Article: Orange County exports Asian American churches to the world

DJ_ChuangA recent article was released in the Orange County Register featuring DJ Chuang.  Here’s an excerpt from the article, written by Jim Hinch:

“I’m an experimenter,” Chuang said. “My heart is in the church, the Asian American church. But church is not known for being a place of research and development.”

Chuang left formal ministry and became a consultant, working for churches, parachurch organizations and Christian nonprofits, always aiming to help Asian American Christians become more digitally savvy and culturally responsive.

He’s helping Brea’s Ambassador Church expand its network of sister churches and advising La Mirada’s Talbot Seminary as it develops one of America’s first doctoral programs in Asian American ministry.

Chuang is a manic presence, especially online. He was, he says, the first person in Orange County to sign up for Twitter seven years ago (a distinction confirmed by the rankings website Twitaholic). He tweets throughout each day, blogs, produces a weekly podcast and talks by phone, Skype and Google Chat with a nationwide roster of church leaders. Callers make appointments via an interactive scheduler on Chuang’s website.

Last year, Chuang traveled 35,839 miles in 74 days on 16 trips to conferences and meetings. This information comes from the Chuang family Christmas card, which also details the number of followers (7,000) Chuang has on Twitter and the number of reward points he earned last year at Starbucks (50).

Since 2005, Chuang has edited two books on Asian American ministry, produced a report on current trends in Asian American churches, written 23 magazine articles and made 28 presentations at church conferences and seminars – achievements tabulated, in chronological order, on Chuang’s website.

Chuang has bipolar disorder. He has been successfully treated for the condition since 2001. But he attributes his numerous career changes and intellectual restlessness, in part, to manic episodes.

His periods of depression, he said, brought him near suicide. And they convinced him that helping Asian American churches become more culturally inclusive is tantamount to a life-or-death calling.

“It’s very hard for Asians to talk about their weaknesses,” Chuang said, explaining why he waited years before publicly acknowledging his condition and seeking treatment.

Chuang said traditional Asian American churches are especially inhospitable to painful personal problems because many Asian cultures prize a veneer of stoic hard work and moral respectability.

“I want to bring churches into a place to deal more honestly with the real person,” Chuang said.

“I would like to see Asian Americans become more healthy and whole as people.”

To read the full article on the Orange County Register website, visit here.

Also, DJ gave an inspiring talk at Urbana 12’s PANA lounge, called: “Step Up, Speak Up, Live It Up,” which you can find in transcript and audio format on his website, or in video format on Intervarsity Asian American Ministries’ website.

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Current Success and Future Failure

[a guest post from Timothy Lo, reposted with permission]

I write this from my own limited experience and observations… obviously limited to what I’ve seen and from talking to others.  And probably more relevant in the non-CA or TX areas of the US.

Since the early 1990’s there have been a lot of new churches that quickly started up and grabbed my attention.  For example, you might have heard of some of them like Redeemer Presbyterian in NY, Parkwood Community in IL, Liquid in NJ, and High Rock in MA.  God is doing a lot of great things in these churches, as is evident by how he is growing them in attendance, spiritual depth, and positive influence in their communities.  They are often marked by excellence in their ministries across the board: worship music, preaching, media, child care, fellowship, small groups, outreach, welcoming to newcomers, etc.  But it is the appeal of being part of such churches that has hurt and continues to damage the future of the children of immigrant Chinese.

What do the children of immigrant Chinese have to do with these churches?  Well from what I can tell these 2nd generation American born Chinese (ABC) as we call them have been greatly attracted to these newer churches.  And this greatly affects their attendance and participation in their home churches.

[This is a skippable section if you have less patience or time]

Let’s get this straight: immigrant Chinese churches haven’t always been good at keeping ABC’s with their churches (the history of this is pretty recent, since many Chinese churches in America are less than 50 years old).  This is a whole other topic in itself, but to summarize it, immigrants started churches, eventually they needed some English parts to it for their kids, they have childcare, children’s programs, then youth groups, and then eventually an English service.  The problem comes when the kids graduate high school.  I’m totally generalizing, but let’s say that roughly less than half of these kids stay with the faith, and out of the other half, maybe only half of those go to church weekly.  And out of those young adults (25% of the original teenagers) that go to church weekly, only some of them go to their home immigrant church, since many others go to the mainstream (white) American church somewhere else.

Now that may just be a typical rate of attrition in youth groups, which is also another whole issue for another time.  What I want to focus on is the fact that there are a bunch that do not go back to their home church, sometimes they just don’t feel the connection there anymore, it could be that they are dating or more comfortable with non-Asians, or for whatever other reason.  But then those who DO go back to their home church, they oftentimes face a lot of struggles there.

