It wasn’t Tou Fue Thao’s initial goal to plant a multiethnic church in Charlotte. He just obeyed God’s calling, and people came. 

It wasn’t Tou Fue Thao’s initial goal to plant a multiethnic church in Charlotte. He just obeyed God’s calling, and people came. 

During Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, get to know Thao — a Hmong American pastor whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Laos after the Vietnam War. Read his story to see how God used him to start New Anthem Church.

What led you to become a church planter?

When I graduated college, a friend invited me to be a part of his church plant in Austin, Texas. When I joined, there was this big paradigm shift that I had — where I realized that the church didn’t just send out missionaries, but the church was a missionary in herself. 

Originally, at that church plant, we had more Muslim attendees than we had Christian attendees. That blew my mind because I could have never imagined a church filled with Muslim people who are curious about Christianity. That made me think, “What if we started planting? What if I planted a church with the intention of being a missionary or the church being a missionary?”

In 2016, we eventually left to start the whole church planting journey.

What did the process of planting a multiethnic church look like for you?

I don’t know if it was a process so much as it was kind of natural. My whole life, my friend groups have been diverse. For me, planting a multiethnic church is just connecting with people that I love and who are already a part of my community. It was also looking at the types of people that were out there — and the types of communities that they were looking for. 

My strategy for building a multiethnic church was going into social spaces where there was already diversity and starting gospel-centered communities in those spaces. For example, in university areas, you get people from all different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. 

How has church planting impacted your family? 

I have really tried to put my primary calling as a dad and a husband first. But, I don’t want to see my church life and my ministry life as separate.

The really good part of being a church planter is that my kids and my wife — they see that we are living on mission. They see their faith integrated into every area of their life — not just Sunday — but it’s a part of the relationships that we build with our neighbors. It’s going into the community and serving. They see there’s no segregation or segmentation of our faith and the rest of our life. 

It can be really hard, but it’s also a blessing in disguise because my girls — they just see that we love. We get to love so many different types of people.

What recommendations do you have for churches that are trying to reach diverse communities?

For church communities that are trying to interact with a more diverse community, like their neighbors, I think the need is there to build a multiethnic worship space. What most people are wanting when they come into communities, they’re wanting first and foremost to feel loved. They’re wanting to feel understood, and they’re wanting to be supported. 

If a church is able to love well — regardless of the color of their skin — and if they are willing to go that extra mile to understand the cultural differences, the way in which people think and interact with the world, I think that overcomes a lot of barriers.

I think, finally, it’s really being able to support folks well and know their individual needs. Sometimes, those are cultural needs. But many times, it’s just being able to know what it is that folks are struggling with, identifying that and speaking to that with the gospel.

For me, when I walk into a church, I have so many different types of friends. I’m not just looking for folks who look like me. I want to know that people actually care about me. I feel like when we do the hard work of understanding and supporting people well and loving them, I think we are able to build churches that reflect our communities.

What is the importance of reflecting diversity in the church body?

It’s important for us to have multiple ethnicities in one church because our circle of friends is becoming increasingly multiethnic in so many ways. Our churches have to also become multiethnic so that we can bear witness to the world. 

The rest of the world that is unchurched around you is multiethnic. When we only give them color selections for church, it doesn’t feel consistent with their natural communities. Unless we build these multiethnic spaces, we run the risk of losing a generation of worshipers because they don’t fit the clothes that we’ve offered them.

How have you seen God move in your church? 

It feels like there’s a ton of small victories. One that happened recently is we had our final connect group for college students. There was a student who comes once a month, but she shared that this was her first experience with the church. And she just felt really loved and encouraged to seek more church community. 

It was encouraging for me because she said she hadn’t really gone out to any churches in Charlotte. She’s a graduating senior. So, there’s been four years of just not going to church and finding our community. And she’s Hmong, but her boyfriend is not Hmong. Part of the difficulty she’s had is not being able to connect with the community that reflects her personal life. Our church was a great place for her to experience God and see her boyfriend get ministered to, as well.

Why did you name your church “New Anthem?”

We started the church not as a multiethnic church in mind. But our name is “New Anthem” because we are mostly second and third-generation immigrants.

There’s this tension between our parents’ cultural identity and our cultural identity. We find ourselves being torn between those two different cultures. The answer for me has been to write our own song. We have to have this new anthem, still worshiping God.

by Lizzy Haseltine, N.C. Baptist contributing writer