Photo by Paul Bersebach via Orange County Register
Amid rising numbers in the Asian American populace, a new and influential style of Asian American church is making its way out of Southern California’s Orange County to other states and even other countries, according to a feature story published last week by the Orange County Register.
A few innovations Orange County churches take credit for include multiethnic congregations (including non-Asians), informal services with pastors clad in T-shirts and jeans, as well as the extensive use of technology, namely social media. This new approach to Christianity is making its way across a country that is home to 18.2 million Asian Americans, 42 percent of which are Christian.
Now, as second- and third-generation children of Asian migrants come of age, they are creating churches almost unrecognizable to their forebears.
At Newsong church in Irvine, where each Sunday more than 1,500 worshippers from 15 Asian cultures gather alongside whites, African Americans and Latinos in a cavernous warehouselike hall, pastor Dave Gibbons, who is half-Korean, inveighs against behavior such as masking failure to avoid shaming one’s family.
Gibbons said the changing demographics in Orange County forced Asian American churches to reach outside their ethnic comfort zones.
“Orange County is a beautiful laboratory,” Gibbons told the paper. “You have multiple cultures come together, and there’s this clashing and creativity.”
Even successful first-generation churches are adapting. Until five years ago, Steve Choi was leading a small English-language service at SaRang Community Church in Anaheim, the largest Korean church outside of Korea, with 10,000 mostly Korean-speaking members. With church leaders’ blessing, Choi left SaRang and started a new church, CrossWay, dedicated to reaching a younger, multiethnic audience. Some 1,000 worshippers now gather for three Sunday services at two locations, in Brea and Irvine. A quarter of the congregation is non-Korean.
Be sure to check out KoreAm’s profile of the “hipster pastor” of Queens, N.Y., Gage Jung.