Business as mission: How is business penetrating China's vast unreached populations with the Good News?

A vendor rides her tricycle near a coal-fired power plant in Beijing in this photo dated Friday, April 12, 2013.(AP)

Business is a "significant channel for Christians to effectively impact countless people and help set them free from sin", says one business as mission (BAM) practitioner in China.  

The practitioner's comments are shared in a new report from the Think Tank group on the opportunities and challenges for BAM in China.

With China's huge economic growth and large amounts of foreign investment, there are many opportunities for doing business in the country that can be tied in with spreading the Gospel.  

For Christians, the business can open many doors to those who have never heard the Gospel and BAM practitioners are making the most of the opportunities to build on their close relationships with employees and business contacts. 

The Think Tank report gives insight into the success that BAM is having in China in bringing people to the faith, with Bible study groups being formed in business contexts and new local churches being planted.

The report surveyed 21 BAM businesses and found that all had seen decisions for Christ, discipled believers, the formation of Bible study groups, trained leaders, and believers joining local churches.

Planting churches was less frequent and only occurred at four of the BAM businesses, all of which were large companies with 250 or more employees.  One was closed due to bankruptcy.  

Although Think Tank is keen to stress that the survey does not represent the whole picture of BAM in China, some conclusions can be drawn from the experience of the practitioners in the survey group.

In terms of BAM success, the practitioners pointed to certain factors:

  • keeping a close relationship with the Lord by praying and regularly coming together with the team
  • setting a godly example in their running of the business
  • showing genuine love for the employees rather than just treating them as a "pair of hands"
  • developing relationships that are natural in the workplace
  • building on friendships with clients, buyers and business contacts
  • aiming to make disciples and not just believers

"BAM provides many outreach opportunities but it is important to go beyond just conversions. One practitioner exhorts us to think in terms of the second or third generation, to make disciples who can make disciples," the report says.

New believers is just one side of BAM's fruitfulness as the spread of the Gospel is even impacting the job market, transforming working conditions, challenging corruption, and "imparting biblical values for work and family". 

Workers pack rice in a field in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China.AP

However, the report also notes challenges as BAM continues to be pioneered.  

"The Chinese mission movement is still growing into maturity and experience of business as mission is very new," it notes. 

"The Chinese church both inside mainland China and overseas has a long way to go to fully understand and embrace the strategy of business as mission. They must learn from their own difficult experiences and also connect with the wider BAM movement in order to be more effective for the future."

There is also the reality of BAM businesses operating within a real economy against real competitors, and several had to close down.  

Other practical considerations include visa qualifications for the BAM practitioners coming from overseas. There is concern the Chinese government is going to become increasingly selective about the kinds of skilled workers it wants from overseas, and with ever more Chinese business graduates, the need for foreign experts is diminishing.  

The report also cites the cultural gap as another barrier to success in BAM as practitioners have experienced differences between Westerners and Chinese not only in their approach to business, but also their styles of communication, values and ethics.  

"Even something as basic as eating is important. One practitioner pointed out how a foreigner must understand
the differences in Chinese dining culture, 'To do business in China, one has to eat and enjoy food like the Chinese,'" the report said.

Surprisingly, practitioners report few problems from the authorities but the advice is to go where the Chinese government wants them to go, with particular opportunities opening up in new economic zones where foreign investors are being welcomed. 

One practitioner said: "BAM should go where the Chinese government is going.  If they want it done, they will help and not hinder." 

The report also highlights developmental needs within the Chinese church, with one practitioner saying that although there are many successful Chinese Christian business people in China, they "do not know how to integrate their businesses with the Gospel". 

"The Church as a whole does not know how to minister to the business owner's needs, aside from expecting them to give financially.  There is a need for successful BAM practitioners to help other Christian business people to integrate Kingdom value into their businesses," the practitioner said.  

The report concludes by noting how skilled BAM practitioners need to be if they are to have success in running a business at the same time as spreading the Gospel.  

"It is difficult for a good missionary to be a good business person unless they are equipped well and good in business practices. When it comes to money, it takes more faith to be a business person than be a missionary," the report says.

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