Chinese American churches revisited

How the multi-generational multi-lingual ethnic Asian American church should and could minister in a healthy way is a recurring conversation, and occasionally new people enter this context afresh, perhaps from a job relocation, a next step after commencement, a natural progression of time and aging, or (less frequently) a personal conversion or crisis of faith. These questions came into my inbox recently, so let’s revisit that context again:

  • Do you think there is still a vital place for a multi-generational/cultural Chinese American church? Or do you see more inclusive Asian American churches and multi-ethnic churches as the next logical phase? Do you see Chinese American churches as “just” an intermediate step between an American church and a multi-ethnic model or perhaps an end in itself?
  • How would you describe the “ideal”, inter-generational immigrant Chinese church today? What does it look like to you? Multiple services in different languages? (e.g. Mandarin, Cantonese and English) Or same services with simultaneous translation in headsets? Side-by-side translation?
  • What are some creative ideas to unite the different Chinese generations and cultures besides joint services?
  • What in your knowledge are great examples and models of inclusive, multi-generation Chinese American churches?

Links mentioned in my video response [no longer available]:

Why we need ethnic Chinese churches

In summary, it’ll take all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people, so there is a place for the ethnic Chinese church. The way a church does its worship services and programs will change over time, and an openness to allow creativity to flourish as a natural outflow of spirituality will discover the “right” answers for each church context. That means putting resources behind research & development, i.e. prayer, people, and money. What would you add?

You may also like...

7 Responses

  1. Phil Yien says:

    Good insights to the questions, DJ. I agree with your thoughts. My church is a smaller, ethnic Chinese/Mandarin language congregation, part of a larger family of churches. I have noticed there are models within our family of churches that seem to thrive in California but may not be viable elsewhere in the U.S. due to the lack of an ethnic Chinese population.

    I went to an Asian American church service in CA a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Yet part of me felt if I closed my eyes and just listened, I would have guessed it was a “white”, European influenced church. Nothing in that particular service reflected any influences from the Korean, Chinese and some Japanese heritages these 2nd and 3rd generation had.

    While that’s perfectly okay, I wonder what more blended worship services look and sound like? Can they appeal to both 1st and 2nd generation members? Inter-generational worship can be a huge challenge at a regular American congregation (e.g. “traditional” vs. “contemporary” worship services, “blended” services, etc.). In think it’s doubly challenging at an ethnic Chinese church.

    My 2nd generation English speaking youth members tend to tune out and just tolerate the forays into Mandarin Chinese worship if they’re sitting in on the main service, while the older first generation often cannot get into “harder”, rock-type English worship…

    I myself as a sometime worship leader and 2nd generation, native English speaker forced myself to begin learning to lead Mandarin Chinese worship songs two years ago. The moments I feel the congregation is most united in music worship are when we sing a more contemporary song in both English and Chinese versions. How do others feel on this…?

  2. awwwjin says:

    Hi DJ,

    I believe that there still is a vital place for the 1st gen/immigrant church. There is one concern I have on the way we view the immigrant church. Recently I attended a seminar led by a respected pastor and scholar on the Asian American church. When I asked about his thoughts on the future of the immigrant church, his response was something along the lines of, “We (by we I’m assuming he meant the AA church) must help them,” as if “we” are a more enlightened community that has everything to offer and nothing to learn from the immigrant church.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into his response, but it still got me thinking about how we view the immigrant church in the first place, and whether we believe that their role in the greater Asian American Christian community is necessary. I wonder if the first step to seeking unity is to first be aware of our (whether we are part of an ethnic-specific or a multi-cultural church) own views and biases toward the “other”. I admit that I’ve held some unhealthy thoughts- growing up in a 1st gen Korean American church, I came to believe that the multi-ethnic, multi-generational church that I began attending in college was superior and perhaps even more godly. It’s taken me a while to realize that God doesn’t favor multi-cultural churches over the others. I think learning about and appreciating the gifts that each “side” brings is a crucial first step to unity and integration.

  3. djchuang says:

    @Phil, I’d like to think blended worship music is certainly possible. It’d take some fresh creativity to express it. Yo-Yo Ma as a Chinese-American has done some incredible colloabrative music with other styles, there’s gotta be ways for Asian Amerian generations to collaborate on their worship music too.

    @Jin, thanks for your comments and caution of how each generation views the other. I think this goes both ways: how the 1st generation views the 2nd gen, as well as vice versa. 1 thing I’ve found helpful is to be reluctant to read into other people’s comments; it breeds too much suspicion and distrust for me.