churches working together?

Gordon Marchant is an old pastor friend from afar, we had corresponded in the 90s when he pastored in Hawaii. Now he’s pastoring in Northern Virginia, less than 30 minutes away. He asked this question (posted with permission, to invite your feedback):

[I’m looking for] an outstanding example of a [ethnic Asian?] church that is multi-congregational, utilizing one church building, and where the identity of each of the congregations is autonomously recognized by their denomination yet they strategically choose to stay together and blend their ministries. Thus, what I am talking about is more than a landlord-tenant model of two autonomous churches that merely share a building. What I am looking for is a church where they have separate leadership boards, yet they are notable examples of cooperative ministry. I am especially interested in finding are autonomous congregations that have chosen to coordinate/share many of their ministries (e.g. Christian Education, Missions, Evangelism-Discipleship, Family Counseling, Fellowship, Pastoral sharing, Ministry to Immigrant Families, and/or any other creative areas of joint ministry).

Know of any? I thought that Young Nak church in Los Angeles might fit the bill — its Korean church and English church are both fully autonomous, and they coordinate/share their children’s ministry in some way, as it was described to me.

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  1. DJ, Grace Presbyterian of St. Louis is an example, although they no longer share an identical building, but adjacent buildings instead. James Park is the pastor. The English congregation actually is Grace PC and under the Missouri Presbytery. The Korean congregation is in the Korean Central Presbytery. I am pretty sure they share their children’s ministry also.

  2. Reyes-Chow says:

    kind of sad that i can think of no such churches in my area (san francisco presbytery) or even anecdotally from other colleagues.

  3. bumble says:

    In a few years we will get there, but in the mean time, he can track down Rev. Jason Kim in the Chicago area. He is with the Korean District of the CMA denomination. If you press me harder, I can cough up his email I had a two years ago.

  4. Ken says:

    It seems to me that if the two churches are fully autonomous then you will never have a “multi-congregational church” (singular). Instead you will have two separate churches sharing a building. Any ministry that they do together, other than facilities management, will be no different than cooperative ministry by two different churches in the same town.

    But you can have a single church with multiple congregations that each have a significant degree of autonomy. In that case you probably still need some sort of central board that oversees the entire church, and a separate leadership group for each congregation. If there is no overall leadership team, then I don’t know how you can call it a single church. Then the question becomes, “What degree of autonomy does each congregation have?” Different churches will answer that question differently.

  5. Helen says:

    Definitely point him to Open Door Presbyterian Church. Korean first generation congregation plus autonomous English Ministry. ( Although they have separate services and leadership teams, they also strive to do ministry together, such as sending out missions teams comprised of people from both congregations and together launching a ministry for handicapped people in the church. You can read about them in Growing Healthy Asian American Churches book, in the chapter on Intergenerational Ministry. =)

  6. Thanks to all of you for your comments. I don’t want this to sound like a resume, but a simple introduction. In the 1990’s, I was the English ministries pastor for 6 years at the South Calgary Chinese Evangelical Free Church (English, Mandarin and Cantonese congregations), and from 1999-2005 I pastored the English congregation at Christ UMC in Honolulu (a large Korean church). Now, I have the pleasure of pastoring Vision of Peace, which is the English ministry of the Korean UMC of Greater Washington (DC). The passion of our family is to inspire North American churches to be more effective in their cross-cultural outreach and this spring I’ll be graduating from Wesley Theological Seminary with a D.Min. in multi-ethnic ministry. It was many years ago that I was first introduced to D.J. through an online group of Chinese-American pastors, etc.

    Helen – I do wish to thank you for your writings over the years. I purchased the book: ‘Growing Healthy Asian American Churches” many months ago, but I am sorry to say that I have been so busy with my project paper and pastoring. You have given me another reason to finish it!

    Ken – I really appreciate your comments. Over the years, I have been creatively trying to come up with new “one” church models for the English-language congregations that I have served. My premise has been that there is a possibility that 1st generation and 2nd generation congregations may be able to achieve more by staying together, than by separating and becoming two churches with minimal inter-relationship.

