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Becoming an Asian-American Church

July 12th, 2023 | 39 min read

By David Choi

Among members of the second generation of Korean immigrants to America, my story is not entirely uncommon. My mother and father immigrated to the states in 1979 and 1988, respectively, at which time they joined a Korean immigrant church in the suburban regions of Chicago to find a spiritual community of cultural connection and worship. Once they had children of their own, they eventually settled on one of these Korean immigrant churches, called Antioch Bible Church, wherein my siblings and I were spiritually raised. As young children, we were mostly under the care of volunteer leaders with a first generation background. But as we got older, and began developing a social and cultural consciousness of our own, we would go on to become part of an English ministry (comprised of the youth, college students, and young adults). Led by The Rev. Dr. Justin A. Bailey, a second generation Filipino-American, the English ministry was truly a gift for all of us.[1] It not only afforded the children of these Korean immigrants a space where we could grow in the Christian faith, but it also provided a ministry context where we could thoughtfully wrestle with our own dual Korean and American cultural identities, challenges, and experiences.

Of course, this is not unique to Korean churches, but it is generally true for most Asian immigrant churches. As members of the second-generation (i.e. children of Asian immigrants who were born in the States) become more assimilated to American culture, commonly, parents and children begin to experience an increasing divergence with respect to their social dispositions, as well as their cultural and political outlooks. (Now serving as a pastor to emerging adults within a Chinese immigrant church myself, this general sentiment is something I still often hear from parents and young people alike.) Thus, in the early years of Asian immigrant churches, ‘English ministries’ were established as a sort of organic outworking, to serve the various needs of second generation members in ways that first generation members/leaders felt ill-equipped to meet themselves.[2]

However, the church has come a long way since the immigration waves of the 70s and 80s.[3] For the second generation has now come of age. Who are they now? They are college students, young adults, and working professionals, many of whom now have children of their own. And yet, the data shows that those who were raised within Asian immigrant churches have now largely become disillusioned by them, with many leaving the immigrant church to never come back, embodied in the phenomenon known as ‘Silent Exodus.’[4] There are many reasons that are driving this. And one of the main reasons, which will be the focus here, is structural.

During the early years of the Asian immigrant churches establishment, the English ministry (EM) was an immediate ‘fix’ to address some of the issues noted above. That is, the EM came about not so much because of any biblical rationale or theological impetus per se, but rather it primarily came about because there was a real practical need, driven by the overarching question of “what to do with our children who we don’t really seem to be able to connect with,” that needed to be addressed.[5] As the proto-immigrant churches, then, established this sort of model, over time it became cemented as a matter of course for other East Asian immigrant churches to follow. But now, fast forwarding a few decades later, the first generation continues to experience an ever-growing exodus with very few returning second generation members. In this, we see being revealed the provisional nature of this structural model, which many hardly seemed to notice, let alone be able to articulate. And it is the incongruity between this model and where the second gen are now today that seems to be the source of many frustrations.

So, to begin, how do we make sense of the waning second gen population? How does the typical EM model within Asian immigrant churches contribute to this, and how do they need to change? And how might members of the first and second generations go about addressing the ongoing yet evolving needs of second gen Asian-Americans so that we may continue to disciple them effectively and build up God’s kingdom?

The ‘Silent Exodus’ and Its Sociological Contours

According to Jeanette Yep et al., “[W]ell over 75 percent of American-born Chinese in Chinese immigrant churches end up leaving their churches. Some informal studies indicate that up to 90 percent of postcollege Korean American young people are also leaving their immigrant churches.”[6] More recent findings display a similar pattern. Joan Huyser-Honig reports that second gen Koreans who are “leaving the church vary from 55 to 90 percent…”[7] Though the statistics widely agree, the variations may be accounted for in terms of how one exactly defines and interprets the Silent Exodus phenomenon. For instance, some may leave the immigrant church to attend an English-speaking/Caucasian church elsewhere; others may continue to call themselves Christian but without any commitments to a local church; and some may choose to leave Christianity behind altogether. The complexity of this pattern is noted in the oft-cited study conducted by Lifeway Research: “Two-thirds (66%) of American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.” And once they reach their 20s, only about a third say they return.[8] Regardless, as multicultural church planter Allen Thompson notes, what is clear from all this is that “the second generation is being lost.” So, what is going on here?

