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Love ’em and Leave ’em

Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be a tension of sorts when we discuss Asian American Christians. For one, the immigrant churches are not happy that their children don’t consider the mother church “home”. Church leaders and pastors would be deeply saddened, or should be, when they hear what I hear from more than a few young, professional Asian Americans. Namely, “I don’t see what the point of dealing with all the politics and the rumors and the dating scene. I just want to worship and get fed spiritually. It’s not that I don’t want to go to an Asian church, I just don’t see the need to put up with all that other stuff.”

Defenders of ethnic churches would bristle at the notion that the annoying social dynamics of the immigrant church are that different from the dynamics in any other church in any country. And they probably are, to some extent, right. Our generation is perhaps to a flaw, intolerant of the disciplined Christian life. The younger generation is quick to point out the bulk in church bureaucracy and accusing their parents of putting the “hip” back in hypocrisy, but scarce to prove that they themselves carry any weight at all, fluttering from church to church or without nary a reverent moment from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall. English Ministries around the country buck at notion that they are treated as thirty-something-year-old children, while the “adults” point back and accuse the congregation of financially barely being able to sustain itself.

Put that together and you find a less-than-vibrant immigrant church for young adults, a vibrant parachurch, and a great frontier of the unknown, the space between college and childbearing, where our churches can barely touch and our small groups only know in part. They are occupied: furthering their careers, exploring relationships, developing hobbies, and stretching their wings out in for what many of them consider their first time independence. It only seems reasonable that they grow weary of episodic churches with their baggage and vestiges of their parents’ constant bickering or life appraising (“Judy drives a new 5-series”; “Michael went to MIT”; “Peter got married to a nice Korean girl”). I can see their point when they say they just want to go to church. Perhaps there anonymity is a good license to carry, if but for a season.

So we hope that they find church, mourn that the immigrant church loses out even if it’s for a season, but we don’t know what to do there to bridge the gap. More importantly, if there is something really to be said as to why they should come to an Asian American church, do we know how to articulate it well enough to attract them? Since very few churches can “push” their goods out (to use marketing terms), how do you “pull” them in? Do we love ’em and leave ’em? Or do they love us and leave us?


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

2 responses to “Love ’em and Leave ’em

  1. nfong ⋅

    I think the the question is more than ‘how can we keep the young generation at our church or attract them to it?’. I’m not sure that there are any bridges to be found there. Politics, rumors, dating issues will be in every church .. not just the ethnic ones. From my experience … even if it isn’t much yet … it is simply about the relationships that we have with each other. I could be wrong, but I think one of the underlying problems is that the younger generation wants to be loved, to know that they are loved and to know God’s love.

    “Do we love ‘em and leave ‘em? Or do they love us and leave us?”
    Are those really the right questions? church is Church (members of it), it doesn’t really matter which building we end up in. Are the older adults, parents, willing to support the younger generation where ever they are called to … even if it is another church? Is the younger generation willing to value the ethnic church they maybe grew up in and to have God bless that church wherever they may be. And more importantly are we all willing to go before God in prayer for each other and the church .. not seeking what we think is best, or the way we want things to be but seeking God’s heart for each other and the church … I guess that’s not always found in the ethnic and immigrant churches.

    Maybe I’m just a naive college student pondering an impossible hypothetical. From what I’ve been reading and hearing about Asian American’s and the church … it just seems to me that something is missing or not quite right about the approach or attitude towards the subject.

  2. Great comment nfong. I think you hit the nail right on the head when you say that the things that we’d like to see are not always found in the ethnic and immigrant churches. This is where I feel that there is too much self-interest in our churches and that we should have the attitude of accepting our shortcomings and re-evaluating what our roles are as ethnic churches. I think often, the trend is to mimic what we see other churches doing, but ultimately that is self-defeating.

    The approach then, as you point out, is not quite right.

    Drawing from some of my experience in the marketplace, there is a new notion even in business, where functionality trumps brand. People aren’t as loyal to brand names as they used to be, and thus how long a product can be expected to dominate the market is much shorter. The products have to change, improve, diversify, or differentiate in order to maintain market share. Then, you can create “community” around products. For instance, a Mini Cooper club, a Mac Users Group, etc. The interesting aspect of what you point as necessary, “the younger generation wants to be loved”, can happen when the ethnic church fights to not to “be like everyone else” or be the “one-stop shop” for church, but becomes very specific in its focus.

    Because ultimately, the church, whether it acknowledges it or not, is being more of a component of everyday Christian life, rather than the center of it. The ethnic church intrinsically has something to offer to us as their children, but we rarely hear about how our ethnicity connects with our faith. Most defer to a faith that is not culture-specific, and others are satisfied that people of the same culture are gathered there to worship. However, neither model draws both together to say our faith comes directly out of our culture, and our culture is under construction, and the builder of that is our faith in Jesus Christ.

    So, in short, while I’d agree with you, the act of loving and leaving them isn’t really the question, but the notion that we’ll always be around and things can stay the same is unacceptable. There is a sense of urgency when you know that the other party may not be around. We should act like we have something to impart sooner rather than later, and we should act as though the Gospel is more valuable than any ‘brand’ name item that is looking to get its product off the shelf.

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