As Asian American churches have changed and transformed, we’ve begun to decipher distinct models. Each church may not fit one of these models perfectly. But the dynamics appear to generally accompany each distinct model.
Dr. Benjamin Shin, in a lecture for the Doctor of Ministry in Asian American Ministry at Talbot School of Theology, discusses these different models. Much credit is also given to Dr. Hoover Wong, formerly of Fuller Theological Seminary.
The first model we’ll examine is the “Room for Rent” model. This is probably the most prevailing model for a church started by Asian immigrants.
In this model, the immigrant church has a small segment of the church dedicated for English-speaking members. This often starts the youth group and a few English-speaking worshipers. Usually this is a small church and it offers one room for this.
This is the predominant model in the Asian church in America. The church leadership and decision-making lies in the mother-tongue congregation. After all, the majority of the church is of that mother tongue and prefers to worship in that language. They want to keep their children and teenagers “in” the church, so they have a room dedicated for them for English ministry.
Here are the advantages of the “Room for Rent” model:
- The Entire Family is Together.
Asian immigrants want their entire family to attend the same church. They want their family to spend time together. Going to church together is immensely important to the immigrant generation. While the American-born kids want interaction, the immigrants are satisfied with proximity to each other. Even a passing glimpse in the hallway is often good enough. Often, the highlight of Sunday is the mealtime–the entire church gets to have meals together. Whether or not the family is eating together or in different parts of the room, the value is that the family is “together.”
- It Strengthens the Mother Culture.
You get to be Asian and Christian at the same time. Sometimes this is blurred. For example, is being reverent a product of the Asian value, or biblical value? For many immigrants, it’s difficult for them to separate culture from faith. These churches are great at being able to continue keeping their culture as they worship and have community together. They often offer Chinese classes, or Japanese festivals, or serve Korean food at lunch.
- Creates opportunities for evangelism to other Asians.
Culture is one less barrier for someone to cross. An immigrant will be more comfortable hearing preaching in their mother tongue. They will be able to hear the gospel with less barriers as they connect with people similar to them.
Here are some disadvantages:
- It hinders assimilation.
For the church attendees, being in a church model like this slows down the assimilation into American culture and values. If a primary part of your community is with your fellow immigrants from your mother country, it will hinder your rate of integration into American society. This is especially true for the English-speaking generation.
- It does not prepare for the long-term future of the church.
The “Room for Rent” model doesn’t give the English ministry much of a voice, if at all. The young people get little to no authority. Once the children get past their teenage years, they often do not want to stay. It may take the church to transform into a different kind of model in order for the English ministry to stay.
- It hinders evangelism to non-Asians.
The flip side of advantage #3 above is that it adds extra cultural barriers for the non-Asian outsiders. Sometimes even the church name is a hindrance to inviting someone to church: “Do I have to be [Chinese] to come?”
(This last one comes with a disclaimer: We often often spend a lot of time focusing on the question of groupings along race and don’t spend enough time on other types of diversity, especially socioeconomic.)
That is the Room for Rent model. Here’s a diagram of what the concept looks like, thanks to Dr. Shin:
Have you experienced worshiping in this model? Are there any advantages and disadvantages you would add?