First, according to KT Chun, many first generation immigrants are wedded to their particular church because it allows them to “find comfort in their common cultural identity as well as their faith in God.” However, commenting on second gen, he goes on, “Many second-generation [Asian]-Americans are not as strongly attached to [immigrant] churches as their parents because of their identification as American rather than [Asian], their language skills, the availability of multi-ethnic churches, but also the diverse sources of [Asian-]American social networking and fellowship available to them other than churches.”[9] This last point here is worth highlighting. As children, second gen members grew up in a church environment where faith was often presented to them as a moral technology of Asian culture more than a genuine spiritual decision or personal responsibility for Christ.

Looking back on this, Daniel Lee, a first-gen Korean Pastor of Global Mission Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, has come to acknowledge this error in discipleship: “Parents assumed that if you just sent the kids to church through high school, they'd come out being good Christians… We all thought our kids would go to church in college. That was a very naive thought." In other words, Christ was rarely held up to second gen children as Lord, but rather he was presented as a moral figure to keep good kids from going bad. Charles Kim of Oriental Mission Church in Los Angeles adds that because of this the second gen had no real stake in taking ownership of their faith to begin with.

Though church should be a place to help young people embark upon their spiritual journey, that is, of making their own personal decision for Christ, it has often felt to them like a cultural hub for their parents, where their children were then pressured to imbibe good moral values that seemed to stem more from their parents’ Asian culture than it did from the gospel per se. For example, coming from a Confucian background, immigrant parents typically value hierarchy, authority, and filial piety.[10] Consequently, many second gen people would hear their parents or church leaders cite passages like Exodus 20:12, “honor your father and mother.”

However, they seldom received any explanation of the broader biblical intent of the passage. Instead, the passage was read to them with the disciplinary intent of shoring up their own Asian values. In effect, as Kim adds, second gen people could no longer “differentiate between Asian culture and Christianity, and then they often develop a hatred of the culture – which they then extend to Christianity.”[11] But now that Asian culture has gained wider societal acceptance in recent decades – through things like K-Pop, Asian dramas, and hip culinary venues like sushi bars and bubble tea shops – second gen people can satisfy their cultural needs elsewhere. Hence, there doesn’t really seem to be a need for them to go to church anymore.

But what about those second gen members who go on pursuing their Christian commitments? Thomas Hwang, a second gen pastor in Southern California, touches upon the typical dilemma. For second gen, “you could attend a first generation [immigrant] church that had a separate English ministry, or you could attend a large, multi-ethnic megachurch down the street.”[12] However, this latter alternative is a bit of a mischaracterization. Indeed, many second gen Asian-Americans have left their parents’ church for other ‘multi-ethnic’ churches, whether or not they are exactly ‘megachurches’. But as Erin Chan Ding notes, they are mostly “white-led multi-ethnic churches,” where on average 20 percent of the congregation is of a racial minority and 94 percent of the senior pastors are white.[13] 

As many immigrant churches have come to adopt the vernacular and ritualistic practices of white evangelicals (i.e. from white missionaries sent to the motherland, as well as the procurement of their formal training from white evangelical professors and seminaries), for many second gen members, it initially seemed that a predominantly white ‘multi-ethnic’ church would afford them the best of both worlds. They could worship in a church environment whose liturgical practices felt familiar to them, while exploring issues of their own identity within an American multi-ethnic setting, that is, without the rigidity of the immigrant church’s ‘parent-child’ hierarchy and monoculturalism.[14]

