We live in amazingly fast-changing times, perhaps the fastest in human history. It was not long ago when modern life in America was three broadcast networks on television. Music that used to be on cassette tapes was 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 through 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 900+ channels[i] and broadband internet connection in 87.9% of U.S. homes.[ii] Personal computing has shrunk to laptops and notebooks. Tablets are everywhere, and flat-screen high-definition televisions have replaced the old bulky screens. The technology you buy in a retail store today (or order online) will be obsolete in about two years. And what you’re buying in the store today will be finding its way to the recycling center and the landfill two 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 the familiar.
Today’s generation is growing up in a world that has always had the internet; 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 twenty years ago: texting, email, emoji, hashtags, WiFi, and so much more. Airports today have cell phone parking lots. Food places like Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A, and Taco Bell have mobile ordering through apps so you can order ahead of time and avoid standing in lines. People relate by communicating and connecting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. There are all kinds of other services and conveniences made possible by the likes of Amazon, Dropbox, Uber, Airbnb, and many 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 have become the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the United States. And it is projected that by 2043, the American population will no longer be any racial group majority in the US.[iii] And it is into this ever-so-changing society that the churches in the United States are called to be a witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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.[iv] However, there are comparatively fewer resources for equipping churches to do effective ministry among Asian Americans. The need for developing these resources is becoming increasingly urgent.
Demographics Is Destiny
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 modified both classrooms and hiring of teachers to reflect the diversity of the students in their community. In government, different community services are created to provide for the needs of different groups. In business, consumers’ needs are constantly monitored so that products and services can best serve the growing number of diverse groups of customers in a free-market economy like America’s. The saying “demographics is destiny”[v] 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.
How should Christian pastors and leaders pay attention to these changes in population? A church’s ministry typically serves an entire community from the cradle to the grave, or birth to death. Factoring in people who are moving in (perhaps from immigration) and moving out of a community (with migration being common in the American life), it 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.
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.[vi] It would 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 family without any religious upbringing, and did not start my Christian faith journey until the end of high school. When I renewed my commitment to Christ at the age of 25, I sensed a call to minister to Asian Americans. I had no idea what that would look like. So I did the one thing I knew: 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 circuitous path. Only by the grace of God, what seemed randomly coincidental was sovereignly guided. I did work in vocational ministry as a pastor for five years: two years of youth ministry at an ethnic Chinese church, and three years as an associate pastor at a multiethnic church plant with mostly Asian Americans. I did as well as expected as a pastor… But who needs an “okay” pastor? I wanted to serve God with all that I have—my skills, training, and gifts, accentuated with my desires and passions.
Subsequently, I found myself working with an assortment of Christian organizations, two that are particularly pertinent to this book’s subject. First, I worked with L2 Foundation, a private family foundation with a vision to develop leadership and legacy for Asian Americans. Second, I worked with Leadership Network, a place connecting innovators for the purpose of multiplying their impact. Working with these two organizations in the past 18 years gave me a number of opportunities to connect with Asian American Christian ministry leaders as well as innovative churches that are shaping the future for 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 through workshops and seminars at conferences and churches. I have received positive feedback that my sharing has been helpful to those in attendance and to those that view the videos or listen to the recordings posted on the internet.
It is my hope that the things I’ve researched and learned about in Asian American ministry developments will be even more useful in a book format. My prayer is for church leadership teams to read it together and discuss its implications. It should create conversations for churches to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider how to make their ministry more effective for the present and future generations of Asian Americans.
I coined the term “next generation multi-Asian churches” to highlight this unique growing group of church communities I’ve found in my research. I loosely define the term as: autonomous English-speaking churches led by an Asian American pastor that’s intentionally or incidentally reaching next generation Asian Americans and other non-Asians.
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. 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 thus far. 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 has worked in the past and what has not.
Lastly, this book will present the growing trend of next generation multi-Asian churches that I have 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 of what a future of the Asian American church would look like, because currently there aren’t 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 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, even though there are not many safe places where they’re articulately examined, untangled, and resolved. I’ve seen a number of good books already published and research already done on bringing about better understanding, but I’ve found very few publications that provide solutions with real-life examples.
This book will present my findings and observations from a new kind of church that is effectively reaching the next generation of Asian Americans and non-Asians too in a multiethnic world. I think it can be more helpful to look at the new solutions instead of troubleshooting old problems. My hope is to help move the conversation forward.
It is also my prayer to see this book be a part of the development of the future church in our multiethnic society within a multinational world, for the sake of the Gospel and to the glory of God.
This book was written and authored 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 in real-time, chapter by chapter, and giving feedback via a comment section. That feedback was considered and incorporated into the book’s final draft. The book is being published digitally first and later in printed format via a print-on-demand technology.
To find additional resources and join in the on-going conversations, please go to http://multiasian.church on any web browser connected to the internet.
[iii] “U.S. Census Bureau Projections Show a Slower Growing, Older, More Diverse Nation a Half Century from Now.” U.S. Census Bureau, December 12, 2012. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb12-243.html
[v] “Weeks Population: Who First Said ‘Demography is Destiny’?.” 2013. http://weekspopulation.blogspot.com/2013/10/who-first-said-demography-is-destiny.html