Churches in China are non-denominational, or “post-denominational,” according to official law which prohibits autonomous churches beyond the local congregation, but in reality there are new networks and emerging movements that are bringing back denominational differences, even if they are increasingly indigenous. Those are some of the findings of a chapter on Chinese post-denominationalism by Chloe Starr in the new book The Changing World Religion Map (Springer), edited by Stan Brunn. While the official church, known as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, and even the mainstream unregistered churches have become unified and de-emphasize denominational differences to the point of their disappearance, new independent, often home-based groups, such as the Word of Life, the Fangcheng Fellowship, and the Sinim Fellowship, are less easily merged with the others (although they have established a degree of unity among themselves).
China’s drive to unify the churches was mainly to make them autonomous of outside control, but it was easier when there were fewer unofficial groups and a less individualized communist state; today, “in an era of greater individualism…[there is a] “kaleidoscope of different allegiances, groupings, networks, and even sects,” Starr writes. “There are still voices holding out for the older vision of post-denominationalism, for a single Chinese church which enfolds all other divisions within itself…but events have surely overtaken such an ideology. “The real challenge is for the government to “find new ways to legitimize and manage the array of evolving church groups.”