However, Christian sociologists and campus ministers have begun noticing that this venture towards a more ‘inclusive’ space has not been turning out in the way second-gen Asian-Americans expected. Ding comments that they felt something was lacking, that is, in white evangelical spaces: “They feel like they’re being pushed out by a lack of cultural understanding and care.”[15] To elaborate, the Christian sociologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, Michael O. Emerson, writes, “The reality on the ground is that those who have traditionally had the most influence – white folks – continue to do so, and so the issues that matter, the issues that are discussed, are the issues that are what white folks care about. The result is, of course, that most folks of color are starting to feel like, ‘Do we matter? Do we really belong?’”[16] Thus, whereas in the Asian immigrant church, second gen folks have felt sidelined by virtue of a generational hierarchy, their time in white evangelical churches are showing how they have been feeling a lack of cultural belonging by way of pressures to conform to a sort of racial hierarchy – represented especially in the lack of leadership diversity.

In response, Ding observes that many second gen people are now seeking to return to their religious roots, which does not necessarily imply that they are seeking to go back to the Asian immigrant church. Rather, especially as they are now considering the needs of their own children, it means second gen are looking for churches that will “incorporate their stories, embrace their heritage, and hire leaders who look like them,” or “they drop out of religious spaces altogether.”[17] In fact, regarding college-age students specifically, Rebecca Kim, in her God’s New Whiz Kids?: Korean American Evangelicals on Campus, notes how many young Asian-Americans are “flocking to separate ethnic campus ministries” as an alternative to the white evangelical church and the Asian immigrant church. Describing this paradoxical tension of where this then leaves many young Asian-Americans, she writes that “ethnic religious organizations have shed most of the practices and rituals of their ethnic community and embrace dominant, white Evangelical practices and rituals, yet they resist assimilation and maintain ethnic segregation.”[18]

Looking to these alternatives, they may suggest what sort of worship communities second gen Asian-Americans are searching for. But even so, they do little in the way of providing any concrete guides or solutions. After all, college students will eventually graduate, and then what? Will they return to an EM? Most likely not. Or, will they look for a multi-racial/ethnic church? Perhaps. But likely only to remain the underrepresented minority, where they still feel like something is largely missing, namely, their voice and their heritage, where they feel like they are still not truly heard nor seen. To put it crudely, second gen will go on to feel “too American” in Asian immigrant churches, whereas they will feel “too Asian” in American churches.[19] Hence, the rise of new churches, planted by and planted for second gen Asian-Americans and their descendants.

The Challenges of an English Ministry (Pastor)

To understand the rise of second-gen Asian-American churches, we need to first understand why these church planters felt they needed to move on from the traditional EM model to begin with, though, in short, we may state here at the outset that it was because the hierarchical structure between a first gen ministry (e.g. ‘KM’ or ‘CM’) and a second gen ministry (EM) was no longer conducive to the flourishing of the latter.

In a 2023 interview with David Chao, Director of the Center for Asian American Christianity at Princeton Theological Seminary, Charles Choe (who is a second gen Korean American Senior Pastor and church planter of Tapestry LA Church) relates his experience and challenges of working as an EM pastor within a large Korean immigrant church in Los Angeles, and why he eventually went on to found Tapestry LA Church. The following are Choe’s terms to categorize the experience of his challenges, which are largely representative for many other EM pastors.

Identity Crisis

In efforts to work with the Korean Ministry (KM) pastor, where in the Korean church KM pastors have the executive role of oversight and senior leadership, Choe notes how he had to redefine himself – and by extension the members of his EM – so as to get along with the senior pastor and the members of senior leadership.[20] Choe explains:

[The senior pastor] actually wanted us [the EM] to forgo one Sunday every month and join the Korean service as a part of some kind of cultural exchange. That was something that was really difficult, and eventually I felt like I couldn’t exist in the Korean church. In this, the biggest struggle for me was the sense that my spirituality was inadequate. There was always this feeling like I was a child. Even though the people I led were adults, it always felt like I was leading children. And I always kind of resented that, and I always struggled with it… I didn’t enjoy staff meetings. I remember always being so upset internally at staff meetings, because I felt like they couldn’t understand me, and they didn’t appreciate that I thought differently… That made it really difficult for me to want to stay.[21]

