A few months ago I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, and in a moment of simple honesty he told me, “Drew, I have to admit, I thought you were going to fail as a church planter. It’s amazing what God has done, but I thought for sure you were going to fail.”
He added, “It’s nothing personal, but the church plant statistics are brutal. Moreover, they’re even more brutal for Asian-Americans.”
As harsh as those words sound, I actually wasn’t offended, because I don’t think Hope would exist anything short of a miracle. Moreover, many have reiterated the high stakes of church planting at various times over the year. I’m well aware of the dire statistics when it comes to churches that survive, let alone thrive.
I was surprised though, when my friend mentioned statistics for Asian Americans. I didn’t even know they kept statistics (and I didn’t bother to ask where the statistics came from).
As I’ve been reflecting on the past year where God has graciously allowed us to make it through year one (with plans to help start another church on Roosevelt Island led by a remarkable guy named Dan Sadlier in 2014 – shameless plug for your support), I realize there have been many Asian-American church planters who have paved the way for people like myself.
I’d like to highlight some of these folks here as a way of recognizing their influence on me, as well as to encourage other Asian Americans who may be considering a call into church planting, or many who are just starting out.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means – these are just friends of mine OR people whom I’ve met through different connections in the city or in other cities.
Caveat #1: This list is woefully narrow as these planters are all Far East Asian and male, mostly because these are the folks I’ve connected with (and many of whom are in the Evangelical Covenant Church, the denomination I am proud to be part of). I’m certain there are many SouthEast Asian and South Asian brothers and sisters and Far East sisters I’m missing because of my limited social network. Feel free to comment with other great Asian American church planters you know or have heard of.
Caveat #2: Language of “success” and “failure” when it comes to church planting can sometimes be disturbing, and really worth another blog post. Usually success is associated with size and longevity, and for what it’s worth, I don’t know the size of most of these churches listed and I personally don’t like calling churches that have closed a failure because I know Hope is benefitting from the immense spiritual investment of church plants that have since closed. These churches are listed because they’re people I know about or because there has been sustained fruitfulness (I can define in another blog post what fruitfulness might look like, although I’d just be stealing from Keller’s Center Church) that has allowed me to follow them from across the country for a few years.
Caveat #3: I’m sure all the planters would admit that these congregations have been fruitful despite their shortcomings. It’s easy to learn this as a church planter.
Moreover, it also becomes obvious to a church planter how so much of what happens is due to great leaders aside from the planter, another easy lesson I’ve learned as so much of Hope’s “success” is due to so many others.
And so here are some Asian American church planters whom I’m happy to highlight:
1) Dave Choi – Dave planted and pastors Church of the Beloved in Chicago. They’re just about as young/old as we are, and God has done amazing things in birthing this mulit-ethnic church that’s already in two locations. I remember different phone conversations we had as we were both about to embark on starting churches, and it’s amazing to see what God has done a few months later. I love Dave and he actually preached an awesome message at Hope a couple of Sundays ago.
2) Peter Ong – Peter planted and pastors King’s Cross Church in nearby Flushing, NY. They’re just about as young/old as we are (a few weeks after us), and Peter is one of the best leaders/communicators I know. We both made it through one year, and it’s been a privilege to share ups and downs with a brother so close to us regionally. Along with Dave, I also remember different meetups when we talked about the dream of starting churches, and I’m so excited for him and the King’s Cross community.
3) Peter Ahn – Peter planted and pastors Metro Community Church in Fort Lee, NJ. Peter was one of the early encouragers for me to give church planting a go (over a Korean soondooboo lunch), and I couldn’t be more grateful for his counsel those pre-church planting days. Peter and Metro are some of the godfathers of ECC (our denomination) church planting in the NYC area, and although it’s funny to call such a young church “godfather”, they’ve really established themselves as a large, growing church that’s making a significant impact in NJ, NYC, and beyond.
4) Ryan Kwon – I’ve never personally met Ryan, but I had a chance to connect with him over the phone a couple of years ago and he planted and pastors Resonate Church, a church that’s absolutely blowing up in Fremont, CA. They’re a multicultural church that continues to serve Fremont and reach many for Christ, and Ryan’s story of planting the church is pretty cool to hear.
5) Kevin Haah – I briefly met Kevin once after visiting New City, the church he planted in downtown LA. New City is one of the most ethnically and socio-economically diverse churches I’ve ever visited, and I love that my friends love being part of that community.
6) Eugene Cho – I briefly met Eugene earlier this year, but I’ve followed him online for awhile and he’s been such a pioneer in planting Quest, founding One Day’s Wages, and writing a great blog and twitter feed. He’s really inspired me and many others from afar, and on top of it all, his love for Seattle sports is awesome. Awesome and misguided.
7) Dave Gibbons – What can I say about Dave? He planted Newsong in the 90s and they’ve been a church that’s influenced so many other churches throughout the years. Dave’s been a great model of church leadership and championing the dreams of others. Dave’s half Korean and I’ll count him as Asian American because the brotha looks Korean as heck.
8) Peter Sung – Peter planted Highrock in Boston (Dave Swaim is now the pastor and I have mad respect for this man) and Queenswest in Long Island City back in the day, and now he pastors a church in the Seattle area. Peter has helped plant many other churches in his prior role with the ECC as Director of Church Planting. I actually got approved for church planting at an assessment that Peter led, and his wisdom and counsel are words that I still refer to from time to time.
9) Daniel Lee – I met Daniel through different functions in New York City, and he planted Compass Fellowship in the Upper Westside. I’ve loved the interactions I’ve had with Daniel and I admire his leadership and wisdom.
10) John Teter – John is the new Church Planting Team Leader for the ECC, and he planted and pastors Fountain of Life Covenant Church in Long Beach, CA. I’ve heard awesome things about the church, which is remarkably diverse and has been a real model for urban ministry for me. I’m not sure if John is Asian but the brotha looks Asian.
11) James Yim – James planted and pastors Living Way Community Church of Los Angeles, and he’s one of my earliest mentors. I love this man and much of my formation as a teenager came through him. Love this man.
12) Soong-Chan Rah – Soong-Chan is now a scholar/writer/professor, but he also planted and pastored Cambridge Community Fellowship Church, a church that I’ve loved following through the years (Larry Kim is now the pastor and someone I greatly respect). Soong-Chan really paved the way in creating a church community that valued social justice and multiethnic ministry. Ever since attending seminary in the Boston area and hearing of Soong-Chan, I’ve learned so much from him.
13) Ted Law – Ted planted Access in Houston, and Tina and I had a chance to visit once a couple of years ago. One of Tina’s college friends goes there, and we really loved the vibe when we visited. It’s been cool to run into Ted at various ECC functions.
14) Dan Hyun – Dan and I have only corresponded over social media, but I’m really excited for him and Village Church in Baltimore as they just celebrated 5 years. They’re a multi-cultural church and I’ve heard so many great things about Dan, and although we’re not related, I wish we were.
15) Duke Kwon – I knew Duke from seminary, and he’s an extremely bright, winsome, and thoughtful pastor/preacher. I have great respect for him and I remember when he was starting out in planting Grace Meridian Hill. I hope to visit sometime I’m in the DC area!
I’m sure there are countless others to add to this list (Dj Chuang could probably add a few, I imagine), but I wanted to say thanks to these folks for paving the way. And if you have a chance to check out any of these churches, do so!
Feel free to add more Asian American Planters in the comments below. Some of the people that I’ve never met personally but hear good things about through different channels include Peter Hong in Chicago, Bruce Yi in the Upper Westside, Gideon Tsang in Austin, & Stephen Um in Boston.