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We live in amazing fast-changing times, perhaps the fastest in human history. It was not long ago when modern life in America was 3 television channels, music that used to be on cassette tapes were being distributed on compact discs (CDs), VCR tapes and rental stores opened up a new sub-culture of watching movies at home (with microwave popcorn, of course), personal computers came with floppy disks, and dial-up modems connected the masses on networks like AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe. Yes, I have a confession to make: I grew up in the 80s.
Less than a generation later, we have cable television with 500+ channels, broadband Internet connection in 80% of US homes, smartphones with capacitive touch screens, personal computing have shrunk to laptops and notebooks, tablets are everywhere, flat-screen high-definition television have replaced bulky screens with CRTs, just as digital signals have replaced analog. The technology you buy in a retail store today (or order online) will be obsolete in about 2 years. That is, what you’re buying in the store today will be finding its way to the recycling center and the landfill 2 years later.
Most people would find all of these changes very stressful and dizzying. Who can keep up with it all? If you grew up in a time when the Internet didn’t exist, like me, you may say to yourself, “Why bother?” and just opt-out from changing your lifestyle of technology usage to stay with the comfortable and familiar.
But today’s generation is growing up a world that’s always had the Internet. In today’s world, real-time information and answers are always available at our fingertips, whether you’re asking Siri or Google. Common words in today’s vocabulary did not even exist 20 years ago: texting, keyboarding, email, emoji, hashtags, smartphones, Skype, WiFi, flash drive, mobile apps, and so much more. Airports today have cell phone parking lots. Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Taco Bell have mobile ordering through their apps so you can order ahead of time and avoid standing in lines. People relate by communicating and connecting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Weibo, WeChat, and CyWorld. And there are all kinds of other services and conveniences made possible by the likes of Craigslist, Ebay, Amazon, Netflix, Dropbox, PayPal, Venmo, Spotify, Uber, Airbnb, and more.
Here in the United States of America, technology is not the only thing that’s changing. The multicultural diversity of American society is also changing faster than ever before. It was 2003 when Hispanic/Latinos became the largest minority racial group, surpassing African Americans. Since 2010, Asian Americans became the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the United States. And it is projected that by 2050, the American population will no longer be any racial group majority in the US.
And it is into this society that the Church in the United States is called to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The church that was founded over 2,000 years ago continues to shine a light into the darkness from generation to generation by reproducing disciples and sending out evangelists and missionaries to share the Good News. This means crossing cultures, learning and using new languages, and contextualizing the unchanging message of the Gospel by using relevant illustrations and methods that make sense to the recipients.
In recent years, there’s a slowly growing number of published books to challenge and equip the church leaders about becoming a multiethnic church in order to be a more effective witness to a multiethnic society.
However, there are comparatively few resources for equipping churches to do effective ministry among Asian Americans. The need for developing these resources is becoming increasingly urgent.
Demographics Is Destiny
Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial grouping in the United States of America today, both numerically and rate of growth typically measured by percentages. Practically every sector of society and industry recognizes the importance of understanding the times, particularly with changes in population and demographic shifts.
In education, schools and universities have to prepare enough classrooms and teachers for the number of children growing up in a community. In government, the population has to be factored into providing the right amount of community services. In housing, population projections informs the builders for where to build new homes to accommodate living spaces. In business, a population’s numbers and needs are constantly monitored so that products and services can best serve a growing number of customers, especially in a free-market economy like America’s. The saying “demographics is destiny” is often used in the marketing world to describe just how important it is to pay attention to population trends when planning for the future, or your business will have no future.
In churches and ministries, then, how should Christian pastors and leaders pay attention to the changes in the population? A church’s ministry typically serves an entire community’s population from the cradle to the grave, from birth to death. Factor in people that are moving in (perhaps from immigration) and moving out of a community (with migration being common in American life), that means every community’s population is constantly changing. If the mission of the church is to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, church leaders have to pay attention to its community’s population.
But looking at the whole population of a nation can be overwhelming or irrelevant. If there were a scoreboard that displayed the real-time population of the United States, that may be interesting, but not very helpful. It’d be more helpful to look more closely at a specific context or demographic to have numbers that are more understandable (to wrap your head around it) and actionable (for you to do something about it).