 

Lack of Vision

In this, Choe is touching upon a common experience that many second gen EM pastors face. They are part of a leadership team where they (or English-speakers) are underrepresented, and thus where they feel themselves and the needs of the EM to be overlooked, or at least not taken seriously. Thus, he speaks to one of the dire results of this in terms of a lack of vision:

And so, there is a lack of vision in the Asian-American church for second generation people like myself. What do we do with these guys? They think differently, they want to do things differently. And there haven’t been great models for second gen churches to follow. The traditional EM/KM model just isn’t working, to be honest with you. Even some of the most successful churches are finding that their second generation are just not coming to church.[22]

Absence of Mentorship

The next challenge is a lack of mentorship. From his time as an EM pastor, Choe describes how mentorship was not something that his church prioritized, but even if it did would not have been able to adequately provide because the current KM/EM model runs two ministries parallel to one another that, despite being housed under the same church-roof, are completely different:

I felt like there was nobody I could talk about ministry with. Though there were people I respected, there wasn’t this idea of mentorship in the church for younger pastors. There wasn’t this sense of spiritual fathers to learn from. Those types of relationships are largely vacant in the Asian-American church. And so, you just sort of go to work, and that’s how I largely felt, like kind of being treated as a worker in the church, who takes care of younger people, to basically make sure younger people don’t leave the church. So, in terms of absence of mentorship, we lacked older examples of people to follow; pastors we can emulate. Even if there were people we respected, they just felt like they were leading such different ministries, something that I – and a lot of young people – cannot relate to.[23]

Lack of Models

Immigrant churches may experience particular growth in their EM. But the perennial issue is that first gen people don’t know what to do with that: “They don’t know if they can fully send them out to bless them, or if they have to somehow control them so that they remain together. After all, they need help with the elementary program, they need teachers in the youth group. And so, they get frightful at the idea of sending out the church to become independent or to become a sister church.”[24] Thus, we see the EM remaining under the control of a first gen ministry, leading to a kind of “perpetual adolescence” and lack of flourishing, or we see some first gen folks accepting the independence of their EM, though often with reluctance and/or bitterness.[25] What sort of model should Asian-American churches strive for? Choe’s point is that there are no conclusive models that demonstrate a sort of ‘win-win’ for all.

Low Vocational Satisfaction

Because of these challenges, many EM pastors end up leaving the ministry altogether, or at the very least work bi-vocationally, to teach, to sell cars or insurance.[26] Of course, any ministry context will be challenging. But for many EM pastors, it seems the weight of their unique challenges are so crushing to the point that they can no longer continue.

Indeed, just because pastoral ministry will always be a challenge certainly does not mean that the church and its leadership bear no responsibility of helping their pastors to better shoulder their burdens (Matt. 10:10; Heb. 13:17; 1 Tim. 5:17). Unfortunately, however, many Asian immigrant churches distort their favorite image of servant leadership. That is, in grotesque fashion, some go out of their way to make sure their pastors are suffering, by assigning them unbearable workloads (e.g. working all the EM ministries, preaching, teaching, etc.) and demeaning tasks (e.g. taking out the trash), because “that’s what a true servant does.” Or, if not go out of their way, they offer little to no sympathy for their pastors because “that’s the life they signed up for.”

So many EM pastors find themselves working against these soul-draining obstacles. Regarding the unique challenges that come from serving as an EM pastor specifically, largely, those challenges (e.g. lack of mentorship, feeling misunderstood, lack of appreciation for cultural nuance, etc.) are often taken for granted by first-gen leadership, when instead they should be looking for ways to dissolve unnecessary burdens so that EM pastors (and lay-leaders) can better carry the burdens that are fundamental to their task (e.g. discipling, praying, etc.).

