Research addresses “silent exodus”

English Ministry Crisis in Chinese Canadian ChurchesEnglish Ministry Crisis in Chinese Canadian Churches
Matthew Richard Sheldon Todd
Wipf and Stock

Many bicultural Chinese churches are grappling with the issue of the “silent exodus” of Canadian-born Chinese (CBC). This book from Matthew Todd, based on the survey research for his doctoral thesis, is a great resource for pastors, church leadership and lay leaders. It provides insights on the leading factors affecting those who “drop out” and those who “remain in.”

Todd sets out a good framework for his research project with a comprehensive literature review, descriptions of the context of English ministry and key theological considerations. He advocates a retention solution based on an associated parallel independent English congregation model. He further recommends an action plan based on various empowerment and transformational leadership principles.

While the empirical data from the research is valuable on its own, the survey did not include the comparative perceptions of the Overseas-born Chinese (OBC) on this topic nor the general reasons for people changing churches. The latter should be taken into account when considering an optimal English ministry model and a vision for change.

There is no “one size fits all” organizational model. Each church has its unique calling, history, demographics, values and past conflicts. Irrespective of how the English ministry model evolves over time, it is the change process that matters.

I concur with Todd that a prerequisite to addressing the silent exodus is leadership commitment to systematic and sustainable change. That process should respect the points of view of both the CBC and OBC. Todd also identifies relationship as a key retention factor that should not be overlooked when seeking ways to maximize the mission/vision potential of bicultural churches.

David H. Leung is assistant conference minister for Chinese churches for the B.C. Mennonite Brethren conference.

2 Comments on “Research addresses “silent exodus”

  1. Ethnic churches are a type of polite apartheid–Canadian-born Chinese are Canadian and thus want to go to Canadian Churches (while still having respect and love for their roots). Where or what is a Canadian church these days? By silo-ing “ethnic” communities like the Chinese, we insult them when we assume they want to go to a ghetto Church, as if they aren’t “real” Canadians (are the “white” Churches filled with the “real” Canadians?). Meanwhile, out in the secular world, there is a much more successful integration, and way more respect for diversity. Incidentally, “ethnic” Churches assume that white people are not “ethnic” which is simply untrue–there are many ethnic ghettos of white people, but their Churches go unlabelled, in fact, we call these Churches “community” Churches. Canada needs to depart from this “ethnic” model of Church growth–it’s lazy Church growth, and short sighted. It also is simply un-Biblical, the early Church crossed ethnic boundaries and was brave and courageous, modelling love and excellence.

    • Brian I think you have a wrong idea about who’s creating these churches. Chinese people are fiercely loyal to their nationality, and their sense of family and community is stronger than it has become now in the West. They want to come to church together – especially OBCs who don’t know the language or culture here, and so create them themselves. No one is forcing them to go to a “ghetto church” as you inelegantly described them – they do want to go, we don’t have to assume (if they didn’t, they wouldn’t).

      Their Canadianized children then grow up in those churches, who straddle the worlds between Chinese but also Western, but because the OBCs don’t allow them to have agency over their own worship experiences (and don’t see them as adults, even when they are), many decide to leave (as per the book – which I haven’t read yet but it’s on order).

      At least, this is my experience as an English pastor at a Chinese church in Winnipeg. But what do I know?

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