Sunday morning overflow at the Shanxi Lu Three-Self church in Tianjin, China

According to one of the greeter/usher/crowd-control guys (who just became my best friend for finding me a place — out of range of all the ā​yís and their unsolicited advice — where I could change a mid-Sunday school poopie diaper), the Shanxi Lu Three-Self church can hold almost 1600 in the pews. These pictures are from this morning, half-way through the early (8:30) service, outside the overflow room where people who couldn’t get seats inside the main split-level auditorium or who can’t climb stairs watch the proceedings on a video screen.

Looks like they ran out of stools.

People were even camped out around the corner listening through the side doors and windows of the overflow room:

I would have had better pictures, but these were all I was able to squeeze out of my dead camera batteries if I let them rest in between shots.

Shanxi Lu is the biggest of the four Three-Self churches in Tianjin. “Three-Self church” means a legal, registered Chinese church that is officially under the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement”, which is one of two Party organizations controlling all legal Protestant church activity in China (there are other organizations that control the Catholics). The term “three-self” is a missiological term from the 19th century referring to missionaries’ desires to have local churches be “self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating.”

ABC News’ “True Believers” feature has recent reportage on the legal, illegal-but-tolerated, and illegal-and-not-tolerated churches in China.

5 thoughts on “Sunday morning overflow at the Shanxi Lu Three-Self church in Tianjin, China”

  1. Christian greetings!

    I expect to be in Tianjin on Thursday evening (July 26) and Friday morning (July 27). I MIGHT have a few hours of free time. Is there anywhere you would especially recommend me to visit?

    I expect to be staying at Hopeway Business Hotel (No. 79 Jintang Road, Hedong District, Tianjin).

  2. Oh man, I think I might be too late to reply. I was waiting for a chance to look up some addresses for you — somehow had it in my head you were there this weekend. Anyway, I suppose it depends what you’re interested in.

    There are four TSPM churches in operation in the city, and I’m not sure how many Chinese Catholic ones. Their are two famous Catholic ones that also make good tourist/history stops: the Xi1kai1 cathedral (Lao3 Xi1Kai1) at one end of Bin1jiang1 Dao4 (large, well-known shopping street), and then there’s the Tianjin Incident/Massacre church, just off the Shi1zi lin2 bridge, close to Ancient Culture Street Gu3wen2hua4 jie1 (big tourist trap).

    If you’re adventurous with time to spare (doesn’t sound like you have the time), you could try and track down the old shuttered church buildings that were closed in the Cultural Revolution. One is/was here, and there are others.

    I actually have a big blog series on Tianjin churches that’s been 80% finished… for over two years. I’ll never get around to posting it unless I’m bedridden with some disease for two months. But here’s some notes on the other three Protestant churches:


    The Tianjin Christian Gangwei Lu Church was originally established in 1917 as an American Congregational Church, though its history as a Christian organization of one kind or another in various locations stretches back to 1860. In 1958 it was officially incorporated into the TSPM (“implemented ‘unified worship’” 实行联合礼拜). The church was forced to cease all activities in 1966 at the start of the CR. During the CR the church was damaged and occupied by a factory. In 1991 it was returned to the Tianjin Christian Church (doublecheck this), and after repairs resumed regular activities on Christmas 1993.


    According to, Xigu church was originally founded in 1901 as an American Congregational Church and began having Chinese pastors after 1933. In 1958 is was officially incorporated into the TSPM (“implemented ‘unified worship’” 实行联合礼拜) and closed. It was occupied by a factory during the CR (1966~1976). In 2003 it was returned to the Tianjin Christian Church (double check this). After undergoing restoration the first service since 1958 was held on Easter Sunday 2004. The head pastor is Vice Chairman of the Tianjin Three-Self Patriotic Committee.

    CANGMENKOU (Gulou church):

    (contact info and address English/Chinese)

  3. Hi Joel, can u tell me what time is the service on Sunday? Are there any other services on weekdays? I may be in Tianjin next march and would like to attend a church. Thank you.

    1. Hi Kim! Here’s what some Tianjin friends told me:
      8:30 and 10:30 Sunday services, with hymn practice for half hour before each. English service 5-6:30. I’ll ask again about stuff during the week. 3-Self churches usually have stuff during the week.

      1. Hi Joel, thank you very much for the information. Great to hear that they also have services in English. Do let me know when you have more details. Thank you.

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