Why English Ministries (Probably) Won’t Work Anymore

As we observed earlier, in the founding years of the Asian immigrant church, EMs were initially installed as a unique solution to a socio-cultural and linguistic problem. Among other motivating factors, first generation parents/adults needed to provide their children with an English-language ministry that could speak to them directly. When they were children, second gen people felt a sense of haven among their young Asian-American peers, but largely felt the dominant ethnic and cultural ethos of their first generation parents made the church feel like it was less for them and more for their parents. And so, once they went off to college and entered into adulthood, many of them looked elsewhere and moved on to white-led evangelical churches, assuming it would better match their own American and spiritual sensibilities. In this, however, they would go on to experience a rude-awakening, in that being in predominantly white ecclesial spaces loudly highlighted the unforeseen contrast of their own ethnic identity, which for many second gen people made them feel sorely out of place.

Again, though, many are not inclined to return to the Asian immigrant church, due to various reasons like the ones explored above with Choe and before that in the Silent Exodus. Because they were children who were living under the authority of their parents, the EM model that operated under the authority of their parents’ ministry may have, more or less, worked for the time. But now that they are (young) adults we’re beginning to see that perhaps the EM model was only just that; it was meant to address the needs of the time. That is, the EM model was premised on the generational hierarchy of children being under the authority of their parents. And for many functioning EM’s today, this is still how it is largely run, that is, in a sort of one-to-one correlation of parent/child and (Korean or Chinese)M/EM structures.

Yet, no longer children, second gen Asian-Americans are now seeking leadership roles and responsibilities vital to their own flourishing and maturation as disciples of Jesus Christ, with desires to serve their community and to advance the cause of God’s justice. Yet, because immigrant churches seldom afford leadership opportunities to its EM members, that is, in a manner where they are treated, seen, and heard as equals, these experiences, or the lack thereof, continue to reinforce the conception that this is not really their church, since there is no sense of personal stake or ownership. (This reinforces Choe’s prior testimony of feeling more like a worker in the Asian immigrant church as opposed to a true member of the family, while feeling like he and his EM congregants were perpetual ‘children’.)

To this, Tim Tseng, a former EM pastor of a Taiwanese-American church who is now the Pacific Area Director for InterVarsity Fellowship, writes, “Unless the first-generation leaders are able to give second-generation pastors the freedom to lead, their young people will not go to these churches.” Indeed, why should they? Why would full-grown adults want to be part of a church where the existing model keeps them in a perpetual state of adolescence?

Ironically, though, it is not uncommon for EM pastors and parishioners to hear from first gen leaders things like, “One day this church will be yours.” “You are the future of the church.” “We believe the next generation is important.” But the second gen understand their time as having now arrived. The future is already here. So, at which point will first gen pastors/leaders begin to allow the second generation to lead? Thomas Hwang writes, “Well we know better now. Most [first gen] pastors will never transition out like this. It’s too difficult to give up power.” Robert Goette, Director of the Chicagoland Asian-American Church Planting Projects, adds a poignant note of the unlikelihood: “In Asian culture, you have a very slow giving over of authority and control to the younger generation. Often, the control resides with the parents until they die."

To be clear, this is not simply a matter of giving EM members a space to “do their own thing.” But rather, what we’ve been hearing from many second generation Christians, as well as former EM pastors, are regrets concerning how they feel they’ve been denied leadership responsibilities for making actual meaningful changes within the church, or for casting bold visions and the like, that is, without constantly feeling like they are somehow “second class” to that of first generation leaders, whose rules they really have no choice but to abide by, and whose final decisions ultimately decide the EM’s fate.

