Japan has about 127 million people. And of those 127 million people between one and two million are Christian. While the estimates vary, that's still a lot of people who are going to church each week, particularly since Christian nominalism (saying you're Christian but never going to church) is quite low in Japan.
Now you may be reading this and had no idea that there were Japanese Christians, or that there were so many, or perhaps you don't really care one way or another. If you fall into the latter case, while you are still more than welcome to keep reading this post, it may be that you would be more interested in one of Turning Japanese's more popular posts such as a funny look at the difference between wa and ga, or 10 reasons why the Japanese fall asleep on the train, or even what is the best ramen in Tokyo.
However, if you are interested, what follows is our search for a good church in Tokyo.
As many of you will know, at the start of 2014 my little family and I spent three months living in Tokyo ("The Beginning"). We are regular church goers in our home town, Sydney Australia, and wanted to attend a church for the time we were in Tokyo.
While we felt a little bit guilty for being complete church shoppers, we admit we did have certain pre-requisites for a church with a few optional extras that would have been nice. Our essentials included a faithful, Bible based, community of believers who met regularly and open to newcomers. Our optional extras included good music, convenient location (although we were willing to travel), Sunday school, and we were secretly hoping for a regular Japanese church with an integrated English speaking section.
While we asked a few people for any tips or recommendations most of our research was on the Internet - perhaps a sign of how important church websites can be these days. We found two that looked suitable and decided once we arrived in Tokyo we would check them both out.
If you are after a completely English speaking church I would recommend Tokyo International Baptist, which was in the fashionable area of Daikanyama, just past Shibuya. The most amazing thing about this church was the precision like, perhaps Japanese style, welcoming of guests and newcomers. Within minutes we were greeted, shown the church area, the Sunday school, the toilets, given outlines and church brochures and had our hand shaken so many times that I felt like a celebrity (which I'm not, in case you were wondering). We dropped our kids off, and were quickly ushered into a spare seat during the early singing being done/performed by a large and loud southern american style choir. We were impressed by the sermon and it truly lived up to the International part of its name with lots of Japanese (of course) as well as a good number of Americans, Phillipinos, South Africans, Australians, Canadians and many other people from different nationalities.
As we were still hoping for a more Japanese church, with a bit of an English section we checked out the other church - Grace City Church in Otemachi, and we loved it. It is originally a church plant from a famous New York Church Reedemer, by Tim Keller, however it is very distinctively Japanese. The service, the singing and the sermon are all in Japanese, but quite extraordinarily there is a live translation in English (four people are rostered on once a month to translate real time through headsets). This means that you can sit in and around and worship with other Japanese Christians, all while picking up the English or practising your Japanese (whatever your heart desires). The headset idea is a wonderful way to serve the English speakers, but it has the added bonus, namely if you only speak English, you know who to talk to afterwards, that is other headset wearers.
The two best things about Grace City Church were the music and the sermons. Each week a team of faithful musicians played, sang, and lead the congregation (of about 100 to 150) through some new and old songs and hymns, quite often in a very hip and cool musical style. It was a pleasure to listen to, and a wonderful way to worship God.
The sermons were also very faithful, and the preacher, Reverend Fukuda, sprinkled them with personal stories, and encouragements from the Bible and his own life.
It also has to be said that we were also incredibly welcomed by the regulars, Japanese and non-Japanese alike. In fact at our own home church in Sydney Australia, we often get short term visitors, and it is very easy to slip into the idea, "oh well, they're only here for a month" so i won't bother doing anything with them. This was not the case at all with Grace City Church, and we were personally invited to events, and church activities, went out to dinner after church with people, and to playgrounds and homes on days other than Sunday. We were amazingly blessed for our short time there, (albeit slightly rebuked but really encouarged to serve the short term visitors at our own home church).
While there are some obvious highlights for our time in Tokyo, such as all the sightseeing we did, the fascinating insight into another culture, the language, the food, the service, and the transport system, one of the less obvious highlights was seeing God's people loving and serving him in small communities, such as at Grace City Church. It was wonderful to see and play a part (if only a small one) in God's plan of salvation for Japan, and we were truly grateful, and humbled by God's kindness to us in putting us in contact with other Christians for our short stay in Tokyo.
Ministry is difficult no matter where in the world you are, and I'm sure that Grace City Church has problems like all churches, but it was interesting to take heart that God uses small, weak, and feeble attempts in the most amazing ways. At Grace City Church we saw a small struggling community of believers led by men and women who have been transformed by the power of Grace and who are transforming the lives of others by showing people God's amazing Grace.
If you are looking for an interesting, faithful and vibrant Japanese church to attend, then you definitely need to check out Grace City Church, Tokyo.
Are you visiting Tokyo and looking for a church? Do you know someone else going there and want to recommend a church? Or do you know of other faithful churches and congregations in Tokyo? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.
Here are the contact details:
Church times: 1500 Every Sunday
Address: KDDI Hall Otemachi 2nd Floor
1-8-1 Otemachi, Chiyoda, Tokyo 〒100-0004
(in Japanese)〒100-0004 東京都千代田区大手町1-8-1 KDDI大手町ビル2階