Chapter 12: Let’s Welcome the Future

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Congratulations! You have now reached the final chapter in this book. My hope is that this book would be an inflection point for a new beginning. And I’m extremely hopeful for the future of Asian Americans in our multiethnic world.

In an open letter from James Choung (who was then the National Director of Asian American Ministries at InterVarsity/USA) that was published in Inheritance Magazine, he quoted a prediction from two historians about the tremendous potential for Asian Americans:

Historians William Strauss and Neil Howe studied American generations as far back as 1584. Based on their findings, they took some guesses at what future generations would look like. … In their book Generations, they predicted that Asian Americans would be “a major cultural and intellectual force” by 2025 — like the German descendants in the 1880s and 1890s, and their Jewish counterparts of the 1930s and 1940s.

For the record, here’s the exact wording from the book: “Midlife Asian-Americans will establish their ethnic group as a major cultural and intellectual force, akin to the midlife German Gilded or midlife Jewish Lost.”

That quote prompted a shift in my own thinking. For too long, being bicultural had been perceived (and reinforced by some) as a liability, because it felt like not fitting in anywhere and having no sense of belonging. But that perception doesn’t have to define reality nor limit our future. We can reframe that. I believe that being Asian American is more, not less, than being either Asian only or American only. In a fast-changing world that we find ourselves in, with global travel and increasingly accelerating connectivity via mobile and social, bicultural means a built-in agility to adapt into more contexts than someone with only a monocultural lived experience. And perhaps as the historians are anticipating, Asian Americans will make a great contribution in the near future.

I recently became an empty-nester when my one and only son graduated from high school and started college. When my son received his diploma at the commencement ceremony, that marked a new beginning and a transition for him and for myself. This gave me more discretionary time to work on this book project.

This also heightened my concern for the many Asian American teens who are making that transition from high school to college. That transition for teens who grew up in ethnic Asian churches is often marked with leaving the ethnic Asian church or the Christian faith altogether, dubbed with the moniker, “silent exodus.” But, to be fair, an alarming rate also leave their faith behind among non-Asian teens in American churches; different research have estimated the youth-to-college attrition rate as high as 61% to 88%.

At the same time in recent years, there’s been a significant response to the Gospel among next generation Asian American college students. The 2006 Christianity Today article, The Tiger in the Academy: Asian Americans populate America’s elite colleges more than ever—and campus ministries even more than that, observed this trend: “Asian students are more likely to show Christian commitment than other ethnic groups, including whites.” Asian Americans comprise a large part of Christian fellowships at college campuses like UC Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Princeton, and Yale.

InterVarsity/USA and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of Canada co-host the Urbana student missions conference for college students once every three years with about 16,000 attending. Urbana has seen a steady growth of Asians and Asian Americans in attendance, growing from 24.4% in 2009, 39% in 2012, to 40% in 2015. As this book was being written, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA elected and installed its first Asian American president, Tom Lin, in August 2016.

Asian Americans have a very formative experience that shapes their Christian lives through contextualized campus ministries like InterVarsity, Epic Movement (an Asian American ministry of Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ), and Asian American Christian Fellowship. And like clockwork, college students graduate and re-enter society as young adults to start their careers and families.

But, this second transition is also a challenging one. Asian American college graduates tend to have a difficult time finding a church home that replicates the same level of energy and enthusiasm that they’ve experienced during their college years. And that’s quite a spiritual letdown. While the first transition from high school to college has received attention as a phenomena dubbed “silent exodus”, this second transition is also very critical.

Asian American college graduates are probably unlikely to return to the ethnic Asian church, though a smaller percentage may return when they get married and have children, with that being the best opportunity to reconnect with their Asian heritage and culture. Some are going to larger majority-culture churches and there’s nothing wrong with that per se. But based on the chatter I’m hearing, the larger percentage of Asian American college graduate will most likely disengage from their Christian faith and be numbered among the “dones” and “nones.”

These are the two most critical transitions we can be paying attention to as Asian American churches and church leaders in hopes that we can collectively create a seamless pathway through all the stages of life by having a better handoff from high school to college and then from college back to the church. If our churches don’t work on making these transitions smoother, we are making our work harder than it needs to be. In this sense, evangelism is harder than discipleship.

Part of the solution will be the multi-Asian churches as highlighted in this book.

Part of the solution will emerge from Asian American pastors receiving theological training at renowned seminaries like Talbot School of Theology (enrollment is 32% Asian American/ Pacific Islander), Westminster Theological Seminary (24%), Fuller Theological Seminary (10.6%), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (?), Master’s Seminary (?).  

And, part of the solution have yet to be birthed in the imagination of the next generation as God would call His children and inspire them to accomplish greater things yet to come.

By way of review, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial ethic grouping, and in less than 30 years from now, there will be no racial majority; or to say it another way, Whites no longer a majority in US by 2043. The majority of children under age 1 are already non-white. Ed Stetzer noted how American Christianity is not dying (I can hear Ed shouting, “Stop saying the church in America is dying!”) The American church is very much in transition, and one of those transitions may well be the faster growth in the number of Christians among people of color, but this has yet to be reflected on the stages and pages of evangelical media.

And, one last thought. This may be too early to call a trend, but I’m starting to notice a leading edge of churches intentionally going multi-lingual to better reach more people, not as separate language congregations, but developing an intentional cross-cultural Christian community.

And here’s the thing, this multiethnic diversity in the United States gives the evangelical churches a greater potential to better serve the global village, the whole wide world, if the church will take bigger and bolder steps to engage this diversity. Granted, not every neighborhood in America is overwhelmingly ethnic diverse yet, but it’s increasing practically everywhere. The nations have already come! They’re at our doorsteps!

Let me hit pause here and let the conversations begin. This book is intended to be a conversation starter for church leaders to engage in robust discussions for effective ministry.

I also sincerely invite your thoughts, questions, and comments to be posted online at multiasian.church where we can have an open conversation to discuss the many topics mentioned in this book.

Or, we can have a private conversation using any one of the communication channels readily available: email (djchuang@multiasian.church), phone (949-243-7260, or social media (twitter @djchuang or Facebook m.me/djchuang). It’s your call and I’m listening.

Finally, I’ll be adding resources and links at multiasian.church as readers contribute and new publications are released. To stay in touch, subscribe to email updates at multiasian.church/subscribe and like the Facebook page at facebook.com/multiasian.church.

What are you waiting for? The possibilities and the potential for a brighter future are limitless. The future is what we make of it.

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