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Do church youth programs kill faith?

Apparently, from the link (h/t Peter Ong), it can at least cause depression among our youth. That alone is a terrifying thought.

Is the segregation of adult worship services and youth worship services really conducive to understanding what worship is? Is the presentation / proclamation of the gospel necessarily different based on age?

Asian American churches seem to really make sure this division is in place, no matter how small the congregation is. In fact, most Asian American churches spread out according to the cultural narrative: men congregate with men; women gravitate towards one another; and children find each other. At the very least, adults separate from children. They reconvene when it’s time to go home.

I understand the problems. There are language issues and culture issues, but is it fair to say the hierarchy being lived out under the roof of the church has caused the disenchantment of the youth to the point that when kids become adults, they see no reason to go back under that roof?

I see this as a convenience and comfort issue. But the costs are pretty huge. Ethnic identity requires a sense of history. Language is verbalized culture, and we lose access to our own tongues with every passing season we spend in separate congregations. And this sense of separation means that we are more estranged to a key source of the combination of ethnic and spiritual formation, our parents. And this has the dual result of making our parents’ churches ignorant of issues that would a real and relevant edge to our faith, and again culturally orphaning the next generation. This split does more to explain the silent exodus than anything else, so the question remains, why do we continue to do this?


About David Park

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

5 responses to “Youth-enAsia

  1. mrpages ⋅

    The Presbyterian Church of Canada did a study 20 years ago that linked the amount of time youth spent segregated from worship with the rate of non-attendance as adults. The older kids are when they are re-introduced to the “normal” Sunday service instead of having a dedicated program, the lower the percentage of them attend church as adults. Direct, linear correlation.

    That’s one of the things that led us to keep our kids with us in service, regardless of their age.

    I can only imagine the added impact of cultural issues as well as spiritual.

  2. Charles

    Fascinating topic. This is a question I’ve wondered myself as I saw many of my friends leave church over the years… myself having a season of that as well. Yet, one thing that I do also have to point out is that that’s an awful amount of pressure and responsibility given to the church. Granted that church is an extremely significant part of the AsianAm communities… it is also just 1-2 days out of the week. If the issue is identity formation… within the context of faith… these are two incredibly multifaceted continuums that take place in areas much much beyond the 4 walls of the church. From the identity formation and reinforcement within the family (which is a huge question because so many AsianAm parents push their kids towards “success” and assimilation)… from the need to hear one’s own story told within educational curriculums (while constantly being bombarded with the white american story)… etc etc. you get the point.

    Personally… my own identity formation came living and working in innercity Chicago for a year. It was as I spent time learning about the African-American experience… that I was forced to dig deeper into myself and bring something to the table that was my own. But you learn that through the need and desire of learning it. Before that point, I didn’t feel the need to explore those vague areas of identity and cultural hybridity.

    That said, the AsianAm church does have much it could do… since it does hold a significant seat in the community. And the suggestion you gave about multi-generational worship is a great idea (or at least i think that’s the suggestion you gave). I just hope that the vision of identity formation far expands outside of the church as well. Displaying the correlation of church youth programs to the exodus of the church… seems a bit too simplistic.

  3. great insight mr pages. that makes sense to me.

    and charles, great story. my own sense of urgency ironically began when i spent years outside of the ethnic church as well. i particularly like your use of the word, hybridity :). i don’t know if that’s a word, but it should be.

    and you’re right, correlating youth programs to exodus is not helpful, but if we can at least identify that as something many churches can address with tweak in worship services, it may be somewhat profitable. again, as you point out, we have a lot of work to do (even curriculum-wise, going back to the topic of education/formation) before we can really project what identity should be cast, but in my mind there needs to be a stronger connection between the narrative of being Asian American AND Christian. currently, the two aren’t correlated well at all in the minds of our youth from where i sit.

  4. Joey Chen ⋅

    Where is this study by the Presbyterian Church of Canada?

  5. daniel so

    David — Yes and amen! We need to deal with the present reality (1st/2nd gen) as well as who we hope to become in the very near future (2nd gen/3rd gen & beyond). I wish I could speak/write with such clarity — I’m fumbling through some thoughts (I’ll email you soon). I just wanted to say, though, that I feel like you’ve hit upon several converging streams that will be crucial for the future of the Asian American church…

    Charles — Thanks for sharing your experience. From the outset, I think you’ve touched on something really significant: there is a world of difference between simply attending church for a couple of hours a week (or even many hours a week, as some of the most faithful church attenders might do) and *being* the church. This is more than just wordplay — it feels like something is slipping away and it is crushing to see how far astray we’ve gone.

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