Many Asian American churches provide spaces for Asian immigrants to continue worshiping similarly to how they did in their home countries. They offer a familiar community and a home away from home. What can often be overlooked, however, is the cultural gap between immigrant Christians and their children — second-generation Asian Americans.
Because Asian American churches are often led by first-generation leaders, the needs and struggles of the second generation can easily be unaddressed and even unexpressed.
How can our Asian American churches love and serve the second generation better?
Second-generation Asian Americans growing up in the United States often identify with missionary kids. At home, they experience their parents’ culture. At school and at work, they experience American culture. Many wrestle between their identity as an Asian and their identity as an American, unsure of whether they fully fit in either setting.
Another source of internal tension is the contrast between cultural values, as depicted in movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Turning Red, which address themes of Eastern vs. Western culture and the individual vs. the family. When church leaders are aware of these challenges, they can help second-generation believers process or even express their cultural identities within their core identity in Christ.
One simple way to do so is by listening to and sharing their own stories. Leaders can invite young adults over for dinner. Sharing meals opens opportunities for first-generation leaders to learn about the intricacies of American culture that the second generation faces, and for the second generation to learn more about their Asian heritage. Honest conversations breed greater understanding and weakens division.
Serving together also bridges generational and cultural gaps. Giving the second generation more representation in leadership helps them take ownership of their place in ministry and find a home in the church.
Outreach and outward engagement
Second-generation Asian Americans desire to engage their communities. Asian American churches often effectively reach out to fellow Asian immigrants and Christians looking for community. However, the second generation is also tied to their broader communities and institutions. They are often attracted to and aim to emulate Christians who are sharing Christ and working tangibly to help others in more diverse contexts. They want to share the gospel with non-Asian friends but sometimes hesitate to invite them to a predominantly Asian church.
Asian American church leaders can support second-generation members by resourcing them to engage their neighbors and helping them navigate social concerns. They can start by modeling community service, like volunteering at a local soup kitchen or with a refugee resettlement agency.
Leaders can set an example for responding to questions about abortion, sexuality, racial reconciliation and immigration in ways that do not compromise on God’s Word yet are compassionate, wise and winsome. When leaders are aware of social issues, they can help the next generation contextualize God’s Word and hold definitive stances where the Bible is clear.
Asian American churches are often small and led by hard-working individuals. Many of them sacrifice much to lead their own families while faithfully discipling congregants to grow in Christ. Any effort toward greater awareness of the unique challenges second-generation Asian Americans face can foster fruitful, hopeful conversations across generations. But Asian American churches can only do so much for their children. Their ultimate need is and always will be Jesus Christ. Churches just have the great privilege and responsibility to share Him with them.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Henrik Molintas is a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and co-host of the Filipino American Ministry Podcast. He writes and speaks on topics related to the Filipino American church and ministry.
by Henrik Molintas / Southern Baptist Theological Seminary