When I think about how much the Asian American church wrings their hands over the “Silent Exodus” and what to do to bring the next generation back into the fold, I can’t help but ask whether those who have left the ethnic church actually miss it.
When I left the ethnic church for a long stint from 1999 to 2003, I didn’t miss it. I drove a fairly long distance from where I lived to attend the Korean church. The church had a faint smell of mold in almost every room and an occasional yellowish-water-stained ceiling tile. The lights had an overly golden light, making everything seem like a faded photograph. Everything seemed so static – the color of paint, the cracks in the concrete, the color of carpet, and mostly, the people. It seemed to me that if I left it would remain the same as it had been for the many years before I had ever sat in those well-worn pews. What would I be missing exactly?
I had stayed pretty active with the largely immigrant demographic at the church (it helped that I played the piano and guitar for the worship team, liked to play sports, could teach the SAT class, etc. etc.), so when I decided to leave, it was a burden lifted, not a nurturing, transformative relationship aborted. I didn’t leave with any hard feelings, and certainly a few people called me a couple times to see if I was OK, but then that was it.
Occasionally when I would see familiar faces at the local Korean restaurant or grocery store, I would just smile and say that I was busy with work or some other such excuse to stave off the guilt trip that would usually ensue, but for the most part no one ever visited and the phone calls ended after the second week of absenteeism. I forgot them just as quickly.
I ran across marketing guru Seth Godin’s blog the other day and found this post entitled, “Will You Be Missed?” and I couldn’t help but think of my church now and how many divisions and internal fights it has survived, but I wondered, do the people who left the church miss it? Will the youth group that I serve now really miss this church ten years from now? twenty? One of the things that frustrates / challenges / inspires me about the ethnic church is not that I would miss the church if I left again, but that I miss the church while I’m there. I believe that the ethnic church has a lot to offer if we perhaps weren’t so much preoccupied with keeping them in our church, but rather had the vision to send them out.
Recently, I took my youth group to visit another Korean church for Sunday morning worship service. One of my youth expressed a little puzzlement that it didn’t bother me to do so and tried to encourage me, “You should have more confidence. You’re a good JDSN for us, we don’t need to go anywhere else. Even if we’re small, we can worship by ourselves.”
I was startled by the youth’s concern, “Thanks, but this isn’t about my self-esteem…”
While I waxed a humble answer for the youth, I think ultimately it’s because I feel that churches may come and go, but the Word of God and the Kingdom of God still stands. I’m not afraid of them leaving the church I serve, only afraid that they would cease to seek out Jesus and what a lifetime of following him means.
Pablo Neruda once wrote in a love poem that “loving is so short, but forgetting is so long.”
I wonder if perhaps our churches have loved us well enough so that their forgetting of their mother church would be long. In short, will our churches be missed?
It’s not too late — Change the answer.