April 2-8, 2012
Church leaders ponder membership decline among indigenous members in urban areas
Reported by Lin Yi-ying
Written by Lydia Ma
Urban Indigenous Christians Research Center of Taiwan Theological College and Seminary (TTCS) held a seminar in TTCS’ Activity Center on March 30, 2012, on “The present situation and future vision of urban indigenous churches”. Pastors and leaders from various indigenous presbyteries, including Atayal, Amis, Bunun, Rukai, Paiwan, were present at this seminar.
During the seminar, some pastors said bluntly that some indigenous rural churches in indigenous reservations view urban indigenous churches as their competitors and have discouraged its members of its congregation from attending or joining urban indigenous churches. As result, indigenous Christians turn to churches in other denominations instead to find spiritual nourishment and then begin attending church services there.
Another problem brought up during the seminar is that urban indigenous churches have slowly adopted the worship service format used by churches in other denominations. By adopting praise and worship, as is the trend in other churches, they have completely transformed the solemn and sacred form of worship used in Presbyterian churches and confused their congregations into thinking they are attending a church service at another denomination.
Rev. Behuy Payas from Singkayo Presbyterian Church remarked that an urban indigenous pastor’s vision of his ministry will determine the direction of urban indigenous churches. He is convinced that urban indigenous churches must return to their PCT roots and focus on holistic evangelism, which includes proclaiming the gospel, training God’s children, serving in love, social service, creation care, and connecting the gospel with the culture.
Rev. Behuy Payas also said that another problem facing urban indigenous churches is location and finances. Most of these churches are located on the 3rd or 4th floor of apartment buildings, which is very inconvenient as neighbors may complain about noise levels. However, renting 1st and 2nd floor levels are usually more expensive and beyond these churches’ ability to afford as they usually receive very little in terms of tithes and offerings.
Another concern is the decline of the use of indigenous languages in these churches as most members working in urban areas have been living in the city for many years and have consequently grown accustomed to speaking Mandarin or Taiwanese because of their work environment. Behuy Payas expressed concern at the decline in usage or estrangement of indigenous languages among indigenous churches in urban areas.
However, the lack of trust between indigenous churches in rural and urban areas was deemed as the gravest and most pressing problem. Many pastors expressed that whenever members start going to indigenous urban churches because of the location of their work, their offerings to their offerings and time also go with them. In other words, “mother churches” or rural churches experience a dramatic drop in offerings and church volunteers as people return less frequently during weekends and start attending urban indigenous churches altogether.
This has resulted in rural churches viewing urban churches as their rivals, prompting some rural church leaders to be reluctant in letting their members know about the existence and location of indigenous urban churches when they move. Though some leaders hope that this will cause some of their members to come back home more often, it has actually resulted in indigenous Christians going to other denominations to find a spiritual home, which in turn means a loss of members for the PCT as a whole.
Urban Indigenous Christians Research Center coordinator and TTCS professor, Cheng Yang-en, said that the purpose of this seminar is to provide a means for indigenous pastors in rural and urban churches to get acquainted and dialogue so that these problems can be resolved. He hoped that such an opportunity would help indigenous churches flourish and grow and underscored that TTCS would continue to hold such seminars if they can truly help pastors in their ministries.