must come under party leadership and serve party interests. This is problematic for those who believe that Christ is the head of the church. In the 1980s many TSPM, CCC leaders and even pastors were not actually Christians but were government employees placed in positions to monitor and report on what was happening. Although this has changed in recent years with the majority of pastors now being evangelical, many Christians find it difficult to trust the TSPM and so chose to continue to meet and worship in unregistered house groups. In some places there is mutual acceptance and understanding between house churches and the TSPM with members attending both groups. However, sadly in many places suspicion and lack of trust keep these two groups very separate.

At its beginning the house church movement was largely based in rural areas and made up of uneducated farmers. Several large networks of house churches developed in different parts of China, some of them including thousands of Christians. More recently, there has been dramatic growth in the cities and the centre of gravity has moved to the urban church. The standard of living in China’s cities has improved and these city churches are made up of educated people with more resources than their rural counterparts. Many urban churches are able to support a full-time pastor and rent a facility for their meetings, although because they have no official status the pastor’s job is not recognised by the state and the meeting location cannot be registered as a church.

House churches are officially illegal, with the government calling all such groups to either register with the TSPM or to disband. In practice it can be difficult or impossible to register, and in most cases house churches are tolerated as long as they meet three criteria[xiv]. Firstly, they need to be small with only 30-40 people; secondly, they should have no foreign involvement; and thirdly, they should avoid making political comments or criticising the government. At another level, the attitude of local authorities will affect how much freedom house churches in each area will be allowed.

Due to rapid growth and the need to have small numbers in meetings and despite the increasing availability of seminary training, there is still a shortage of trained leaders and pastors in the house churches. Many churches are led by brothers or sisters with no training at all – just a desire to serve God and a passion for the church. Many leaders have only been Christians a short time themselves and may be unsure of the Bible, even though they now have to teach others. Some have been leading for many years and may have developed bad habits, they may be lax on pastoral issues or demanding and bossy in their leadership. Many of them suffer from overwork and become burnt-out.

It is often hard for house churches to provide everything that people have come to expect from a church. Untrained pastors may preach long, boring or even unhelpful and unbiblical sermons. In many places in China, people with musical ability are rare and the meeting location may require keeping noise to a minimum to avoid disturbing neighbours (who may report the church to the police). In this case, the quality of worship music during the service may be disappointing and discouraging. Again, because of a lack of space and suitable people, there may be no Sunday school or children’s ministry and parents may be expected to hold their children on their laps during long services.   Forty people may be crammed into a small living room with the windows closed to keep the sound in, even during the stifling heat of summer.

These factors make it difficult for those who have spent time in churches overseas and have expectations of established churches with trained and experienced leaders. A Chinese student overseas may have experienced a lot of overt care and love that was directly communicated to them. Back in China, Chinese don’t feel comfortable with overt expressions of emotion and will often express love and concern in an indirect manner. This may lead the Chinese returnee to feel they are not loved or cared for.

Due to security concerns, it is difficult for churches to connect and cooperate, so many leaders find themselves on their own when grappling with difficult issues in their churches. Sometimes, in isolation, their own understanding of the Bible may become warped and they may develop some unorthodox theology.

There are a number of cults that exist in China and particularly target the house churches. Cult members infiltrate churches and seek to steal members or split the church[xv]. House churches are unable to go to the authorities and because few house churches communicate with each other the cult member is able to move on to another church and start the cycle again. For this reason, house churches can be cautious about accepting new members.

In spite of these problems, the house churches in China are vibrant examples of the body of Christ. Functioning under persecution and stripped of many of the resources and privileges enjoyed by the Western church, most Christians are very sincere about their faith and service to God. Fellowship between Chinese believers is deep and meaningful as they encourage each other in their daily walk.

The best way to find a church in China is to go through an introduction. Once you have investigated and decided that the church teaches the truth and appropriately loves it’s members, then be committed to it and attend regularly. House churches are like families where everyone is expected to help out. Look for ways to serve the church and its members using your talents and abilities. The church you find in China is going to be very different to the church you attended overseas. In many ways it may seem inferior.   However your role is to love, accept and serve. Try not to compare, criticize and complain, as this won’t help you or the church. Remember that you are going through a difficult time of transition, so be patient with yourself and stay connected to your Christian friends and mentors overseas until you settle into life and church in China.

For further information about specific people and events in the history of Christianity in China please go to the online ‘Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity’ English: http://www.bdcconline.net/en/  Chinese: http://www.bdcconline.net/zh-hans/

 © Thriving Turtles, 2016. www.thrivingturtles.org

[i] Daniel H. Bays, A New History of Christianity in China (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 7.

