August 7, 2007
In this 2006 paper titled Korean Ethnic Church Growth Phenomenon in the United States (PDF), Dr. Chul Tim Chang presents a very good overview of the Korean church’s history, tracing its origins back to 1902 and noting how its growth stems from both social and spiritual factors. Towards the end of the paper, the author lists 22 characteristics of a typical Korean ethnic church in the United States:
- Most churches are small in size with forty to sixty members.
- Members want to be part of an ethnic church. This also includes the American born Korean Americans
- Having a seminary-trained ordained pastor is a prerequisite for pastoral ministry.
- Church leadership is male dominated, although “a strong majority” of church members are women.
- Theologically, the churches are conservative, a reality stemming from the traditional cultural and religious conservatism of most Koreans.
- They tend to be more pragmatic than theoretical. In other words, they are not very concerned with whether or not a particular program is theologically or denominationally correct so long as it fulfills the desired purpose.
- There is a growing struggle between the Korean-speaking and English-speaking members.
- The “circulation of saints” is dynamic and constant. Five reasons for this problem were due to: “moving away from the area,” “services do not satisfy spiritual needs,” “too much conflict in the congregation,” “do not appreciate the pastor,” and “don’t like the program it currently offers”.
- There is a lack of community service. Karen J. Chai argues that many Korean Americans go to church to have “fellowship, maintenance of cultural tradition, social services, and social status and positions”
- The focus of church is often about keeping the Sunday worship service as the central event of the week
- Churches are prone to church splits.
- They place a high priority on possessing their own buildings.
- They are affected by the state of Christianity back in Korea.
- They are comfortable with a hierarchical organization.
- They are religiously motivated.
- There is a tendency toward a superstar pastor syndrome.
- They prefer to pray aloud in one accord. One thing that is distinctively Korean is their style of prayer. When they pray in their gatherings, especially during the weekly early morning services, they prefer to pray out loud.
- The first generation (Korean speaking) members are concerned for the spiritual well-being of the second generation (English-speaking) members.
- There is a lingering problem of materialism.
- An essential church activity is eating together.
- The first generation lay leaders make great financial sacrifices.
- They are giving more attention to world missions.
Download the full paper for the full context and references cited. The paper was presented at the American Academy of Religion in Claremont, CA on March 12, 2006.
Also see Chul Tim Chang’s paper, A history of the Korean immigrant Baptist church movement in the United States: the growth of ethnic minority churches related to the Southern Baptist convention is exploding, published in the Baptist History and Heritage, Winter, 2005.
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