why an ABC church plant

This is a raison-d’etre paper written back in March 2001, written by my friend Lucy Lee Wang, who was part of a group in Dallas exploring the planting of a new kind of church to reach American Born Chinese (ABC). Much of it still holds true 6 years later, as rationale for launching new churches to reach the next generations, whether Asian or multiracial. (Yes, culture changes slowly.)

The paper addresses the question: “Is there a biblical basis then for the Chinese churches in America to target ABC (American Born Chinese) ministries?” The paper compiles insights and concepts derived from articles published in the ABOUT FACE quarterly newsletter (associated with the Fellowship of American Chinese Evangelicals, a ministry established by ABCs to enable the Chinese Church to more effectively minister to ABCs).

This paper is published with permission — please add comments here to submit your feedback.

Through a series of questions and answers, as well as an appendix of reference articles, this paper tries to establish the need and the urgency for a maturing ABC ministry in the context of an ABC church plant.

An ABC church plant would accomplish the following:

  • Stem the high dropout rate of ABCs from the local church
  • Strengthen ABC leadership for the church through training, planning, and developing a Biblical mindset
  • Cultivate Christ-centered ABC Christian families
  • Increase the understanding of cultural differences between OBCs and ABCs, thereby affirming that each group has its own expressions and style
  • Provide a unique opportunity to reach the growing unevangelized ABC population

View / download the paper: Why an ABC Church Plant (PDF; 26 pages)

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  1. barry says:

    i grew up in the midwest, participated in MCBC for a number of years & now reside in southern california & i’ve actually been to all the churches mentioned in the paper. however, i fall into the category of those ABC’s who feel comfortable in a non-chinese church, (and non-asian if it comes to that as i spent some years exploring the asian culture here) and up until now have more or less believed that i would not ever return . but now i wonder if I’m being selfish; i think i have an understanding not common for an ABC in that i’ve taken the time to look at chinese culture to be better equipped to assess exactly what values and behaviors i assimilated & to what degree. i could probably help a lot of folks with the insights i’ve gleaned.

    even so, it has been my experience that an ethnic chinese would rather remain chinese than become more godly if a choice has to be made between the two. that attitude more than anything holds back the OBC church and keeps ABCs feeling stifled. and as we see more and more tribalism throughout the world, i consider it unlikely that that will ever improve. as such, i suspect a para-church organization will be much more effective in ministering to ABCs than any church plant that remains affiliated with an OBC church.

  2. djchuang says:

    Barry, Thank you for weighing in, and would love to hear you unpack more of your church cultural insights.

    As the English-speaking Chinese American and multiracial population continues to increase over time, the reality of this demographic change strongly suggests that new kinds of churches will be needed to best reach this population. The traditional immigrant Chinese church and the mainstream mostly Anglo evangelical church are insufficient to minister to this population. Some are beginning to call this new kind of church a “next generation church.”

  3. Andrew says:

    I come from New Zealand and attend a Chinese Church here that is looking at starting a multi-cultural service in English – as well as the Cantonese and Mandarin services that we already hold.

    One of the challenges that has arisen for us re: 2nd/3rd Geners is having a life that is holistic and connected and where your life is ministry etc. or having a life where you attend church on Sunday and mix with an entirely different demographic of people than you mix with during the week.

    For the 1st Geners when they go to Chinese Church which is contextually Chinese it is great for them. They can bring their friends to church, it is in their mother tongue, their community is there etc. The target of other Chinese as a mission field fits their context as they only mix with other Chinese. The church is their community and so their commitment to that community is very high – but what they get back is also very high.

    Contrast that with 2nd/3rd Gener’s who have grown up in NZ for them their Christian experience can head very quickly in the direction of religion. They can’t bring their schoolmates to church, they can’t bring their work mates to church – for them it has stopped being missional. They don’t mix solely amongst Chinese except in the church setting. They face a choice – become relevant within the church context and therefore irrelevant within their ‘worldly’ context.

    Often the involvement required to be ‘part of the church community’ is so huge that they literally do face that choice – be part of the church or part of the ‘world’. There is no time for other commitments and their faith becomes anything but holistic – it is Sunday only with no relevance to the rest of their lives – it lacks mission and it lacks relevance.

    How does the ABC church help this situation? That is one of the challenges we faced. There is an obvious reason for a 1st Gener church – but why not multi-cultural for the next generations? Is that not part of the road of discipleship we should be on? One of the advantages of the multi-cultural church (and their are many challenges and conflicts likely as well) is that you can start a new story which replaces the all too familiar story of isolation faced by many 1st Gener churches.

    I am genuinely interested in the ABC concept and admit in larger communities it may be more practical and relevant. Is the multi-cultural church an alternative? What answer does the Asian church have to offer the ‘world’ in terms of a world divided by culture – what does an ABC church say to the ‘world’?

    Is there a way to embrace culture but not idolise it? Is there the ability for cross-pollination where people of different cultures mix and learn from one another? For instance, in my own marriage we adopt much more of the Chinese approach of respect and care to our immediate family and yet this is critiqued by a more Western viewpoint of global consciousness/mission to others etc.