[ii] Tim Dowley and Pat Alexander, eds., The History of Christianity, Rev Sub edition (Oxford, England?; Batavia, Ill., USA: Chariot Victor Pub, 1990).

[iii] Patheos, ‘Religion Library: Eastern Orthodoxy’, Patheos: Hosting the Conversation on Faith, 2008, http://www.patheos.com/Library/Eastern-Orthodoxy.

[iv] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid., 12.

[viii] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China.

[ix] Ibid., 43.

[x] Ibid., 164.

[xi] Ibid., 189.

[xii] Louis Bush and Brent Fulton, China’s Next Generation: New China, New Church, New World. (China Source, 2014), http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00I3NWT00?keywords=China’s%20Next%20Generation%3A%20New%20China%2C%20New%20Church%2C%20New%20World.&qid=1456715781&ref_=sr_1_1&s=digital-text&sr=1-1; Kukmin Daily, ‘China Will Have the World’s Largest Christian Population in 2030’, 22 June 2016, http://www.kukmindaily.co.kr/article/view.asp?page=&gCode=7111&arcid=0010724477&code=71111101.

[xiii] Kukmin Daily, ‘China Will Have the World’s Largest Christian Population in 2030’.

[xiv] Bush and Fulton, China’s Next Generation: New China, New Church, New World.

[xv] Ibid.

Bible Readings for the first month back home

Strength to Stand: 31 Daily Bible Reading Notes for Chinese Returnees

The first month back home can be the most challenging time for returnees to read the Bible regularly; they lack routine and can struggle to find time alone. However, it’s also one of the most important times to be constantly reminded of God’s truth and to establish good patterns of regularly listening to Jesus in their life back home.

LINC Ministries has produced this pack of 31 daily readings going through the book of Ephesians, aimed to help form a habit of Bible reading for the first month back home. Ephesians was written to Christians who had to go against the flow in order to follow Jesus, and who were tempted to feel insignificant and weak as a result. Like many returnees, they needed to be strengthened by knowing God’s big plan for the universe, for all of eternity!

Strength To Stand is available in Chinese and English. It can be found at http:// www.seaturtles.org.uk/bible-studies/ along with lots of other resources.  The link is under “Quiet Time Notes” use “Ephesians” for English and “????” for Chinese.

Bible Studies for Chinese Students

Bible Studies in English and Chinese from the UK

The Sea Turtles UK website has Bible study materials in English and Chinese.  Go to the link below:


Two Ways to Live

This is a simplified Chinese version of a well known gospel outline.  The link below is to a web version.  It’s also possible to buy printed versions in English and Chinese from Matthias Media


Christianity Explained

This is a 6 part presentation of the gospel message and the materials are available in English and Chinese.


Bible Storying

Telling Bible stories is a good way to share the gospel as well as to train new believers.  This website has Chinese bible stories in Chinese that you can share with students.


Seekers Class Bible Studies

This is a series of 4 studies designed by a Chinese worker.  The materials include English, Chinese characters and some Pinyin.

Seekers Class 1

Seekers Class 2

Seekers Class 3

Seekers Class 4a


Purchasing Chinese Bibles & Books in Australia

Updated 24 August 2018

We suggest the following options for purchasing Chinese Bibles and resources in Australia:

The Wandering Bookseller

They have a Chinese language section on the online store.  They sell bibles and other Christian books in Chinese.  They are well connected with student ministries and stay up-to-date on Chinese Christian literature.



Koorong is the largest Christian bookseller in Australia and they have a range of Bibles and Christian books available in Chinese.  They are the main agent for the Bible Society resources including Bibles, Bible portions and other resources.  Search the store for “Chinese” or “Chinese Bibles”.


Fountain of Grace

This website provides a wide selection of Christian Bibles, books, CDs, and DVDs.  It has materials in Chinese and English.  This web-based store is in Perth, Western Australia.  The website is available in English and Chinese.


OMF International

OMF sell a parallel English/Chinese New Testament with the CNV Chinese version.  They produce and sell small booklets in simplified Chinese that deal with different topics like “Faith and Science” and “Relationships” etc.  In recent years they have translated and published missionary biographies in Chinese as well as children’s books and other resources.  Some items can be found directly in their online bookstall if you search under “Chinese” http://www.omfbooks.com.au/shop/

However many items are not listed on the website so it’s best to call them on 02 9868 4777 or contact them via their website here: Contact OMF International


If you know of any other suppliers of Chinese Christian resources in Australia please let us know via the contact page.