For second gen in the Korean Presbyterian church, it is perhaps easier to understand the source of their frustrations, since they have a very rigid top-down structure of senior pastors and ruling Korean elders, reinforced by the Korean cultural hierarchy and ethnic norms of social propriety. Yet, even for Chinese churches, this is a common occurrence just in a slightly different form. Unlike Korean Presbyterians, Chinese-American churches generally adhere to Baptist denominations, with a more ‘egalitarian’ and democratic structure of governance.[27] But even in this, there is a top-down hierarchy, which presents itself in the form of the Chinese-speaking majority. And thus, insofar as second generation leadership solely hinges on ‘flipping’ the majority, the Catch-22 is that such a majority is not likely to be flipped, because second gen people are not likely to return anyways for all the reasons we’ve already gone through.

Related to the prior points, the EM model is no longer viable because first generation congregations have (at least functionally) betrayed the fact that their mission and priorities are completely different from that of the mission and priorities of the second generation. As we heard earlier, many first gen leaders may verbalize that the second gen are the church’s future, but functionally it has become increasingly clear to the second gen that their mission is not to create a church that they can then pass on to second gen Asian-Americans. Instead, Peter Cha writes, “The nature of the immigrant church is that the mission of that group is to provide for the needs of the first generation.”

Thus, as Helen Lee supplements, their preference is for first-generation members within a monocultural setting. Writing nearly two decades earlier, Daniel Lee observed that “the Korean church in America, in general, is very busy just trying to survive. It hasn’t had enough energy or time to focus on the second generation yet.” For many Asian churches in America today, it seems not much has changed. They are still trying to survive, especially in the aftermath of Covid, and still with little to no prospects of helping, let alone encouraging, the EM to become its own.

There is nothing wrong with this per se. It is good that immigrant churches should go on existing, with its mission of reaching out to immigrants, while continuing to serve their spiritual and cultural needs. And so, the point to be taken from this is threefold. First, it is to recognize that EM models generally no longer work, because second generation Asian-Americans have come to realize for themselves a different missional focus, for instance, racial reconciliation, social justice, poverty relief, and wider community service and local outreach.

On their own, these concerns are not competing, but often they are encountered as such within EM models, because Asian immigrant churches privilege the needs of the first generation and their mission to other immigrants. Therefore, second, it now seems that EM models largely inhibit the sort of work that second generation members feel called to carry out as Christian disciples, because so much of the power (e.g. administrative and financial) is concentrated in first generation members whose concerns lie entirely elsewhere. Third, EM models no longer work because so long as they are beholden to a leadership structure where the majority of power and influence reside with first generation members they will be subjected to decision-making leaders who can hardly relate to their missional drives or spiritual needs.

If EMs should continue to operate under the old provisional forms of the immigrant church’s generational hierarchy, then at best the second generation, at least for the few who remain, will continue to meet some level of resistance against their attempts to be faithful to their own unique callings, and at worst they will have no sense of having any unique calling (i.e. vision) of their own by virtue of being kept in their state of perpetual adolescence, spiritual and otherwise. And of course, it will do very little to attract any new members in the future, then, who are looking for a church-community, where they can lead and feel like they (and their families) have a sense of meaningful ownership, and where they feel a deep sense of spiritual belonging by joining like-minded others in a compelling vision of God’s kingdom work – that is, regardless of whether or not they are Asian-American. But all in all, there is very little hope in this. For as Dave Gibbons – a half-Caucasian, half-Korean, EM pastor –  himself realized one day as he was reading his Bible while thinking through this very quandary: “I was trying to pour new wine into old wineskins.”[28] 

Conclusion

It is out of the complexity of this matrix that we now see second-generation Asian-American churches growing, while being established at rapid rates. The affiliate churches/church plants of Acts Ministries International are an example of this.[29] Of course, the challenges of an existing EM do not necessarily imply that every EM, therefore, ought to begin a separate church for themselves in the form of a church plant or otherwise. It may be that English ministries can still find ways to cohabit with first generation members under a single roof. But the baseline argument has been that they cannot do so without significant structural reforms, that is, if second gen members are genuinely to thrive and mature as disciples in their years of adulthood and leave behind for their own children (and their children) a robust, spiritual inheritance. Therefore, this means, at the very least, that second gen voices are equally represented and weighed at the table of church leadership, and it means second gen members be able to function independently from first gen members so as to make decisions that they agree to be best for themselves in pursuit of their shared vision.

