Korean churches for the next generation

August 22, 2007

KoreAm Journal is the most widely-circulated independent English-language monthly magazine that highlights the news, stories and issues of Korean Americans nationwide. In its December 2005 issue, this article titled “The Church Divide” [free registration required] brings out a wide range of stories to illustrate the Korean churches’ attempts to reach the next generation:

With over 75 percent of Korean Americans identifying themselves as Protestant, the church has long been a haven for a community with immigrant roots. However, the appearance of English-speaking ministries within Korean churches has presented progress along with problems, and now second-generation churchgoers’ needs are changing. KoreAm examines the culture of Korean churches and their future.

Inside the Dream Church in Pasadena, Calif., a robed minister reads solemnly in Korean from the Gospel while latecomers tiptoe in and head toward the back pews. When the choir stands to sing, about 250 congregation members dressed in their Sunday best — blouses, coats and ties — stand with open hymnals. It is just another Sunday morning in this stained glass setting — a traditional picture of church that hasn’t changed much for Korean immigrants over the last few decades.

But walk behind this sanctuary and you’ll almost miss a hall where another service is taking place. This one is a generation away. On a small stage, a young, animated pastor in a suit speaks frankly to a room full of the fashionably casual. With just half the crowd of the Dream Church, this feels more like an intimate meeting. Seated in rows of fold-up chairs, members take notes during the sermon and laugh at the pastor’s jokes. When the praise team (a band consisting of a singer, guitarist, bassist and drummer) takes over and plays catchy pop medleys, members sing along with words projected onto an overhead screen. This is the Community Church on Holliston (CCH), the English-speaking ministry, or EM, of the Dream Church.

With the Rev. Sam Park at its helm, CCH has rapidly grown from five members to nearly 200 in six years. A graduate of a liberal arts college who once worked with Teach For America, Park was dubious about joining forces with a Korean ministry (KM). His ordination thesis on first- and second-generation ministries showed him that these relationships were often tenuous.

“There are scant examples of [English-speaking] ministries doing well, along with Korean ministries. It’s very rare,” says Park, 36. “There is no question that there is patronization sometimes. They think that we are their kids. Every Korean ministry, when they start an [English-speaking] ministry, says, ‘Oh, we hope it does well.’ That’s, quite honestly, not their biggest problem. It’s when we end up doing well. Because then, all of a sudden, how much ownership do KMs give us?”

To read the entire article, “The Church Divide,” free registration is required.

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