Chinese Bible Apps

Written by Jane  Updated 21 December 2017

There are many Bible apps available for smartphones. There is a huge variety in what features different apps have, but a few considerations to help get someone started are:

  1. (Obvious) Check the app has the Bible version you want.
  2. Does the app allow for switching between Bible versions?  A big advantage is that if you have multiple versions downloaded, you can switch to the version being used by the group you are currently with.
  3. Do you want the ability to have parallel Bibles open on the one screen, or to swipe between screens? This is useful when, for example, two languages are being read simultaneously.  Simultaneously open Bibles usually scroll together.
  4. Cost – many apps allow free Bible downloads, some allow in-app purchases of different versions.

The choice of apps is very much according to platform and personal preference, and the available options are constantly changing, so a detailed listing is not warranted here.

However, some useful apps are:

App Name Platform Comments
You Version

iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone – allows multiple versions to be downloaded for offline use

– CNVS, CCB, ASV, ESV, KJV, NIV all free

– copyright permission obtained for each version

We Devote 微读圣经

iPhone, Android – contains 20 licensed Bible versions, including CUVNP, CCB,   NIV
Holy Bible

iPhone – allows 2 versions to be simultaneously opened and displayed on the one screen

– allows many versions to be simultaneously opened, swiping between screens

– free download of Bibles including CUV, CNV, NIV

– copyright permission unclear

Open Bibles

Android – allows two versions to be simultaneously opened and displayed on one screen

– free download of Bibles, offline use

– copyright permission unclear


Android, from: 360手机助手

豌豆荚 open app store

– fast, has references that are easy to look up

– copyright permissions unclear

Which Chinese Bible should I recommend people read?

Written by: Jane  Updated 21st December 2017 and 17 August 2018.

Choosing a Chinese Bible involves not only choosing a version, but choosing a script and other factors as well. These are identified by a range of symbols that appear with the abbreviation for the name of the Bible translation.

Here are some of the commonly seen abbreviations:

  • Chinese Union Version: CUV, CUVS, CUVT, CUVMPS, CUVMPT
  • Revised Chinese Union Version: RCUV, RCUVS, RCUVT
  • Chinese New Version: NCV, NCVS, NCVT or CNV, CNVS, CNVT
  • Chinese Contemporary Bible: CCB
  • Chinese Standard Bible: CSB, CSBS, CSBT

In addition, sometimes after the abbreviation one of the following words is used:

  • Shangdi (or Shangti)
  • Shen

This document aims to explain the different symbols used, and issues to be considered, so a more informed decision can be made when recommending a Bible version.

1. Simplified (简体字) vs Traditional Script (繁体字)

The simplified Chinese script is used in mainland China and Singapore. The traditional script is used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and by Chinese communities in other parts of SE Asia and the world. When looking at the abbreviation for a Chinese Bible translation, normally an ‘S’ is added at the end to denote the simplified script, and a ‘T’ to denote the traditional script (see lists above). We recommend a person use the script that they are most comfortable reading.

2. “Shen” Edition (神版) vs “Shangdi” Edition (上帝版)

Many of the Chinese Bible translations are available in two editions, the difference being which word is used in translation for ‘God’ (‘Shen’ or ‘Shangdi’ /’Shangti’).   Some protestant Christians used to have a strong preference for one or the other word, but in recent years this generally is less divisive an issue. We recommend people use the version that their home church uses. 

3. Version

The most commonly used Bible in China is the Union Version, CUV, 和合本. However, this translation uses older language forms and many people who are new to Bible reading find it difficult to understand (a little like English speakers reading the King James Version for the first time).   There are several newer versions that are easier to understand. In mainland China, the Union Version and Today’s Chinese Version are legally produced. Other versions need to be carried in from overseas, and may be confiscated at the border.   The rise of smartphone and computer use, however, has meant that most versions are now readily available from within China. The CNV is one of the most popular newer versions.

Consideration needs to be also made for what the person’s home church uses. Many churches in mainland China have a strong attachment to the Union Version. When this is the case, we recommend that a new believer read both a newer version (such as the NCV) and the Union Version in parallel. This way they can both understand the Bible text itself and learn to read the more literary form used by their brothers and sisters.