Thomas Hwang says that when churches don’t empower others they become stagnant and end up splitting. Unfortunately, some second gen Asian American churches exist because of this. Members of leadership grow frustrated with one another, causing EMs to break away as pastors leave with their congregants. For others, like Charles Choe, the situation was a bit more ambiguous. For the KM pastor, it was not clear what was best, and so he let Choe decide whether to stay under KM authority or to establish an independent church. For others, like Pastor Mitch Kim, he began serving in a Korean immigrant church, and then some two decades later he discerned a vision from the Lord to establish a church-community that would specifically serve the needs of second- and third-generation Asian Americans, “to reach people living ‘between’ cultures.”[30] And thus, with the blessing of the KM, he went on to found Living Water Alliance Church, which is now today Blanchard Alliance Church.

But for EM pastors and congregants, receiving the blessing of first gen members to establish an independent church is rare. Mainly for practical reasons, like having children’s teachers, and financial reasons (of being unwilling to support a church plant through their existing EM, whose vision they don’t understand or appreciate), first gen members may want to keep the EM under their control, but without the changes required to then allow EMs to burgeon on their own.

And so, what we see is both a sorrowful and joyful occurrence. Sorrowful because the existence of some second-gen Asian American churches are the result of schism; yet joyful because others are the result of blessings received to plant a church that will help meet the needs of Asian-Americans and further build God’s kingdom. Every context calls for a different response, as we always try, though struggle, to keep in view faithfulness to God and love of others. But this much is clear. The EM model is no longer working. And thus, across Asian churches in America, EMs and first gen leaders/members will need to work together to reimagine the nature of their ongoing relationship. Practicing forms of deep listening, they will need to support each other in ways that truly promote the feeding of God’s sheep, as they tackle their own experiences of silent exodus, and as they seek to bless the unique mission for which either has been called.

Ever onward, therefore, we shall keep the command of our Lord Jesus Christ in view:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. -Matthew 10:37-39

Footnotes

[1] For readers who may be interested, Bailey’s professional/faculty bio can be viewed here: https://www.dordt.edu/people/justin-bailey.

[2] Henrik Molintas, “Solving the ‘Silent Exodus’ From Churches,” Lifeway Research, September 17, 2021, https://research.lifeway.com/2021/09/17/solving-the-silent-exodus-from-churches/.

[3] John J. Oh and Daniel K. Eng, “The Present and Future of the Immigrant Church,” Sola Network, February 24, 2022, https://sola.network/article/the-present-and-future-of-the-immigrant-church-interview/. 

[4] ‘Silent Exodus’ came to be a term popularized by Helen Lee, in her 1996 Christianity Today article, titled “Silent Exodus: Can the East Asian Church in America Reverse the Flight of Its Next Generation?”: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1996/august12/6t9050.html. The completion of this phenomenon is explicit within my own church by way of an empirical generational gap, that is, between youth group students and professional adults.

[5] For instance, Helen Lee writes, “As Korean churches in America developed, they were immediately faced with the costly proposition of developing ministries for all generations at once. This problem was intensified as children of the immigrant wave became young adults attuned to life in the American mainstream.”

[6] Jeanette Yep et al., Following Jesus Without Dishonoring Your Parents (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 146.

[7] Joan Huyser-Honig, “Korean American Churches: From Generation to Generation,” Calvin Institute for Worship, July 5, 2005, https://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/korean-american-churches-from-generation-to-generation/.

[8] Aaron Earls, “Most Teenagers Drop Out of Church When They Become Young Adults,” Lifeway Research, January 15, 2019, https://research.lifeway.com/2019/01/15/most-teenagers-drop-out-of-church-as-young-adults/.

