When I arrived at Beijing's Hadian Church at 10:15 a.m., I was surprised to see nearly every seat taken, since the service I was attending didn't start until 11:00 am. By the time the choir processed in, there was standing room only in the back, with people spilling out of the overflow room downstairs.
Most ministers in the U.S. would love this type of attendance, but few Americans would expect this type of spiritual fervor at one of China's many Three Self churches, which are officially recognized by the government. Head pastor Wu Weiqing says that church attendance has doubled since May of 2007, and each Sunday about 4,500 people attend one of its six services. The service I visited was packed with over 2,000 people.
Wu says that when he first became head pastor in 2001, most of the people who attended the church were older who wanted prayer for physical ailments. Today, he says that the church, which is prominently located near many universities, attracts people of all ages and all walks of life who just want to know Jesus.
It was extremely encouraging to talk with many of the church members, who possessed such a vibrant faith.
Many in the U.S. aren't even aware of the official Three Self churches, or if they are, have a perception that the ministers are simply pawns of the government spewing propaganda. Perhaps this is the case in some of them, but Wu says he has preached from every book of the Bible, and that his sermons have been free of government censorship or interference.
Dr. Mark Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary, who was preaching that Sunday, similarly did not have to have his sermon approved before addressing the congregation.
Despite the overall sense of joy and openness within this church, there are millions of house church Christians in China who don't enjoy the same type of freedom. One member of Haidian Church said that from a theological perspective, there was no real difference between the teaching here each Sunday, and teachings from many of the house churches.
At the same time, the person admitted that even those at the Three Self churches were unable to mail Bibles to relatives in other parts of the country. Anyone could freely purchase one at Haidian's comprehensive bookstore, however.
While the religious landscape in China is not without its challenges, the powerful faith of Chinese Christians will continue to propel the impressive growth of Christianity throughout the nation.
Watch the video to see some of the church service, and to hear from Pastor Wu and other Chinese Christians.