The Chinese Church in America: Living in a Grand Mix of Cultures

Editor’s note: Pastor Gao Zhen serves the house church in Beijing. He and many other pastors are thinking critically and writing about issues related to the spread of Christianity in China. In this post, Pastor Gao reflects on the Christian faith among overseas Chinese, the diversity of overseas Chinese, and his hope for increased connection between overseas and mainland Chinese believers.

The first wave of Chinese immigrants to the U.S. was mostly from Hong Kong, the second was from Taiwan, and the current wave of Chinese immigrants is from mainland China. There are a lot of immigrants and exchange students coming to the U.S. The Chinese church in the U.S. basically has three languages: Cantonese, English, and Mandarin. So although it might be a Chinese church, it’s actually a multicultural church. 

These days, there are fewer and fewer people coming to the American Chinese church from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Most newcomers are from mainland China. When a mainland person comes to the U.S., they might visit the church. The churches visit different schools and look for Chinese students. They will be very aggressive in their evangelism, bring the students to the church, and the churches will actually assist these students in their day-day-day lives. But today it is different than it was ten years ago. A decade or so ago, most Chinese students were poor. All you had to say was: “We have free lunch!” The students would come.

But many of today’s Chinese students are fu er dai [“rich second generation,” used to refer to the children of China’s nouveau riche]. These students come to the States and buy a car, no problem. The church can help them get their driver’s license. But after they get the church’s help with their license, the students never return. It is like they have been vaccinated against the church.

There are a lot of visiting scholars in the U.S. as well. They usually come to the States for a year. They are sent by the government, and often lack the language skills necessary to communicate freely with their U.S. professors. The reason they come is to broaden their horizons. After a year, the visiting scholars are required to return to China. 

Now, many of these visiting professors do want to attend church. Cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses take advantage of this. The Witnesses will teach them English, and use English classes to do Bible studies with them. When our [orthodox] churches are not fervent in this type of outreach, visiting Chinese are more attracted to the heretical ministries, because these groups are more aggressive. If the scholars spend all their time for a year with Jehovah’s Witnesses, when they return to China, they are already entrenched in the cult. It is hard to change their mind again.

Never miss a story

Sign up to receive our weekly email with our original articles.

According to my observation, Chinese churches in the U.S. are living in a grand mix of cultures. Chinese culture is actually a subset of the big cultural diversity in America, and Chinese culture is subordinate to the main U.S. culture. The Chinese people try to learn American culture, but it is difficult; yet they are not truly Chinese anymore because they have been in the U.S. so long.

I will give an example to illustrate. When we pray in China, the more we pray, the more we feel energized. Why? Because every time you say a sentence, everyone responds “Amen!” very loudly. In the U.S. churches, you are more “civilized” in your prayers: “…Thanks to the Lord… our Father in heaven…” These are very low-tone prayers from beginning to the end! Nobody says amen except at the very end when they hear the phrase, “In the name of Jesus we pray.” I have noticed that even then, not everyone says amen! Now in the Chinese churches, we respond very loudly. But Chinese churches in the U.S. are also very quiet! They learned this from Americans, not from Chinese in China. 

Pastors from mainland China find it hard to shepherd Chinese churches in the U.S., because these churches require you to know Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. If you are a pastor from the mainland, you are good in Mandarin, you might be okay in English, but you definitely do not know Cantonese. So you cannot truly shepherd those that only speak Cantonese. Now there are more mainlanders, so we need more pastors from China. But if you are a pastor who was raised in America, you do not truly understand the Chinese church. I would say Chinese churches in the U.S. actually find it hard to serve the churches in China, and the churches in mainland China find it hard to influence Chinese churches in the U.S. Even though we are all called the Chinese church, we have major differences.

A lot of people come to faith here in the U.S., and they answer God’s call to be full-time gospel workers. But do you know the problem with returning to China? In China, they ask pastors to be poor, to be always busy, and to be willing to die at any time. So when these pastors see life in the U.S., they think, “Wow! Now I can have a good life!” Pastors in America are not called to be totally spiritual. They become secularized. 

In the next decade, I encourage those pastors who came to faith in the U.S. to go back to China. Maybe they could go to China and do a one-year internship at a house church in China before they return to lead churches in the States. I believe this would be a great blessing for the church.

Share This Story

Further Reading

Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
Read More
Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
Read More
Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
Read More


With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.


  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church



About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.


Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.


Stories from Qingdao

About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.


Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.


Stories from Chongqing

About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.


Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.


Stories from Changchun

About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.


Stories from Guangzhou

About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.


Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.


Stories from Shenzhen

About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 


Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.


Stories from Beijing

About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.


Stories from Shanghai


A short message about partnering with us.