    Where do children of mixed marriages fit in this spectrum? Are they Chinese or are they American? Does that depend on whether the children or the parents are answering the question?

    This is not intended to be criticism but part of the thought process that a group of us are going through.

  4. Andrew says:

    Have re-read the ABC Church Plant Paper and can’t help thinking that it is missing the point re: the current statistics of intermarriage etc. In NZ for instance the stats from the last census showed that 80% of OBC’s married other Asians whilst 80% of LBC (Local-born Chinese) married non-Asians. This statistic is startling and was one of our key drivers in terms of whether to start an LBC church or a Multi-ethnic church – for the 2nd and 3rd Geners.

    One of the comments in the paper (p6) is:

    “One thing OBCs have in common with ABCs is that they all raised ABCs.”

    I think this comment is very dated. It comes from a paper written 27 years ago. This could certainly be the case with the Korean community (where marriage outside the Korean culture often does not happen until the 3rd Generation but does not reflect the current trends with Chinese – in NZ anyway – it would be interesting to see a comparative study in the US).

    Many of the supporting articles in this paper are particularly dated – listed below all articles and dates:

    OBCs and ABCs: What’s the difference on how one sees the ABC Ministry? (1979)
    On Million by 2000! (1998)
    Reaching ABCs … Who are we working with? (1980)
    Americanizing … Ready or not (1981)
    Cultural differences between Chinese and Americans (1984)
    What ABCs need (1996)
    OBCs and ABCs: What’s the difference in conversation? (1980)
    OBCs and ABCs: A difference in perspective regarding the Great Commission (1979)
    OBCs and ABCs: A difference in theological perspective (1979)

    I do like the statement on page 26:

    “The ABC grows up and witnesses to Jesus Christ in a western, largely post-Christian context where religion is allowed, but only a small, meaningless compartment of life”

    One qusetion that could be posed in light of increasing statistics of intermarriage and more and more ABCs being of mixed ethnicity (be that African-Chinese, Eurasian whatever) is the establishment of ABC churches (certainly more relevant 20-30 years ago with the lower rate of intermarriage) at all relevant or necessary? Obviously the OBC church is still relevant and necessary due to language and cultural barriers – but is the ABC church ?

    Highly provocative I realise but has the rate of transition and ‘Americanizing’ of immigrant communities increased such that there is no need for the ABC churches but rather a greater need for multi-ethnic churches?

    Is the establishment of ABC churches more about our desire to see our children remain Chinese or our desire to see them living a life of faith. Does the establishment of ABC churches assist our children in living a life of faith that embraces all areas of their lives; which in reality (looking at current demographic statistics of intermarriage etc) is likely to be predominantly non-Chinese, even non-ABC. Whilst our mother tongue is Chinese, their mother tongue is English.

    Some questions that cause me to ponder what to do next:
    * What is our driving motivation to establish ABC Churches?
    * Is it built on current research in terms of demographics (intermarriage etc)?
    * Are we more concerned with our children remaining Chinese or remaining followers of Christ?
    * For the ABC in their work, school, families etc is their community predominantly ABC – and therefore is their church community ‘connected’ to their community from Monday to Saturday?

  5. barry says:

    dj: i have been meaning to respond further, but VA tech prompted a period of introspection on my part which in turn has led me to discover that i am much more asian that i would described myself in the past. more on this later.

    andrew raises valid points that prompted my choice to leave the asian american church. the people i come into contact with (my ethnos, for want of a better way to describe it) are pretty much non-asian and a conscious decision to be part of asian church would prompt me to concentrate more on relating to other asians. i don’t get a sense that that is what god wants for me (or anyone else). what’s kinda exciting is that as i’ve put myself into more ministry opportunities recently is that my current church is making a conscious effort to diversify the leadership of my current church to reflect the diversity of the congregation; i may already be in the process of being part of the answer in the church in which i currently serve!

    c.s. lewis in “the screwtape letters” refers to the power of the word “and” – in christianity and “____________”. when that “_________” refers to a secular commonality there is a great danger that “_____________” will become more important a reason to assemble than our being centered around christ.

    this is not to say that it’s wrong to seek other commonalities in fellow believers. but that often leads to an exclusivity borne out of an awareness of those who DON’T share this commonality – in contrast to the biblical mandate to be all things to all people.

    having said that, i am fully aware that the differences in western culture & asian culture are quite profound. the book “the geography of thought” was recently referred to in a recent edition of TIME magazine. the part of the review that caught my eye was (paraphrased): asians see life as a circle while westerners see life as a straight line. nisbett postulates that cultural social relations shape the world view, which in turn influence the thought processes – which in turn tend to reinforce the social relations and worldview – self sustaining homeostatic systems.

    even though i was born & raised in an exclusively caucasian suburb in ohio, i have discovered that the social relations imprinted on me as a child have prompted me to have “asian” thought processes – i have often described myself as a “dot-connector”; i observe and accumulate factoids and my mind naturally works to identify all the non-trivial relationships between that factoid and any other factoid in my consciousness. this helps me understand why i have little to no cognitive dissonance between potentially contradictory concepts such as the trinity, predestination & election, etc. and in general, why i am so much more analog than digital.

    there’s more but it’s saturday night!