New research from the Bible Society has revealed the fastest growing segment of the UK Church


Source: amer ghazzal / Alamy Stock Photo

We’re in dire need of some good news, aren’t we?

And, here in the UK, there is some. It’s to be found in the Chinese churches in Britain. They have seen a 28.8 per cent growth in the last two years, making them the fastest-growing churches in the UK.

The report that I’ve just published for Bible Society shows that this growth is happening largely in Cantonese congregations, boosted by people emigrating from Hong Kong to Britain since 2021.

For people arriving from Hong Kong, the church becomes a family, as well as a place of worship

One church I know in Manchester has seen a tenfold increase in its congregation. Two years ago, there were 200 people in the congregation, now there are 2,000. That brings challenges as well as delight. It is wonderful to see the church full, but what do you do when it over-fills? You find new premises. You divide the congregation into several buildings. You work very hard to keep everyone connected, to build their pastoral skills so that they can care for each other.

I’ve seen the care that people extend to each other in British Chinese churches first hand, and it is humbling and moving: meals are cooked, invitations extended. For people arriving from Hong Kong, the church becomes a family, a community, as well as a place of worship. That’s what we all seek from our churches, and, during a time of change, it’s particularly important. I heard the story of one young mother who came to the UK recently and felt very isolated. She heard two women speaking Cantonese, called out to them, and now is a member of her local church, having never attended church in Hong Kong.

This is what’s so exciting about the growth in Chinese churches in Britain: it is a missional opportunity.

Mission can seem to be something done by others somewhere else, but really it is all of our lived experience. Warmth, friendliness, openness, welcome, invitations, and yes, food, are ways in which these burgeoning Chinese congregations are, quite genuinely, connecting with other people from Hong Kong who are newly arrived in the UK.

That basic kindness is swelling the numbers in their congregations, it’s drawing people in who might not have considered church or faith before, and it is changing lives.

A unique opportunity

The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important festivals in Chinese culture. Traditionally, the moon on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar is believed to be the roundest of the year, and families gather together to enjoy the happiness and unity of the family. But, if the majority of your family and friends are in Hong Kong, what do you do? Considering that, one church that I know of held a Moon Festival in its local university campus. They expected about 75 Chinese students to attend, but it was over-subscribed with more than 300 filling the hall. All those young people heard about the love of Christ that evening: a seed was planted in their lives.

Chinese churches are also acting as a hub to help people in their transition to life in the UK – to help them register for the NHS, look for a house or find schools for their children.

This missional opportunity doesn’t just extend to Chinese-language churches. A quarter of people emigrating from Hong Kong choose to attend English-language churches. That affords local British churches the same opportunities as Chinese churches: the chance to be welcoming, friendly, and to absorb people into a community, to help with practicalities and to walk alongside people.

You belong

A warm welcome encourages us to stay anywhere, whether that’s a social gathering, a sports club, or a church. That welcome gives us the sense of belonging that we all need. Churches can offer this, and through it, the chance to discover something even more profound: the love of Christ. A warm, genuine, helpful welcome is a witness of the love of God, which can and does, impact people’s lives.

There is also another opportunity in this scenario: the chance for people from Hong Kong to have a missional impact here in the UK. It is nearly 200 years since Western missionaries brought Christianity to Hong Kong. Now, church leaders that I speak to feel a sense of mission here in Britain. They have, they say, the chance to bring the gospel back to the local people. 

As a researcher, I always find research and statistics both fascinating and exciting. But the Chinese Christianity in Britain report reveals untold opportunities for both Hong Kong and British Christians, as well as those who have yet to encounter Christ.