By 1928 Nee had settled in Shanghai. At that time throughout China there were anti-foreign demonstrations and kidnappings. Most missionaries had returned temporarily to their home countries. The future of mission-founded churches was uncertain. Many Chinese pastors had severed their links with western missions. Renting a property in Hardoon Road seating 100 people, Nee commenced preaching. Convinced of the rightness of his unstructured assembly, free from denominational traditions, he asserted, 'Those who really want to live entirely in accordance with the Lord’s truth will know real freedom in our midst.'
Soon Watchman Nee was conducting crowded services in this large commercial port. The congregation included Chinese of all social classes, as well as a number of missionaries who had left their societies to support this Chinese preacher, having accepted his severe strictures of western missionary work.
During the 1930s assemblies were established in most of China’s Home cities. The movement was particularly strong in the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian. Although Nee had been emphatic that Christians should meet 'only in the name of Jesus’, free from denominational labels, the assemblies were soon known as 'the Little Flock'. This arose because Nee had published a hymn book in 1931 called Hymns for the Little Flock, taking over the name of the hymn book of the London Party of the Exclusive Brethren in Britain. This name stuck, although Nee was careful to give a different title to his next hymn book.
By the time Mao Zedong stood up in Tian An Men Square in Peking on 1st October, 1949, and announced 'We have stood up', the Little Flock (LF) had over 70,000 members in 500 assemblies. And when the missionaries left China in the exodus of 1951 a number of conservative churches joined this fast growing movement.
Cliff, Norman H. "Watchman Nee-Church Planter and Preacher of Holiness." Evangelical Review of Theology. 8 (1984): 290.