Regroup, Adjust, Entrust and Walk in Partnership
By Rev Arnold Chow
May 14, 2023
Last month, the Alliance Bible Seminary organized a conference on “Molding the Future of Hong Kong Churches.” I had the opportunity to offer my observations and suggestions on the issue of “Temporary Shortage of Church Leaders under the Emigration Wave in Hong Kong.” I would also like to share them with the NPAC family here.
In Hong Kong churches, the emigration wave has led to a drop in attendance and an outflow of those who serve, and the NPAC family is no exception. Before the pandemic, more than 6,000 attended our worship services. When normalcy is resumed after the pandemic, there are only over 4,000 who attend on-site worship services (with a count of more than 5,000 a week for online worship services). The strength of NPAC’s pastoral team has also dropped from over 60 four years ago to over 50 at present (including those who have retired or left their ministry roles). Still, there is no need for us to wallow in self-pity.
Universal phenomenon: In fact, overseas churches also face the issue of temporary shortage of leaders after the pandemic. Their surveys found that on top of the drop in attendance in on-site worship services, the number of those who serve voluntarily has also dropped significantly. So even after church reopening, those who serve have not fully returned to church or to their serving roles. Meanwhile, pastors do not know where to find new blood to serve.
Likewise for voluntary services outside the church. The pandemic has led to the community’s increased need for services by non-profit organizations. Compared to the time before the pandemic, however, the number of voluntary workers has dwindled and it is increasingly difficult to recruit new workers. The problem of “outflow” is not confined to Hong Kong or Hong Kong churches. It is a universal problem after the pandemic.
Regroup, reorganize: In such new horizons, Hong Kong churches need to review whether they would continue with their current decision-making processes. To a certain extent, the shock we experienced these few years reflects our health situation or where our weak points are. In the smooth old days, the church responded to different needs with more and more ministries and varied activities, and the pandemic did the hard braking for the church. The church must discern what are indispensable. We must know why the church exists, and for what unique mission we will move forward.
After the pandemic, the church cannot resume normalcy without thinking. If the church can reaffirm the original mission we received, simplify and streamline, regroup and strengthen so as to have clear workflow and direction, I trust that congregants who remain in Hong Kong will be able to continue to commit themselves.
Adjust, entrust: Hong Kong churches experience a temporary shortage of leaders partly because no one would serve as leaders. It can also be interpreted as there are people but none is yet suitable. Yet, the church cannot simply wait for “suitable” candidates to appear. Rather, we should groom the new generation that is still in Hong Kong and adjust the ministry roles to “suit” them.
The church should not be merely filling vacancies but we should make adjustments in various aspects in accordance with the characteristics of the new generation. Through frank exchanges, we will be able to hear from the new generation their fears, imaginations, expectations and aspirations for the future of the church. After all, “the temporary leader shortage” is a question of “to trust or not to trust.” As long as we can trust that the younger generation also loves this church family and be quick to listen to each other and slow to criticize, it is possible for us to make the journey together.
In the post-pandemic new horizons, the church is faced with many uncertainties. Amidst all the changes, may the church be steadfast in its mission and be faithful to Christ the Lord at all times!
(This is an excerpt from the paper published for the conference on “Molding the Future of Hong Kong Churches 2023” by the Alliance Bible Seminary.)