There are 100 million Christians in China. Of those, more than 400,000 are Seventh-day Adventists. What is it like to be a Seventh-day Adventist in the world’s most populated country?
China has a delegation of almost 50 delegates and special guests to this year’s General Conference (GC) session, the most ever. The first delegation attended the GC session in 2010.
Asked to describe the Adventist Church in China, mission president Robert S. Folkenberg, Jr., uses words such as “dynamic,” “in transition,” “deep sense of mission.”
As elsewhere in the world, as the economy improves and the standard of living goes up, interest in the gospel often goes down. State-of-the-art airports, train stations, bullet trains, and highways demonstrate a society determined to rival the best infrastructure the world has to offer.
The Adventist Church in China is not organized as it is in other parts of the world, with congregations, conferences, and union conferences. Church organization in China consists of one level: local congregations. A community may have thousands of Adventists, divided into hundreds of congregations, where each congregation provides financial support for its own local pastor. Metropolitan areas often have a “mother church” that supports hundreds of nearby smaller congregations.
Chinese delegates to this year’s General Conference session include a university professor, a businesswoman, and a pastor.
The university professor, an Adventist for 30 years, leads a group of about 80 young people in her congregation in northern China. The city where she lives, near the border of Russia, has 3,000 members, but they don’t all worship in the same building.
The businesswoman lives in Beijing and makes a living selling clothing. She is an elder in a church that seats 300 people. In her role as an elder she leads out in worship services and acts as a liaison between the church and local government authorities. As many as 7,000 Adventists live in Beijing.
A fourth-generation Seventh-day Adventist pastor leads 13 congregations in Wenzhou, a city of more than 3 million people. He leads a church of 400 members, but over several years he has participated in planting more than 200 congregations with some 30,000 members in several Chinese provinces.
The Chinese attendees said it was a thrill to catch a glimpse of the width and breadth of the church around the world.
“The family members are so warm and friendly,” said one delegate.
Another spoke about being in a place where being an Adventist does not mean being part of a religious minority.
And another mentioned looking forward to returning to China to “encourage my brothers and sisters about revival and reformation.”
He observed that the work in China would benefit from pastors who are better trained. His own training was a combination of Adventist training sessions and classes taken at a Chinese seminary.
Adventists in China face unique challenges, among them sharing the gospel where there are 1.3 billion people, more than anywhere else on earth. But perhaps Adventists love challenges.
“China is a special place,” said one Chinese pastor.