[9] KT Chun, “Silent Exodus of Second-Generation Korean Americans accelerates,” Religion Watch, vol. 33 no.7, https://www.religionwatch.com/silent-exodus-of-second-generation-korean-americans-accelerates/.

[10] Ashley Vazquez, “Korean Churches Lose Young Congregants, Who View Religion As Irrelevant,” The Groundtruth Project, April 25, 2018, https://thegroundtruthproject.org/korean-churches-lose-young-congregants-view-religion-irrelevant/. See also Fenggang Yang, Chinese Christians in America: Conversion, Assimilation, and Adhesive Identities (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 148-150.

[11] See also Yang, Chinese Christians in America, 179: “Chinese Christians assure their Chinese identity by preserving Chinese cultural traditions and reinterpreting Chinese classics. They have made efforts to integrate Christian values with Christian beliefs and to articulate the compatibility of the two; however, discrepancies remain.”

[12] Thomas Hwang, “Has the Second-Generation Korean-American Church Failed Us?,” Tom Talks, January 31, 2018, http://www.tom-talks.org/blog/2018/1/26/has-the-second-generation-korean-american-church-failed-us.

[13] Erin Chan Ding, “Why the Children of Immigrants Are Returning to Their Religious Roots,” Christianity Today, February 16, 2021, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/march/children-of-immigrants-multiethnic-church.html.

[14] Esther Chung-Kim, “Gaining a Voice: The Asian American Church in Context with Dr. Esther Chung-Kim,” Sola Network, June 3, 2021, https://sola.network/article/gaining-a-voice/.

[15] Ding, “Why the Children of Immigrants Are Returning to Their Religious Roots.”

[16] Taken from Ding, “Why the Children of Immigrants Are Returning to Their Religious Roots.” Italics added.

[17] Ding, “Why the Children of Immigrants Are Returning to Their Religious Roots.”

[18] Rebecca Kim, God’s New Whiz Kids?: Korean American Evangelicals on Campus (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 2.

[19] Molintas, “Solving the ‘Silent Exodus’ From Churches.”

[20] Hwang, “Has the Second-Generation Korean-American Church Failed Us?”: “Most pastors who pastored in a first-generation Korean church never worked in a real team before. Sure as the EM pastor, he'd meet with the Korean Senior Pastor. But they wouldn't be making decisions together. Rather as an EM pastor, he would simply report to the senior pastor how the EM is doing, and that's it. So when these former EM pastors become lead pastors, it seems like lot of them struggle with team-ministry. They want to train and work together with other leaders as a team. But many of them struggle with this because they've never experienced team-ministry before. So instead of developing and working together with their staff, many Korean-American pastors simply command and receive reports. And as a result, a lot of Korean-American churches end up feeling like disconnected individual ministries trying to do church together, which sounds similar to an EM-KM church.”

[21] Charles Choe, “Challenges, Transition, and Opportunities in the 2nd Gen Asian American Church,” filmed March 2023 at Center for Asian American Christianity at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ, video, 13:15.

[22] Choe, “Challenges, Transition, and Opportunities in the 2nd Gen Asian American Church,” 14:55.

[23] Choe, “Challenges, Transition, and Opportunities in the 2nd Gen Asian American Church,” 16:20.

[24] Choe, “Challenges, Transition, and Opportunities in the 2nd Gen Asian American Church,” 18:53.

[25] The concept of ‘perpetual adolescence’ as it relates to EM adults who remain under the control of first-gen leaders/ministries is one that I am borrowing from Justin R. Hawkins and his acute observations.

[26] Choe, “Challenges, Transition, and Opportunities in the 2nd Gen Asian American Church,” 20:54.

[27] Yang, Chinese Christians in America, 7, 63-64, 129.

[28] Lee, “Silent Exodus.”

[29] See Acts Ministries International’s webpage: https://actsministriesinternational.snappages.site.

[30] Ding, “Why the Children of Immigrants Are Returning to Their Religious Roots.”

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David Choi

David Choi is a pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in New Haven, CT. He is a doctoral candidate at Duke University.