Some details of common translations are:

Chinese Union Version, 和合本 CUV; and Revised Chinese Union Version, 和合本修订版, RCUV

The CUV was first published in 1919, and the text is now in the public domain. It is the most commonly used Chinese translation for Protestants. It “was translated by a panel with members from many different Protestant denominations, using the English Revised Version as a basis and original manuscripts for crosschecking.” (Wikipedia, 2015) 

Spoken Chinese has changed since 1919 so many modern readers find this version hard to understand. In addition, many of the characters used in the original CUV do not appear in commonly available modern Chinese dictionaries. A Revised Chinese Union Version (和合本修订版, RCUV) was completed in 2006 (New Testament) and 2010 (entire Bible) that aimed at updating some of the language to reflect today’s language usage while keeping as much of the original translation style as possible. (Hong Kong Bible Society, 2016)

In addition to this, there are versions of the CUV with modern punctuation, denoted by the letters ‘MP’ (for Modern Punctuation) or ‘NP’ (for New Punctuation), e.g. CUVMPS is the Chinese Union Version Modern Punctuation Simplified script

Chinese New Version, 新译本, CNV

Abbreviated CNV (originally NCV but later changed due to confusion with the abbreviation used for English New Century Version).

  • Simplified Chinese: 新译本, CNVS (or NCVS)
  • Traditional Chinese: 新譯本, CNVT (or NCVT)

CNV was completed in 1992 by the Worldwide Bible Society with the assistance of the Lockman Foundation.

“This is the first Chinese Bible translated by Chinese Biblical scholars directly from the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic languages into modern Chinese ever in the history of the Chinese churches…was a joint effort of a team of around 100 prominent Chinese Bible scholars and language scholars from around the world.” (Bible Gateway, 2016)

The CNV is one of the most popular versions of the Bible in China.

Chinese Contemporary Bible, 当代圣经, CCB

Also called the Chinese Living Bible.

Translated by the International Bible Society of Colorado Springs.

Translated from the original languages and designed for a general audience with a seventh grade education or above. Completed in October 2010. (Biblica, 2014)

Chinese New Living Translation, 新普及译本

A dynamic equivalent Chinese Bible. The base text is the English New Living Translation with comparison with the Greek originals.

Chinese Standard Bible, 中文标准译本, CSB

Produced in 2009 by Global Bible Initiative and Holman Bible Publishers. Currently, this translation only contains the New Testament.

“The goals of this translation are:

  • To provide Chinese-speaking people across the world with an accurate, readable Bible in contemporary Chinese
  • To give those who love God’s Word a text that has numerous reader helps, is visually attractive on the page, and is appealing when heard
  • To equip serious Bible students with an accurate translation for personal study, private devotions, and memorization

To affirm the authority of Scripture as God’s Word and to champion its absolute truth against social or cultural agendas that would compromise its accuracy. ” (Global Bible Institute, 2015)

Chinese Recovery Version, 恢复本

This is used by the “Local Church” movement in Taiwan, and contains commentary notes written by Witness Lee.   It is said the translation is good, but some Christians say the commentary notes are questionable – this movement is considered by some as a cult. (Intervarsity International Student Ministry, 2016) (Lucy Hsu and Yii-Shyun Lin, 2016)

Translations we do not recommend:

Chinese Pastoral Bible, 牧灵圣经

The Chinese edition of the Christian Community Bible, published in China by Amity Printing Company. This translation has received criticism over several significant issues, and is not generally recommended for lay people. (“Pastoral Bible (Chinese),” 2014)

New World Translation, NWT

Published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, used by Jehovah’s Witnesses.


Bible Gateway. (2016). Chinese New Version (Simplified) (CNVS) – Version Information – BibleGateway.com. Retrieved January 18, 2016, from https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Chinese-New-Version-Simplified-CNVS/

Biblica. (2014). Chinese Contemporary Bible (2010). Retrieved January 18, 2016, from http://www.biblica.com/en-us/bible/bible-versions/chinese-contemporary-bible-2010/

Global Bible Institute. (2015). Chinese Standard Bible. Retrieved January 18, 2016, from http://chinesestandardbible.com

Hong Kong Bible Society. (2016). Revised Chinese Union Version> Revision Principles and Process. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from http://www.hkbs.org.hk/en/content/14-revised-chinese-union-version3

Intervarsity International Student Ministry. (2016). Analysis of Various Translations of the Chinese Bible. Retrieved from http://ism.intervarsity.org/resource/analysis-various-translations-chinese-bible

Lucy Hsu and Yii-Shyun Lin. (2016, January 21). An Explanation of the Different Chinese Bibles. Link to article: An Explanation of the Different Chinese Bibles

Pastoral Bible (Chinese). (2018). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastoral_Bible_(Chinese)

Wikipedia. (2015, June 18). Chinese Union Version. In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Union_Version