Ministering to the Second Generation - The Cultural Assimilation Process
"If you have not learned this already, both in clothing and ministry paradigms, one size does not fit all. What some of us have seen and done in the last five years has only underscored the ongoing importance of having a variety of churches to match... (groups) at different stages in their acculturation to life in America."
- Ken Uyeda Fong
Pursuing the Pearl, A Comprehensive Resource for Multi-Asian Ministry
Should there be a church for each language? Or should churches be multicultural, with all language groups worshipping together?
The answer, of course, is "Yes!" There should be mono-language churches and multicultural churches. Just as the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to different individuals, churches can differ in their gifts and calling.
Multicultural churches are wonderful. In fact, when God created the first church at Pentecost, He included representatives of every known nation, each one hearing the gospel in his own language. What a great model to follow! The Church, the Body of Christ, is gloriously multicultural and all nations will gather around the throne to praise our Lord.
We hope your church is intentionally multicultural. There is a special joy in churches who welcome first-generation immigrants and celebrate the rich cultures of the world. Many immigrants want to attend your church and are eager to become Americans, practice their English, and learn as much as they can about their new country and culture (including our Christ!) And you will get to know some fascinating people, learn about their culture, and hear their amazing stories of God's faithfulness.
But every newcomer may not be so adverturous or eager to assimilate. Older immigrants or refugees fleeing political oppression may not have planned to come to America. For them, a monolanguage church is a familiar oasis in a strange new world. A language church can have a powerful ministry to recent immigrants and may become a community center, attracting even non-Christians who just want to see some familiar faces. They may come for the friendship, but they will also hear about the goodness about Jesus and His love for them.
There is no perfect church structure on earth that will meet all needs. Every church model has strengths and weaknesses. God raises up different churches and leaders for different situations. Some are diverse and some are monocultural.
However, there are definite advantages to multicultural ministry, especially in meeting the needs of the second and third generations.
It is a common axiom that first-generation immigrants tend to "cling" to their heritage, while their children tend to "flee" the old ways. (The third generation often wants to rediscover their "roots.")
Thus, a monolanguage church may be very comfortable to first generation immigrants seeking to maintain family language and traditions. But it is a sad reality that many of their children leave the church (and often their faith) when they become adults. Although it may be difficult for immigrant parents to accept, their children are Americans and want to experience all the music, culture and opportunities of their homeland. If all the Christians they know are from the "old country," they may think that leaving their faith behind is essential to their new American identity.
This is where a multicultural congregation can be so valuable in meeting the needs of both generations. The parents can attend Bible studies or services in their birth language, and their children can attend English language Sunday School and participate in youth group activities with other American kids. In this environment, children don't have to leave the church to "become American". Their faith is part of their American identity and their American friends are Christians.
Language churches concerned about the second generation can seek out American church partners and plan youth activities together. In some communities, several language churches have joined together to become an "Asian-American" congregation, with English, Korean and other language services.
Specific church structures may vary, but the underlying principles are the same: to love and glorify God and work together to meet the needs of His people.
For More Information
Honoring the Generations: Learning with Asian North American
edited by M. Sydney Park, Soong Change Rah, Al Tizon
A Future for the Latino Church: Models for Multilingual, Multigenerational Hispanic Congregations
by Daniel Rodrigue
Pursuing the Pearl: A Comprehensive Resource for Multi-Asian Ministry
by Ken Uyeda Fong
Following Jesus Without Dishonoring Your Parents
by by Jeanette Yep, Peter Cha, Paul Tokunaga, Greg Jao and Susan Cho Van Riesen
A Faith Of Our Own: Second-Generation Spirituality in Korean American Churches
by Sharon Kim
Rutgers University Press
Latino Churches: Faith, Family, and Ethnicity in the Second Generation
by Ken R. Crane
LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC (No reviews on Amazon yet)
Articles on Other Sites:
- "Living between Cultures: The second generation immigrant and refugee-- a new challenge for the church" by Ken Behnken
- "Second-Generation Americans: A Portrait of the Adult Children of Immigrants, a 2013 report from the Pew Research Center
- "Immigrants tend to embrace, not avoid, English language," Keay Davidson, San Francisco Examiner.
- "The Life-Cycle of Ethnic Churches In Sociological Perspective," by Mark Mullins, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 1987.
* Read our article on Friendship Evangelism for practical suggestions for building cross-cultural friendships.
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