Winning the Land Of The Rising Sun to Christ is an uphill task, but one Japanese church is taking it on.
|PHOTO COURTESY OF FUKUOKA HARVEST CHURCH|
For the last two decades, Japan’s post-war “economic miracle” years seem to be losing its vigor. The country’s economy, which had consistently held second spot behind the United States, is now the third largest economy in the world after being surpassed by China this year.
A NATION IN WANE?
Many observers point out that the Japanese economy took a beating when the Asian economic bubble burst in the 1990s. Since then, her economy has remained largely stagnant. On top of its current economic challenges, Japan faces a massive public debt and a society that is facing an ageing and shrinking population.
According to the World Health Organization, Japan has one of the world’s highest suicide rates. Annually, the number of suicides in Japan has exceeded 30,000 for 12 consecutive years. These staggering figures seem to acutely reflect the sense of malaise and hopelessness felt among the Japanese.
LACKLUSTER STATE OF CHURCHES IN JAPAN
City Harvest Church member Naomi Lee is a Japanese national who has resided in Singapore since 2001 after marrying a Singaporean. Despite her migration, the 37-year-old remains deeply attached to her homeland and keeps close tabs on Japan’s development.
She believes that the current situation in Japan is closely linked to the lackluster state of the churches in Japan who have remained “backward” in spite of the many changes in Japan over the years.
“I’ve observed with my frequent missions trips back to Japan that there has been little or no improvement in the spiritual condition in the land,” Lee says. “It seems that most churches in Japan are ‘closed up’ and not open to the power of God doing new things.”
Another reason for the lackluster state of churches is the lack of leadership renewal. It is reported that there is a growing number of elderly pastors leading the churches in Japan. And most of these pastors take on the main responsibilities and do everything within their churches, leading to burnout and low morale.
A survey conducted last year by the Church Information Service in Japan revealed that the total number of churches in Japan—7,879—had a combined church membership of 558,644 and a total average weekly service attendance of 279,932 with all churches combined.
Christianity in Japan is a minority religion, with less than one percent of the total population (127 million) counting themselves Christians. Out of the total Christian population, only 0.4 percent are members of a local church and only 0.2 percent attend church regularly.
Year-on-year comparisons from the last couple of years show evidence of a decline of Christianity’s significance in Japan. Currently, the average size of one church in Japan stands at 30 to 50 people.
HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN JAPAN
Just as the economy in Japan had her boom days, Christianity in Japan had its moments as a flourishing religion, but it has yet to take deep root.
Historically, Christianity first arrived in Japan in 1549 and flourished through the work of Francis Xavier, a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest who arrived with the Portuguese. Back then, it was Japan’s first contact with the Western world and her leaders were eager for the interchange of ideas and trading of commodities.
However, the embracing of Christianity then was likely for political motives as Japanese leaders and militants saw the advantages of Christian proselytization which improved prospects of trade with the Portuguese for firearms. Conversely, Christianity was also outlawed for political reasons through later centuries.
It was not until the Meiji restoration in the early 20th century that a resurgence of Christianity took place. This was made possible with the entry of Protestant missionaries after the arrival of the Americans.
But soon, the Japanese feared the erosion of the Japanese way of life through Westernization (and Christianization) and started to distance themselves from Christianity.
After World War II, many Japanese were left despondent and started to embrace Christianity again. However, shortly after the growth of Japanese economic affluence from the 1960s, Christianity again saw a decline.
CHRISTIANITY GOING CONTEMPORARY IN JAPAN
Despite the seemingly adverse spiritual condition that Japan is in, there are a few churches that are boldly defying the status quo by being a progressive and contemporary church in this 21st century. One such church is Fukuoka Harvest Church (http://fhc.qee.jp).
FHC is a 300-member church that has embraced the Cultural Mandate and has been proactively becoming a “church without walls.” One such initiative is the church’s “One Seed” youth outreach event held in Fukuoka City.
One FHC member, Mio Manno, who graduated from the School Of Theology in 2010, started a hip hop dance class in order to reach the youth. Her dance group was one of the performing items during “One Seed” to inspire the 100 youths who were present to share Christ in a relevant manner.
“The only way to transform Japan is with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I’m encouraged by FHC, which is bridging Christ relevantly to the youths,” said CHC’s missions pastor Bobby Chaw, who was a guest preacher at the recent “One Seed” youth event.
Chaw strongly believes that all Japan needs is one church to be the spark that will bring revival to this nation, just as how Christianity in Taiwan has experienced a resurgence in the last decade.
THE WORK NEEDED IN JAPAN
The Church of Jesus Christ must carry the love of God and spread that love to the people of Japan. God loves Japan and so Christians have a mission to save her. That responsibility belongs to every Christian, not just pastors.
The strengthening of churches remains the first on the list as a key strategy, to be carried out by empowering every believer to be part of God’s redemptive purpose for the Church.
Consequently, this would allow the pastors to lead their churches effectively in reaching the unsaved with the appropriate support from the church members.
Ultimately, with every believer active in love and service, Japanese believers can be united to release the love of God to touch the people of Japan and draw them to Christ.