unchurched Asian Americans

October 5, 2007

One of the statistics I cited during my 9/26 presentation on revitalizing Asian American churches was “56% Asian Americans unchurched”. This number came from The Barna Update, dated March 20, 2006, specifically, “People groups with abnormally high levels of church avoidance include Asians (56%)…”. To qualify this number, it helps to understand how the research was done:

The data in this report are based on interviews with 1003 adults from across the nation. These telephone surveys were conducted by The Barna Group, during January 2006, based upon a random sample of people 18 years of age and older living within the 48 continental states. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of adults is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. In the research, the distribution of survey respondents corresponded to the geographic dispersion of the U.S. population.

So what does this statistic imply? Very simply, there are still many Asian Americans who are unchurched. And among each specific ethnic group, be it Chinese American, Korean American, Japanese American, Vietnamese American, or others, there may well be very wide differences. I do not know of comprehensive research that gives detailed analysis for church attendance statistics of specific ethic groups. What I want to do at this point is to post this information, and invite your feedback to help grow our understanding in this area and cite other related research.

Some other related statistics about Asian Americans and Christianity is excerpted below from this AAJA Voices article (Asian American Journalists Association), Christianity sees boost among Asian American students:

Student Jacqueline Ng loves a man she has never met in person, but she is not talking about a virtual relationship of any sort.

Instead, the 22-year-old graduate student from UC San Diego is one of the more than 700,000 Asian Americans who began professing their love for God at Christian churches, increasing their numbers within several denominations since 2003.

Asian American attendance in Roman Catholic churches was up to almost 2 million between 2003 and 2005, the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies recently reported. There have also been increases in attendance at Protestant churches.


Christianity has attracted between 43 and 50 percent of Asian Americans, according to surveys by the American Religious Identification Survey and The Barna Group, a Christian research organization.


The number of Asian Americans belonging to InterVarsity increased 360 percent across the nation, from 788 students in 1982 to 2,837 students in 1992. Asian Americans now comprise 10.8 percent of all the organization’s 4,597 students in 2006, although their growth is not as rapid as it was in the 1980s, Ikoma-Motzko said.

The entire article is a great read >>

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Comments:2 Responses

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Tom S.
October 6th, 2007

I’m not surprised that there is a high level of unchurched avoidance amongst Asians. Barna’s sampling seems to be too small, however, for the Asian category. Since the Asian population in the U.S. is around 5%, that would mean only a sampling of about 50 Asians would have been included in his report.

Timothy Tseng’s, “Pulpit & Pew: Asian American Religious Leadership Today” references data from a Multi-Site Asian American Political Survey (MAAPS), but a footnote states that even this data is ambiguous and the response rate was poor. The findings of Dr. Tseng’s team, however, are surprising. They find that: “the perception that Asians in America are overwhelmingly unchurched is misleading. Asian American Christianity is a vibrant presence in the United States.” (p. 19)

For American Born Chinese, a 56 percent church avoidance figure would probably be a matter for rejoicing, given the situation where only about 4% of ABCs, who make up about 40% of the U.S. population, are churched or consider themselves Christian (See Samuel Ling’s quote in Helen Lee’s “Silent Exodus” article – although written in 1996, I wouldn’t be surprised if the percentage has not changed all that much, though I’m not exactly sure as to how Dr. Ling arrived at his findings).

October 12th, 2007

Tom, good job on the math! You’re right that Barna’s sampling is on the small side, and surveying Asian Americans can be challenging as indicated by low response rates. Estimates and guesstimates are perhaps a tad bit more unreliable. The main learning I find with these statistics is to raise awareness of the pressing need for relevant 2nd generation ministries, whether it is 56% or 96% unchurched, there are still many people to be reached.

For others reading this, here is the full quote Tom referred to in the 1996 Silent Exodus article — “Samuel Ling, director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton (Ill.) College, estimates that only about 4 percent of ABCs—who constitute 40 percent of the U.S. Chinese population—are integrated into the Chinese church.”

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