New research shines light on faith trends
NEW RESEARCH INDICATES how Chinese Canadian churches can best equip young people to remain in the faith into adulthood.
Enoch Wong, professor at the Canadian Chinese School of Theology based at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, surveyed Canadian-born Chinese Christians, mainly between 18 and 35, to understand why they stayed in the Church or left the faith. The result, Listening to Their Voices, was published in July.
The booklet is not for sale (although copies can be obtained by contacting the author), but Wong hopes an electronic version will be available in spring 2019. The Chinese Coordination Centre of World Evangelism Canada commissioned the study.
Wong surveyed 554 individuals and interviewed 37 more about their faith. To suit Chinese Canadian churches, he modified a survey used in Hemorrhaging Faith, the 2012 report commissioned by The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and its partners that examined why young people leave the Church.
Wong identified four types of people. The "highly engaged" and the "less affiliated" remain in the faith. The "less affiliated" identify as Christians, he says, but "have developed a distancing relationship with the congregation they have been going to." Wong divided those who left the faith into "nones and dones," who he says may still hold Christian values, but not consider themselves Christians. The final two types were atheists and agnostics.
Church-mentoring experiences and vibrant and authentic church communities contributed to people remaining highly engaged, says Wong. Loss of Christian community during life transitions, romantic relationships with non-Christians, intellectual complexities, and competing sexual values and understandings of sexuality contributed to people leaving, he says.
While several of the findings may be similar to other studies, there are differences. "People may have not understood the severity" of romantic breakups, he says. "Having grown up in a culture that accentuates shame and honour, dealing with relationship breakup is very difficult."
Immigration also matters. Wong’s research participants were born in Canada. Their parents and church leaders may have been born and trained in China, creating possible cultural and language barriers, Wong says. Parents and children may not read the Bible together because they aren’t reading in the same language. "Because Chinese culture values respecting elders, some churches may be reluctant to give younger generations leadership opportunities."
Wong encourages Chinese church leaders to consider increasing mentorship for young people and teaching that points to Jesus and addresses key cultural issues.
"Jesus can form culture, inform culture, reform culture and transform culture," he says. "We need to use biblical teaching to shed a light on the Chinese culture, ethnic culture and our own tradition, rather than using our tradition as absolute to teach the younger generation." –MEAGAN GILLMORE