In a typical immigrant Chinese church, the primary purpose and mission is to minister to immigrant Chinese.  By extension, their secondary goal is to minister to the kids of the immigrants.  So children and youth programs are an important part of their ministry.  However, when young adults come back to the church, now not only wanting to assert themselves as independent, responsible adults but also with tons of Americanized values which are different than the Chinese, there is conflict.  I have rarely seen an immigrant Chinese congregation and an English speaking and led congregation work together in harmony, cohesion, and with equal authority and fellowship.  In many larger Chinese churches, the two sides (ooops, I mean, “groups”) just tolerate each other, and give each other large amounts of independence and freedom, and that’s called getting along (very eastern: “solidarity in conflict”).  It’s very much like two separate churches just worshiping in the same building–different ministries, schedules, programs, equipment, rooms, worship services, etc.

But in those medium and smaller sized Chinese churches, what I’ve seen happen is when these ABC’s come back to their home churches to serve their youth groups, they are underappreciated in their service, they get burnt out by constant requests and blame, they feel like 2nd class citizens (whether or not the immigrant congregation views them as such or not), there is no one to mentor or disciple them, they don’t have fellowship with other peers, and they wonder, why don’t I just go to that other church down the street that will care for me and love me (yes, it’s a consumeristic mentality) instead of this one that always asks me to help with the youth or children and never cares for how I am doing spiritually?

And then on top of that, and this is my real issue, there are all these new, really cool churches that have started up, full of other ABC’s (and ABK’s, Koreans).  They are intentional, they care for you and minister to your needs, they have excellence in their ministries, they are made up of tons of young adults just like you to fellowship with, and they are typically attended by the more dedicated group of Christians that are left over from the weeding out process in college.

We are thankful for these churches, that serve these American born Chinese who might be poorly ministered to by their home churches.  Perhaps we in the immigrant Chinese church need to do a better job of creating a place where young adults can come back to.  But, meanwhile, because these churches are ministering so well to all these ABC’s, there are fewer than ever coming back to their home churches.

It was hard enough that only a small percentage of our graduating youth would come back, as far as continuing to grow and strengthen the youth and adult English presence.  But now, with the existence of these new, good churches, the few kids that would have come back are not.  They’re getting fed somewhere else now, but that leaves the immigrant Chinese church with fewer role models and ministry leaders, resulting in weaker English speaking ministries.

Is your church one of these places where the spiritually stronger young adults from immigrant Chinese (or Korean) churches are going?  If so, realize that though that may be good for your church, it may also be hurting the future of the next generation of teens from these immigrant churches.  Without at least some American born Chinese students willing to go back to their home church to minister to the next round of students, our youth ministries get weaker, and result in fewer healthy adults.  And that might mean that 10 years from now, there will not be the comparable influx of ABC young adults that have joined your congregation in the past 10 years.

As an example, I am the only 2nd generation ABC in my church who serves with the youth group.  But there are over 40 kids who are craving to be ministered to.  So most will go through all 6-7 years of middle and high school without anyone regularly leading a small group, meeting up with them, walking them through their spiritual questions, or setting an example of “this is what you can look like when you grow up, as an American born Chinese Christian.”  I am very thankful for the many parents who help out in the youth ministry when they can (the cultural challenges for them to help out in the youth ministry are much greater than in a typical white American church).  But unfortunately the number of ABC’s that we have coming back to our church is sometimes very few, or often, none.  And that is crippling the future for these youth.

I’m torn, because I cannot “blame” these new churches for what they are doing.  They are in fact doing a great job of ministering to the 2nd generation ABC’s.  But on the other hand, our Chinese church ministries continue to be hurt by fewer of our graduating students coming back.

I guess I am just praying and hoping for these 3 things:

  1. That these newer churches realize and are sensitive to this dynamic
  2. That Chinese churches can figure out how to adjust to this (design youth ministries to say bye to our kids after graduating or try to create a place where ABC’s would be more welcome?)
  3. That God would put it on the hearts of those who were blessed by their youth group experience to come back and be that mentor and role model to the next generation

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“A Silent Exodus” Leads to Freedom

Ten years ago, Helen Lee shed a grim light on a generation of Asian Americans leaving the church in droves with a piece entitled “Silent Exodus – Can the East Asian church in America reverse flight of its next generation?” which Peter Ong resurrects on his blog.

Although I had heard of the title, “Silent Exodus”, and been loosely familiar with the term since the late 1990s, I’d never read the article until Peter’s post. When it was first explained to me back in the 90s, I remember that it had filled my heart with a sense of alarm, but when I saw the post and the title, even before reading it, I said to myself, “Exodus means freedom. They were never meant to come back.” I almost shocked myself with that thought. It runs counter to how I feel about the ethnic church that I serve and whether I truly know if they will find freedom upon leaving it. But is it possible that exodus was a necessary thing — perhaps even, a good thing? Is it possible that when Asian Americans don’t return to the church of their youth, that could spell good things for the faith of their youth?

[Read more…]

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