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The Secret of Church Growth Series: Yan Fook Case Study I

Dialogue with Rev. Patrick Wing-Chi So of Yan Fook Church, Evangelical Free Church of China, Hong Kong
Sep 28, 2007 05:31 AM EDT

HONG KONG - Yan Fook Church, under the umbrella of Evangelical Free Church of China, has become a legend of church growth in this prosperous city in Southern China.

The 5000-member church today once had a humble beginning when 100 people gathered every Sunday in a primary school near the Kowloon City in 1986. By 1996, the church has grown 8 times more as it moved to a new worship location. One year later, the number of members has escalated to 2,000. Until today, it still keeps its steady growth while the number of regular Sunday worshippers reaches 10,000.

As Yan Fook Church celebrates its 20th anniversary, grace and joy is overflowing. Looking upon the achievement of Yan Fook Church, senior pastor Rev. Patrick Wing-Chi So shared with the Gospel Herald about his experience. Despite the frequent relocation of the Yan Fook Church since its beginning, the number of believers still increased by folds. What is the secret?

Rev. So says it is vital to go back to basic, namely, the mission of Jesus Christ, inspiring people to be His disciples, baptizing them in the name of Jesus Christ and telling them to follow Jesus’ teachings. In addition, "quality" should always be emphasized over "quantity", he says.

Yan Fook Church missionaries are called to shut the two important backdoors to prevent the lost of congregation, one of the backdoors is the new church comers. The first kind of church comers is called the "seeker". Missionaries must guide them to Jesus and set them up as disciples. Each seeker is required to follow a special program consisting of three stages, namely, the Powerful Gospel, Reconstruction of Values and Living a New Life. The program is followed by Sunday school in which they have an overview of the New Testament, Old Testament, fundamentalism, apologetics and other theological topics. Besides, Yan Fook hosts some practical programs such as pre-marriage counseling, marriage enrichment and parenting advice.

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While a new comer is baptized, he will enter the second stage. The Church will start to encourage him to take up a serving role in the church, such as being a team member, a vice team leader, a team leader, and then assistant group leader, group leader even until deacons. Group leader training, senior group leader training and Bible training are all available in Yan Fook.

When asked whether the Yan Fook Church will try to imitate the model of some western mega churches such as Rick Warren’s ministry. Rev. So suggested that the Rick Warren's model is mainly based on teaching and self-recognition, one course following another until the end. However, particular concern for each individual is more important than such systematic guidance in pastoral ministry, in another words, it is to make people "feel at home", Rev. So says.

For the second backdoor to prevent the lost of congregation, it is that cell group leaders must function perfectly in guiding each member of the church. Bible study is highly emphasized. Cell group leaders must have bible studies guided by missionaries whereas other church members will be guided by cell group leaders.

As the congregation increases and becomes more diverse, forming a united and powerful community comes in as the second most important step. As a metropolitan church, members of Yan Fook come from all over the world. Sisters and brothers will root themselves once they find a suitable group and cultivate a strong sense of belonging.

The elder system was established in Yan Fook Church in 2004 after several years’ discussion. Actually according to the tradition of Evangelical Free Church, a Church does not have the elder system, but Yan Fook has become too big that the traditional system can no longer satisfy the need. Yan Fook Church decides that the elder system is not a structure representing the authority, but serves a spiritual guide helping to nurture young missionaries and deacons. The system is believed to have solidified the foundation of the Church.

Rev. So says God blessed Yan Fook Church greatly for everything comes from His grace. It is not the strategy that has made the Church grow. Rather, it is because co-workers, deacons, cell group leaders and all members of Yan Fook being united in one heart, Yan Fook Church can be able to become more and more prosperous. Each individual’s relationship between God and the interpersonal relationship between church members are of foremost importance.

[Editor’s Remarks: There is no shortcut for church development. The secret to be blessed for a church is to work as a united team in the name of Jesus. In the next interview Rev. So will share his experience as minister.]

[Editor's note: The interview was conducted by Chris Chan in Hong Kong.]

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