- New Series: 30 Days on the Chinese Church
- Developmental Stages of a Chinese Church
- The CFC Story: Moving toward Maturity
- Why Translated Services Don’t Work
- Growing Pains
- Models of Ministry in Chinese Churches
- A Tale of Two Mailboxes
- Why we don’t have a Senior Pastor
- Unity and Diversity in a Chinese Church
- Maintaining Unity in a Chinese Church
- The Resource Pyramid
- Why Leadership Training is Job #1
- How to Equip Spiritual Leaders
- Leadership and Culture
- Leadership and Culture (Part 2)
- The Jerusalem Council: Consensus Decision Making
- English Ministry Pastor Shortage
- Reaching Adults: The Importance of Ownership
- The Power of Vision
- Caring for Co-workers
- Culture and Biblical Truth
- What about Asian American Churches?
- Advice to a Young ABC Pastor
- Advice to an OBC Senior Pastor
- Reflections on a Series
An increasing number of ABCs are being attracted to English only Asian American churches instead of bilingual Chinese churches. What should we make of this trend? What does it say to the Chinese church?
The Growth of Asian American Churches
The term “Asian American Churches” is sometimes used as a general category for all ethnic Asian churches, including bilingual immigrant churches. But at other times it is used in a more narrow sense of churches which primarily target English speaking Asians. Although they both are working toward being truly multi-ethnic, two of the most well known Asian American churches are Evergreen Baptist Church and New Song Church, both in Los Angeles. Other churches such as the Asian American Church of Houston intentionally and deliberately focus on Asian Americans.
The fact is that churches which are predominantly Asian American, whether they call themselves “multi-ethnic” or not, are very attractive to a wide range of ABCs. Because of this, OBC church leaders are sometimes critical of these churches because they attract away the young adults who are so essential to developing a mature EM (English Ministry). Obviously most OBC pastors are going to be less than excited when a new AA (Asian American) church starts up nearby because they might lose some of their EM co-workers. The AA churches are sometimes seen as dangerous competition for scarce co-workers.
Unfortunately, in some cases new AA churches are founded by disgruntled leaders from the EM in a bilingual Chinese or Korean church. As a result these churches can carry a lot of baggage due to the way that they feel they have been misunderstood and mistreated in a bilingual church. The not-so-subtle message of these leaders is that the Chinese church is hopelessly broken, and that the best thing for ABCs to do is to abandon ship and start new, healthy, hip AA churches. Needless to say, leaders of bilingual churches take a dim view of this sort of rhetoric.
There are plenty of AA churches without the sort of baggage described above, and there are many OBC leaders who are not suspicious of AA churches, but church leaders with these views do exist. There must be a way for these churches to move beyond mutual suspicion and mistrust.
The Need for Different Kinds of Churches
Both bilingual and AA churches are an essential part of God’s work among Asians in the U.S. Some ABCs who are more Americanized or who just don’t want to deal with a bilingual environment will prefer a different type of church. Personal background can be a factor as well. I suspect that those ABCs who had a relatively healthy relationship with their parents end up with a more positive view of Chinese language and culture, and are more likely to be happy in a bilingual church. Those who had a difficult relationship with their parents do not want to be around OBCs who remind them of their parents every Sunday. Different types of churches can reach different types of people. There is no single type of church that can reach everyone.
As long as immigrants continue to arrive from Asia and as long as they continue to have children there will be a need for bilingual churches with a strong English Ministry. It would be a tragic mistake for all EM co-workers to “abandon ship” and leave an entire generation of young ABCs without anyone to reach them. Surely God has called some ABCs to make a long term commitment to building a healthy EM in bilingual churches.
In his book Pursuing the Pearl, Ken Fong uses the metaphor of a freshwater stream to describe the immigrant generation. They can’t “build a dam” to keep their children in a cultural pond and prevent them from moving downstream toward cultural integration. He argues that it is inevitable that the 2nd and 3rd generation will become increasingly influenced by American culture and will require a new type of church.
But in his talk at the Asian American Leadership Conference in 2004, Fong reminded us of the continued need for healthy bilingual churches. He urged young ABC leaders to consider remaining in bilingual churches and serving there and criticized those who were too quick to try to run off and start AA churches. As I recall, he presented this topic as a balance to the argument in his book for AA churches. If you can find a source for the tape of this talk, it would be worth hearing.
Looking ahead, it is vital that we have strong AA churches as well as strong bilingual churches. Is there a way to forge some sort of partnership between these types of churches? What would that look like? How could it come about?
Now it’s your turn. . .
- If you are an ABC, what do you think are the pros and cons of serving in these two types of churches?
- How could an AA church and a bilingual church work together in a mutually beneficial partnership? What common goals might bring them together?