The Mission of the Church: A Perspective from Chinese Three-Self Pastors


Myrrl Byler

Publication Date



Despite several decades of rapid church growth, there is limited information and understanding of the registered or Three-Self church in China. This study examines the understanding of the mission and purpose of the church from the perspective of select Three-Self pastors and church leaders.

The literature review is broad in its approach, providing an overview of cultural, historical, religious and political factors that have shaped the formation of the Three-Self church. Outside of China the church is frequently understood and viewed only through the lenses of the Communist era, leading to biased and incomplete perceptions.

Primary information in this study comes through interviews with eleven senior pastors within the Three-Self church. In addition, forty Three-Self pastors completed a questionnaire focused on developing an understanding of the mission and vision for the church.

The research findings examine how pastors understand the mission and vision of the church and how they view church growth. Further sections address how the church interacts with and is present in today's world and how pastors see the future of the church in their own country and culture. A final section addresses the question of the church's relationship to the government and administrative structures. The research also provides insight into the beliefs and practices of pastors within the Three-Self church, challenging negative perceptions that are sometimes expressed by outsiders focused solely on non-registered groups.

Based on these interviews and the responses to the questionnaires, I have suggested six foundational statements that I believe describe the Three-Self church in China today. These statements provide a foundational understanding for those outside of China who would like to interact and partner with believers and the church.

Generalizations and outdated stereotypes can obscure the complexity that is the church in China. A more complete understanding of the Three-Self church, its formation and the persons providing leadership, will lead to mutual learning, respect and reciprocity. The church in China is still very young but is already beginning to realize some of its potential. There is great potential for meaningful engagement and partnership that can enrich the church worldwide.

Mentor: James Krabill

Degree Name

Doctor of Intercultural Studies (DIS)

First Advisor

Krabill, James

Document Type



Three-self movement; Mission of the church; China; Protestant churches; Church growth; Mission of the church


Missions and World Christianity


Public Access: If you attend a college or university, you may be granted access for free through your school library subscription to ProQuest Theses & Dissertations. Copies may be available for purchase via ProQuest Dissertations Publishing https://dissexpress.proquest.com/search.html

Upload File


Embargo Period