Church Planting, Asian-American Style

I still remember the excitement, more than 15 years ago, when my then-fiance and I were invited to be part of a new church plant targeting previously churched and unchurched second- and third-generation Asian Americans. At that time in the mid-1990s, Asian Americans who had grown up in Asian churches (largely catering to their parents’ generation) were leaving the church by the time they grew into adulthood. Their parents’ churches no longer fit them, but nor did they feel at home in the primarily-Caucasian churches located in neighborhoods where they were choosing to settle down. So they just drifted away from church and by extension from their faith, in a phenomenon that has been labeled “Silent Exodus.”

The church we helped to plant was an attempt to stem the tide of the exodus and provide a more fitting church alternative for those young Asian Americans who felt they had nowhere else to go. Our family, which now includes our three young boys, is still a part of this same church, although I no longer believe that Asian-American churches are the only way to reach this population. However, we have learned numerous lessons along the way which can be instructive for others who are trying to reach out to the Asian American population.

Let me share just one aspect of Asian American culture that permeates our church. If you come to visit, you will hear the words “Uncle” and “Auntie” a great deal. At first, you might think that everyone in the church must somehow be related. But actually, this is the way we refer to all adults in the church, so that children and adults like can embrace the idea that we are all a part of the same spiritual family.

Family is such a strong cultural influence in the Asian American context, and so in your own church setting, if you emphasize the themes of “family” and “community,” those ideas will resonate with the Asian Americans in your midst, particularly if you take the time and effort to initiate with them and ensure they feel welcome and accepted.