Introducing the Author
I write this book as a Chinese-American Christian man about to enter my 50s. I grew up in a traditional immigrant Chinese family without a religious upbringing, and started my Christian faith journey towards the end of high school. When I renewed my commitment to Christ at the age of 25, I sensed a call to ministry with Asian Americans. But I had no idea what that would look like, so I did the one thing I knew to do: go to seminary. I attended Dallas Theological Seminary to prepare for pastoral ministry. Those years of seminary education were good preparation, but nothing since has been predictable nor strategically planned.
My life of Christian ministry has taken quite a circumlocutious path, and only by the grace of God, what seemed randomly coincidental was sovereignly guided. I did work in vocational ministry as a pastor for 5 years: 2 years of youth ministry at an ethnic Chinese church, and 3 years as an associate pastor at an multiethnic church plant with mostly Asian Americans. I could do ministry as a pastor “okay”, but who needs an “okay” pastor? I wanted to serve God with all that I had, not only with my skills and training, but also my gifts and talents, accentuated with my desires and passions.
I found myself working with an assortment of Christian organizations, 2 of which that are particularly pertinent to this book’s subject. Firstly, I worked with L2 Foundation, a private family foundation with a vision to develop leadership and legacy for Asian Americans. Secondly, I also worked with Leadership Network, to connect innovators to multiply their impact. Working with these 2 organizations for over 18 years, I’ve had a number of opportunities to connect with Asian American Christian ministry leaders and pastors as well as innovative churches that are shaping the present future of the Kingdom of God.
Why This Book
Since 2009, I’ve had numerous opportunities to share my research and observations of what is happening in Asian American Christianity. These workshops and seminars have been helpful to those in attendance, and those presentations have helped those that view the videos and listen to the recordings posted on the Internet.
I’ve also come to realize that the content of my presentations and research over the years would be even more helpful in a book format so that leadership teams can together read and discuss it and consider how to make their ministry efforts more effective for the present and future generations of Asian Americans. (And on a personal note, I’ve recently become an empty-nester since my one and only son started college, so I have more discretionary time to work on this project.)
What’s In This Book
This book is all about the unique opportunities and particular challenges specific to doing ministry within the Asian American context. First we will take a closer look at the Asian American population, because church ministry is all about people. There are many people already and there are many more that are coming, both by immigration and reproduction. Asian Americans are a very diverse racial/ethnic group of many ethnicities, and these distinctives must be considered when preparing for the many opportunities for outreach, service, and ministry.
This book will also review the variety of models most commonly used by ethnic Asian churches to minister to Asian Americans in the past and present. For immigrants coming from Asia to America, these churches have worked faithfully for decades to meet the spiritual and practical needs of its multi-generational, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural community. There are many lessons to be learned from what’s worked in the past.
However, what’s worked in the past will not continue to work in the present future that’s changing so rapidly in so many different ways.
This book will present the growing trend of next generation multi-Asian churches that the author has observed during the past 15 years. This new kind of church model is creatively reaching more people in the younger generations, both Asian and non-Asian. Because these churches are agile and adaptable, they’re doing ministry in different ways than the traditional ethnic Asian churches. This gives us a picture for what a future of the Asian American church could look like, because there doesn’t seem to be many signs for how existing church models will be effective in reaching the fast-growing Asian American population that’s on the brink of doubling.
My Hope For This Book
There are many diverse and complicated issues when looking at the terrain of doing ministry in an Asian American context. Those that have labored in this ministry context already know the difficulties and challenges, and this book will recognize them and address them. I’ve seen a number of good books already published and research already being done to bring about better understanding. But I’ve found very few publications that provide solutions and real-life examples.
This book is my attempt at making a contribution to share some of the new solutions that are working to reach the next generation of Asian Americans. It is by no means comprehensive. It’s my hope that this book would move the conversation forward.
To join the conversation and check the endnotes for references and additional resources, go to https://multiasian.church.
And, it is my hope that this book will accelerate the development of the present future church in our multiethnic society within a multinational global village for the sake of the Gospel and to the glory of God.
This book is being written and crafted using web-based tools available to all of us. This book was written collaboratively with crowdsourcing principles by inviting people to read the rough draft while it is being written, chapter by chapter, and giving feedback via a comment section. That feedback will be considered and incorporated into the final draft of the book’s manuscript. And then the book will be published both digitally and in print by using a print-on-demand technology.
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