Area: 377,801 sq km
A 3,000 km arc of four large islands (Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kyushu) and 3,000 small islands in NW Pacific. Mountainous; only 13% can be cultivated.
Population: 126,995,411 Annual Growth: -0.07%
Official language: Japanese Languages: 16 All languages
Largest Religion: Buddhist
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Specific challenges facing the Church:
a) Christianity is still regarded as an outside, Western religion rather than a universal faith with the capacity to be truly Japanese. This is despite 500 years of Christian presence in Japan. This also allows for confusion between various Western cultural imports and genuinely Christian expressions of the good news.
b) The minority complex. Christians are a tiny minority in a society where consensus and conformity are important. Too few families come to faith, and too many individuals feel exposed. Pray for the Church to reach the size of critical mass and native character that will give it social credence and acceptability.
c) Unity is lacking in a Church that numbers only 1.5% of the population. Literally hundreds of denominations and groups exist along very fragmented lines. Such organizational and theological divides and lack of nationwide cooperation hamper progress and increase attrition rates. The United Church and the JEA have started enjoying much improved relations.
d) A new way of doing church needs to be discovered. Too often traditions and forms of worship have authority nearly equal to the Bible itself. Nonessential forms of the Church must be adapted to look less like the introduced Western culture of years past and more like 21st-century Japan. House churches are another way of reaching Japanese who are uncomfortable with being part of traditional churches.
e) The strong Confucian tradition in Japan has admirably created a society with high ethical standards; the need for the Church to maintain these standards as a minimum can often lead congregations into legalism.
f) Non-active membership and backsliding. Church attendance is low; less than half of church members regularly attend. Often, Christians are influenced by the Buddhist/Shinto religions, which have no regular attendance requirements, and they carry this thinking into Christian activities. Although evangelicals number up to 0.5% of the population, regular Protestant church attendance may be less than half of that.
g) Too few viable, active congregations. At least 70% of all churches have an average attendance of less than 30. Too much is expected of the pastor. Pray for pastors willing to activate lay people to engage in persistent, innovative outreach to non-Christians. Most churches will not have even one baptism in any given year!
h) The lack of men in churches. The drive for success and desire to satisfy the demands of employers make it hard for men to openly identify with and become active in a church. On average, women attenders outnumber men 7 to 1.
The impact of the Japanese Church on the nation is inadequate. The Church must turn from its insular, bunker mentality to engage with society. The government is not adequately solving the social ills confronting Japan; the transforming power of Christ, as expressed through a revived Church, is an answer not being adequately offered. There is, however, a new emphasis on evangelism in many churches and a willingness to try new paradigms of ministry. Pray for Christianity to have a massive and redemptive impact on the nation.
For an additional 12 Challenges for Prayer see Operation World book, CD-ROM, or DVD-ROM.
The Operation World book, CD-ROM, and DVD-ROM provide far more information and fuel for prayer for the people of Japan.