"New Expressions of Churches in Hong Kong" - Qualitative Research
----Reflecting on the True Essence of Church during turbulent times

Ray Bakke Centre for Urban Transformation
Bethel Bible Seminary
June 2021

According to the Hong Kong Church Survey by the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement in 2019, 28 new Chinese churches were established during the year 2014-2019. Other than church planting by denominations and local churches, new expressions of churches have emerged in the past 5 years. In order to better understand these churches, Ray Bakke Centre conducted a qualitative study in February and March 2021 and interviewed 11 churches that were newly set up in the past 5 years (not church plants from denomination or local churches). We have also interviewed two networks for new churches, to understand how they train and connect new churches and their leaders. Below are the key findings from the study:

Common themes and Characteristics among the New Churches

Theme 1: Reflecting on the True Essence of Church

  • Focus on biblical teaching and reflection of the core of fatih
  • Focus on building the relationship between believers and God, and in depth fellowship of believers. Not by the growth of biblical knowledge, but the depth of spirituality and transformation
  • Trust and encourage congregants to serve outside of church missionally and be connected with the community
  • Church without walls, unlike traditional churches with set forms of ministries and gathering venue

Theme 2: Place of Gatherings is flexible, Focus on interactive (2-way) ministering both online and Offline

  • Do not plan to acquire church premises, place of gatherings is flexible through renting different types of places
  • Venue is relatively a less important concern, therefore the operating cost is lowered and become less of a burden
  • Many of the new churches have adopted both online and offline ministry, hosted zoom gatherings even before the pandemic, so they are less impacted by it.

Theme 3: Being Intentional in Maintaining Small and Simple Structure 

  • Focus on Interaction, staying close in building relationships in everyday lives
  • Leaders have clear vision on their ministry focus and target groups (eg non-believers, marketplace ministry, dechurched, youth etc.)
  • Focus on simple structure without much departments or even deacons, decentralised
  • Do not emphasize the increase in numbers, but the depth of spiritual growth and nurture

New Forms of Missional Churches, Serving beyond Church Walls with Clear Vision

In our research, we spoke to 3 churches with more unique backgrounds as they embrace clear vision to serve outside of traditional church settings and towards their specific target groups. As they form their ministry directions, they focus on building relationships and answering the needs of the society, holding tight to being missional in practicing faith in serving. May these examples of new expressions of churches encourage us to imagine more, dream more and bring more non-believers to the Lord.

Old and New, walking hand in hand to harvest in the mission field  - Aspire Church

Aspire Church has its roots from the Chinese Full Gospel Church Tai Po Church that has decades of history. Few years ago, a few young leaders from the Tai Po Church felt the urging need to bring gospel to people outside of church. They had therefore boldy started a new ministry together. Every Friday night, each of the leaders will together invite several non-believer friends to meet up after work and get to know the Christian faith through Alpha and bible studies. People who join these gatherings are mostly young non-believers in the marketplace and they enjoy getting to know the Christian faith in a more relaxed environment as such. As the number of participants increases, each week more newcomers join in, and many people come to know Christ. The most admirable thing is that the pastors and leaders from Tai Po Church did not expect these young leaders to bring the newcomers back to the church, but instead encouraged the young leaders to build up their own church somewhere else and provide them with the support they need on many levels.

Their home church is so generous in letting go of their core young leaders and fully supporting them by sending them out to set up a church- Aspire Church. The vision of Aspire church is to use the ways of the new generations to serve today’s youth and marketplace young adults. Their vision is very clear as they want to serve non-believers. Aspire Church has over 100 congregants today regularly joining their worship and gatherings and the Church established a co-study space called Upper Room where they serve the younger generation, organize gatherings, build relationships with them and introduce them to the Christian faith. Aspire Church holds tight to their initiative - not to build a big and glamorous church, but to convey the message that everyone can start a church. The development of Aspire Church has also blessed and encouraged their home church, especially in the growth in their youth department. This story that captures the walks of new and traditional forms of churches is very encouraging and a great reference to more possibilities and imagination!

Daily Ministry in Marketplace Church - Simplychurch

Simplychurch is the fruit of many years of marketplace ministry, finally established in a new church form in 2021. In the past decade, Dilys and Jane, the leaders of Simplychurch, devoted their time in introducing God to people in their office and the surrounding business area. Many people came to Christ through these gatherings and Alpha, where the two also built up many marketplace believers who are keen on serving God. Dilys and her team realized that many marketplace Christians tried going to church but most didn't end up staying in church. However, many of them are keen to grow in marketplace ministries and also to serve passionately.

Acts 2:46-47 “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Dilys is deeply impacted by these verses and reckoned the need to bring church to marketplace, to live out church day by day as believers can gather everyday in the marketplace to genuinely walk together in everyday life, and living out the Great Commision. This also allows people to know God in marketplace, and to grow and serve together.

In marketplace churches, believers learn to face struggles in faith and practice biblical teaching in the everyday marketplace setting. Dilys and Jane earnestly build up believers and leaders to be disciples of Christ. They meet everyday during lunch time or after work to form different relationships and groups, disciple leaders and also send out teams to serve the community, multiplying in groups and extending their faith influence. Simplychurch demonstrates the new form of church in the marketplace, breaking through the traditional ways of ministries, growing from fellowship to family, from community to covenant, from maintenance to mission, and gives birth to networks of missional churches and movements.

From Roundtable Church to Missional Communities

About 10 years ago, a US Pastor Jaeson Ma came to Hong Kong and held evangelistic events where plenty of people from the local entertainment sector came to know Christ and started seeking the Lord. Jason Young was in charge of the events at that time, and was later appointed to take care of this group of seekers and sheep. Jason understood that it wasn’t easy for these artists to blend into local traditional churches, and therefore took up the responsibility to pastor them and be their spiritual father. That was the origin of Roundtable Church, which was then called the LightClub.

In the beginning, this group of seekers experienced a lot of miracles and God’s work, where LightClub was filled with new testimonies and newcomers. After about 2-3 years, they were faced with different challenges among the leaders and the ministries. Jason and his wife Juliana initiated a reform in the church structure, putting emphasis in closely disciplining the leaders and walking with them in lives, enabling them to embrace the core of building missional groups and missional believers. They also renamed the church to Roundtable church, where under the structure of roundtable, brothers and sisters all join in equally like in a family, instead of a top down culture.

In the recent two years, Roundtable Church has further grown into Missional Communities. Many of their leaders have moved into the same building where they live, worship and serve the community together. They have grown into several Missional Communities, which they follow each of their group’s spiritual discernment and move to different districts (including Sham Shui Po, Shatin, Fortress Hill etc.), to live and serve in the neighbourhood and communities. Although they have spread to different areas of Hong Kong, these Missional Communities still gather as a family and walk with each other in their everyday lives. Each Missional Community designates time for worship, for each other and for serving non-believers and the Communities also gather together regularly as they embrace the covenant and mission to live out the Gospel and serve with faith in the community.