Could it be that one of the keys to reaching the millennial generation is found in Asian American churches or multiethnic churches with significant Asian Americans in its congregation?
Pastor Wilson Wang has noticed 3 characteristics about an Asian-American church that’s been particularly effective at reaching and ministering with millennials. Pastor Wilson has seen this first-hand at Renew Church, in Fullerton, California, launched in 2014 (Renew Church is part of ReGenerant Network).
This is a raw transcript of an excerpt taken from an Exponential West 2015 workshop titled, East Meets West: Church Planting at the Intersection of Asian-American Culture. In the workshop audio (starting around 13:00), Pastor Wilson Wang shared the following (with emphasis added):
We’ve been able to see now, especially as the church is becoming more diverse. We’re about 35% to 40% non-Asian, mostly Caucasian. Because they are present with us, I’ve brought kind of the East and West together in my leadership style. And also, some of the ways that millennials, Caucasians, or majority culture milliennials, desire some of that Eastern or collective mentality. I actually think that our society is moving that way as a whole. And, [I’m] finding that there’s a lot of people who celebrate, even though they wouldn’t say this is an Asian take on community, they actually are drawn to it without that being spoken.
Let me give you some examples.
When we first started the church, one of our emphasis was outreach. It’s even more prominent when you’re starting a church: you either outreach well or you die. If you’re a 300- or 400-person church, outreach becomes optional, being missional becomes optional. You can kind of continue to float forever, financially, in terms of size and volunteers. But when you’re 30 people, and you don’t outreach well, you’re pretty much going to drown.
One of the ways that I saw us do outreach effectively is we did it in community. When we first went to Fullerton, we started with Epic, we launched out 3 people and grew it to 60. And then we went to the apartment complex, right next to campus, we do these events for 50 to 100 people, three times a month. And, we also visit people who moved in and out of the complex.
I felt like God was calling us to be missionaries to these mission fields, before He called us to plant a church. So we were both in these mission fields, building mission teams for about 2 or 3 years. But when we did plant, our whole philosophy was to do missional living in community as a team.
A lot of Western churches, they will say go to your workplace, go to your families, go to your social circles, and be the missionary. That’s a very individualistic mentality. I’m going by myself to my mission field. But for us, all of our small groups, we see them as mission teams. And they have a specific area in which they are reaching.
So we have 6 freshman small groups that meet in dormitories. They know that along side of Scripture, prayer, and accountability, they’re a functional mission team for that specific dormitory. And by the end of the year, what that means is all 200 students will hear about Jesus. And they plan strategically to reach that specific area. They would ask mission team questions as if they were overseas.
And we did that as well in our apartment complex. We have 2 small groups. Once a month we pray over our apartment complex, prayer walk it, and they join us for an event. In their community, they bring other people into the community that already exists.
So one big way that I see our culture influencing our church is by the way we do our outreach. We see it as a team, as a community, versus as individuals going out.
Another way that I see our Eastern culture influencing our community is there’s this great sense of doing life together.
So a lot of my friends who grew up white, went to white churches, especially if it’s a larger church, it’s like a time block on your schedule: church is from 9:00 to 10:30. We come in as a family, we leave as a family. We don’t really talk to each other, or talk to the rest of the community. Especially if you’re in a megachurch, it can be like a customize your own church experience: the things you want to learn about, the community groups you want to join, you do what you want to do.
At our church, because we come from an Asian American background, the white people that had come to our church, they would leave at 12:00, but noticed that everyone else stays, and they eat together and they go watch movies, right? It’s a whole day event for all the Asian people.
Latinos actually mesh really well with Asian Americans, because they have that mentality as well, because we come from an immigrant church. It’s like a community center for us, versus just a Sunday slot. It’s where we find friends and share the same language and culture.
And so we bring that into our church, and now the whole church loiters for 30 minutes to an hour, and the whole church goes out to eat. And then we do all kinds of life together. Throughout the rest of the week, everyone’s inviting people into their homes, to study, to the movies.
And we noticed that’s like an Asian thing, but that our millennials who aren’t Asian, are saying that we want that as well; that’s something that we value, this doing community and life thing together is really important to us.
And I think another part of Asian culture that translates well for millennials is this idea of inclusion, where we kind of have eyes for people who are left out; we know that this guy who’s sitting in the corner is not okay. If you go to a majority culture church, there’s not this need to make sure everyone’s engaged talking to someone. You could come to church for your whole life and sit by yourself, not your whole life, but for weeks on end, you can sit by yourself and go home.
At our church, every time I step back and look around, I see every person in the room engaged in conversation after church. Now if one person is standing by themselves, at some point, someone else will come and include them, not into just the conversation, but into the community. Hey we want you to come to lunch with us; we want you to join us for basketball. There’s just that facet of community.
So that’s another way in which I feel like the millennials, and our generation, they’re looking for that community, they’re looking for something localized. I think we’re more effective when we do outreach as a team, and when we see our community as part of how we do outreach.
Those are some of my thoughts…
What’s surprising to me is seeing people who are white, black, and Latino, want to be part of an Asian-mentality church. Our leadership team is half non-Asian, so our cultures blend. Asians are coming to church on time more. There’s a blending of cultures and I think that’s really beautiful. But I also know that there’s something we have to offer, I think that’s what I’m trying to say. In our Asian experience, even if there’s parts of our heritage that are difficult to grapple with, there’s other parts that are not just attractive to Asian Americans, but it’s attractive to millennials. I think it’s attractive for our whole generation as we learn from other cultures.