A delegation of leaders from the World Evangelical Alliance visited one of the fastest growing churches in China Tuesday as it continued its historic weeklong tour through the country.
Since Monday, the delegation of 24 WEA representatives has been meeting with leaders of China's official church bodies and government officials in its effort to open a two-way line of communication between the burgeoning Church in China and the worldwide evangelical community.
"Through our conversations, we have understood that they greatly value international partnerships that respect the mission and calling of the national church," stated Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the WEA.
"Given the complexity of the continually evolving Church situation in China, the WEA gladly embraces the opportunity to develop this warm and open relationship of dialogue," added the Rev. Gordon Showell-Rogers, WEA associate international director designate and current general secretary of the European Evangelical Alliance.
On Tuesday, the WEA delegation made a number of stops as it traveled across Shanghai – the first city on its four-city tour.
One of the highlights of the tour through Shanghai included a visit to Shanghai Gospel Church, the fast-growing megachurch that went from 1,000 regular attendants in October 2005 to 2,200 today.
Established on Christmas day 2004, Shanghai Gospel Church today has two Chinese services, three full-time pastors, and more than 200 volunteers serving the church. More recently, the church has started holding two Korean services to accommodate the growing population of Koreans living in Shanghai.
According to estimates, there are almost 80,000 Koreans living in Shanghai – the majority of which are Christian. In order to serve the growing population of foreigners, many churches in Shanghai have added services in Korean, English, Danish, and other languages.
During its visit to Shanghai, the WEA delegation expressed gratitude to the Chinese churches for trying to meet the needs of foreigners despite their lack of resources.
According to a presentation shown to the delegation on the progress of Shanghai Christianity, there are currently 170 churches/Christian meeting points and 372 missionaries in the international metropolitan city. Each year, the number of Christians in Shanghai reportedly increases by around 6,000.
The first church reportedly to offer service in English, starting in 1996, was Shanghai Community Church, which was among the churches that the WEA delegation visited on Tuesday.
Shanghai Community Church was built in 1925 and originally comprised American Christians living in Shanghai. Although the Chinese government took control of the church in 1949 and shut it down during China's Cultural Revolution, the church eventually reopened in 1980. Today, the church has over 800 members, four pastors, and 500 volunteers serving the church.
At the end of its visit, the WEA delegation gave a prayer of blessing and gratitude for the church, which has reportedly been attracting many non-believers through the invitation of members of the church.
On the first day of its visit, Monday, the WEA delegation had visited the Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches (TSPM) and the China Christian Council (CCC) of Shanghai.
Local church leaders that the delegation met with included the Rev. Shen Xuebin, president of TSPM in Shanghai; the Rev. Guo Feng of CCC Shanghai; the Rev. Yan Min, External Affairs Secretary of CCC Shanghai; and Gu Jingqin from Overseas Public Relations Department of CCC .
Earlier in the day, the WEA delegation met with leaders of the national TSPM and CCC, the government-approved Christian organization and the umbrella organization for all registered Protestant churches, respectively.
The delegation is expected to conclude its trip to China this coming Sunday after further meetings with key Chinese representatives, including those from China's largest seminary and government officials in Beijing.
According to the WEA, its delegation comprises members of its senior staff, International Council, Regional Alliances, Commissions, and Global Partners.
As a network of churches in 128 nations and over 100 international organizations, the WEA ties together more than 420 million evangelical Christians through its membership.