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NAMB initiative seeks to reverse decline in Korean church numbers comment (0)

July 3, 2014


NAMB initiative seeks to reverse decline in Korean church numbers

Planting a second-generation Korean-American church has its cultural and generational challenges, according to John Yi, who serves as the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions’ Asian church planting catalyst. 

One of the most difficult tasks for planting such churches in Alabama, Yi said, is to first find who the second-generation Korean-Americans are and then find where they live. 

Yi’s comments match up with Robert Goette’s, who started planting churches in Chicago nearly 30 years ago.

Growing up as a missionary kid in Korea, Goette knew the culture and generational challenges. Some things needed to change.

The veteran church-planting strategist compared his early ministry in Chicago to white-water rafting. There was boredom — then sheer terror, he said.

Churches — particularly ethnic churches — must wisely negotiate those stages of change. One change Goette championed was a mindset that first- and second-generation Korean-Americans are distinctly different people groups. First-generation Koreans often remain entrenched in their culture and learn limited English. Their second-generation children become not only fluently bilingual but also bicultural. Consequently the second-generation Koreans often embrace Western cultural values.

Yi agreed. 

“Second-generation culture is much more American than it is Korean. They have a cultural identity of an American. ... They often want to join a Korean church, but it doesn’t work because of language limitations,” Yi said, noting that some second-generation Korean-Americans only speak English fluently.

And much of Goette’s early research is proving prophetic. The accelerated growth of the Korean church from the 1980s and 1990s has slowed, and even declined, as Korean Southern Baptist churches navigate their “white-water” challenges. In recent years, the number of Korean Southern Baptist churches in North America has declined from more than 850 to less than 800, said Jason Kim, the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Korean church planting catalyst. Meanwhile between 2000 and 2010, Korean immigration grew 39 percent to reach an estimated 1.7 million people, according to NAMB’s Center for Missional Research.

Growing population

To reverse the decline in the number of Korean churches and keep pace with the growing Korean population in North America, NAMB is proposing 80 new Korean church plants in 32 population centers (see sidebar, this page). The plants are part of a national strategy to increase the number of ethnic church plants where they are needed most. 

Eun Kwang Byun recently planted a first-generation church — Valley Life Baptist Church, Northridge, Calif. Coached by Song Sik Kim, the California Southern Baptist Convention’s Korean church planting catalyst co-funded by NAMB, Byun conducted a demographic study and started with a core group of about 12 families from a sponsoring church. Mostly newlywed young adults, ages 30–35, they launched with about 40 in attendance and now have 50–55 every Sunday.

Byun agrees with the research and observation of others that Korean church planting is changing.

Despite the “white-water” challenges, NAMB’s Kim remains hopeful the next generation of Korean-American church planters will steady those rough waves with a missional mindset.

And although there are currently 29 Korean-American Baptist churches in Alabama, and many more small groups on their way to becoming a church, Yi hopes to find and train more Korean church planters. He noted he also is excited to be in the beginning stages of organizing bivocational training for Korean-American church planters.

(NAMB, TAB)

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NAMB is proposing 80 new Korean church plants in 32 population centers. The plants are part of a national strategy (SEND North America) to increase the number of ethnic church plants where they are needed most.

Canada — Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver

Northeast — Baltimore, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C.

South — Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans

Midwest — Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis

West — Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Salk Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle

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