    One of the challenges to a “one” church approach relates the question of structure. For example, from a denominational perspective, English-language congregations in “immigrant” churches in North America are almost invisible. Everyone knows the church as the “Korean” or “Chinese” church. Few non-Asian denominational officials seem to understand where such churches “find” their English ministry pastors, or comprehend how the local church is caring for them and the English congregations that they serve. I could say much about the scenarios for conflict that result, but you probably are just as aware of them as I am.

    I am intrigued by the idea of having our denomination formally recognize the English congregation of our church. One advantage might be, for example, that the English language congregation would have a more mature identity in terms of their relationship to the Korean language congregation. A problem that I have noticed in churches such as ours is that first generation Christians genuinely do not know how to regard the English congregation. Should it be seen as an another “department” of the church: e.g. Sunday School, Youth Ministry, English Ministry? Or, should the English congregation be given a special status that is different from all other departments of ministry? What role of supervision should the 1st generation senior pastor have in relation to the English pastor? To whom is the English congregation accountable? By formalizing the autonomy denominationally, it would seem to me that both our Korean and English members would have a more mature structure that better recognizes the uniqueness of our multi-congregations and would help us relate to one another laterally, rather than top-down.

    Another thought is that I really wish to move away from merely a “landlord-tenant” model. Thus, if our congregations are autonomous, our Korean and English language ministries should develop multiple areas of mutual ministry. I am especially interested in possibilities of evangelism, both here and around the world. If all we eventually do is “manage the facilities”, then it will be a sorry waste of the talents, gifts and resources that God has granted us.

  7. Ken says:

    Gordon – I too have been thinking about how we can find a healthy one church model for an immigrant church with both an English and Asian-language congregation. In fact, I am working on my D.Min. at Western Seminary and this is my dissertation topic.

    My own church has gone through a fairly typical evolution. I found some old mailboxes on the wall which were labeled only in Chinese. There were various church departments listed there, and at the bottom “English Fellowship.” So at that point the English ministry was seen as one department among many in the church. That was probably the best structure in the beginning, but we have grown beyond that. Our current mailbox has three sections: English Ministry, Chinese Ministry, and a common section for things like the finance dept. So we are in a “parallel mode” of ministry between the two congregations. We currently do not have a senior pastor. I am the English Lead Pastor and I work as an equal alongside the the Chinese Lead Pastor. We both answer to the board. The Chinese Lead Pastor and I meet several times a month for coffee, and we have been talking about how we can create greater synergy between the two congregations.

    I should add that we are not part of a denomination, so the only structure that we have to be concerned about is our own local church structure.

  8. Ken,

    At one time I was supposed to start a D.Miss. at Western, and so I am so happy to hear from you. When you are finshed the dissertation, I would love to see it. I subscribe to TREN, so I should be able to get it from them. My project paper is: “Cross-cultural Humor as God’s Gift for Church Growth in North America.” I am trying to subtly give Christians a kick in the butt, telling them that they have no reason but to get involved in multi-ethnic evangelism.

    With your church, it is encouraging to hear of your partnership with the Chinese-speaking congregation. Based solely on what you have described, it would seem that the composition and priorities of your Board are critical. One challenge that has always concerned me is: “When I leave this church, will the English/Chinese partnership grow or wither?” “How can I build this partnership so that it is not so dependent on the personalities/vision of the current leaders?”

  9. Ken says:


    I think that the relationship among the leaders, especially the pastors, is vital. If the leaders don’t get along, then no matter what the structure is there will be many problems. But if the leaders have a good relationship, then almost any structure can be made to work, although some structures will be more effective than others.

    But you are right to think about succession. If the harmonious working relationship between the two congregations depends solely on the relationship and vision of the two pastors, then when they are gone it might all fall apart. The board members and other lay leaders need to share a common vision for congregations that relate in a healthy way, and they need to nurture a culture to support it. I have been slowly learning that one of my most important jobs as a spiritual leader is to shape and nurture the church culture.