This is the third post in a series about Asian American church models. Dr. Benjamin Shin, in a lecture for the Doctor of Ministry in Asian American Ministry at Talbot School of Theology, discusses these different models.
This third model is the “Triplex” model. Like the “Duplex” model, this church has three congregations side-by-side. In a Chinese American church, this could be the Mandarin Congregation, the English Congregation, and the Cantonese Congregation. This is three full congregations, under a single leadership. Three houses under one roof.
Like the Duplex model, this is often a progression from the “Room for Rent” model. This English congregation has often developed from a smaller group used to be comprised of just children and youth. As the kids get older and the English ministry grows, there may be room to add a new service. Maybe they even use the main sanctuary at a different worship time. Often, either the largest or longest-tenured congregation gets to choose their place and time. There might be equal representation for each congregation on the deacon board.
Here are some advantages of the “Triplex Model”:
- This model still keeps the family together.
Like the “Room for Rent” and “Duplex” model, the entire family can come in the same car and be “together” at church. Even though the family is split into different places, many Asian families value the proximity.
- This model allows the maintenance of the cultures.
When dealing with more than two groups, there’s more diversity in the cultures. If those in the Cantonese congregation are mostly from Hong Kong and are traditional immigrants, this is a different culture and experience from the Mandarin-speaking businessmen and international students from Mainland China. There may also be an opportunity to reach Taiwanese in a distinct ministry.
- More Americanized churchgoers may feel more comfortable here.
In this model, the English congregation has more influence over the church’s decisions as they share the facilities and policies. In this environment, the more Americanized generation feels more at home. They can decide on music styles, aesthetics, facility usage, and have their own pastor who may be more Americanized.
And, here are some disadvantages:
- Hinders evangelism to non-Asians.
Again, much like the “Room for Rent” and “Duplex” models, a Triplex church still caters to an Asian crowd. Even when there’s differentiation between the different Asian groups in the church, the other side of the coin is that there’s a barrier for non-Asians to cross.
- Difficulty for the Church to Be Unified.
With three or more distinct language and cultural groups, each with their own desires, spiritual maturity level, and level of involvement, it’s hard to unify this church. This is true even as there is one overarching leadership. Can a Triplex church have one theme for the year that isn’t painfully general? Can they share a sermon series or have inter-congregational ministry, like serving the community or overseas missions? It’s possible, but challenging.
- Possibilities for Power Struggles.
Where does power lie? In the oldest members of the church? The ones with longest tenure? The largest congregation? There is often a parent-child dynamic. This especially comes out when decisions about finances are made. Even if the English congregation has been there longer than one of the other congregations, there is often an expectation that the younger will submit to the older ones. This can hinder the maturity of the English congregation. Other factors emerge. For example, what if one congregation is growing more rapidly than the other?
Do you have experience in a “Triplex” church? Are there any advantages or disadvantages you would add?
“Room for Rent”: Asian American Church Models
“Duplex”: Asian American Church Models
English Congregation: “Just an Older Version of Youth Ministry”
Advantages and Opportunities of an Immigrant Church
Working Under a Foreign-Born Senior Pastor