Tag Archives: east coast conference

Asian American Church Planters

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.


Final thoughts/highlights from Midwinter 2013

Midwinter 2013 ended today.  It was a great time.  You can see my reflections from earlier in the week here.

As I share these final thoughts, I need to make it clear that I’ve probably had a different experience than many others because I was in a class all week learning about the Evangelical Covenant Church.

From what I’ve heard, the conference itself was quite encouraging.

Anyhow, here are some final thoughts/highlights from my time:

1) Meeting some “Living Legends” of the ECC was a Real Highlight – On Wednesday night, our class had a chance to visit a retirement community from the Evangelical Covenant Church, and we had the opportunity to hear from men and women in their 70s-90s who had served in vocational ministry in various places around the world ranging from San Diego to Ecuador.  Collectively, there was over 500 years of vocational ministry experience amongst this distinguished yet anonymous group (btw, they didn’t call themselves Living Legends – we did).

Some were church planters, some missionaries, a professor, and also the wife of an ECC missionary who was martyred in the Congo.

It was an EXTRAORDINARY time.

Some notable quotes:

“Anybody can count the seeds in an apple, but nobody can count the apples in a seed”

“You know you have worked on a sermon when the sermon has worked on you.”

“God is no respecter of denominations when we stand before him.”

I could have sat at their feet all day long to hear their stories and glean their wisdom.

2)  The Culture of the Evangelical Covenant Church is One that Really Attracts Me – The culture of the denomination is hard to describe, but after a week of hanging with Covenant folks, I think I have a clearer sense of why people say that “Covenant is caught, not taught.”

One can read all about the Covenant and learn of its immigrant history and humble beginnings, its emphasis on being mission friends rather than parsing theological minutiae, and its heart for the whole gospel for the whole world.

But here are some things in the culture of the denomination that I “caught” at Midwinter.

– Humility – It’s always hard to say something self-complimentary about humility, but yeah, the Covenant, especially its leaders, are really humble people.

In our class, we had some big-wigs come to our class, people I have no business hanging with, and they each came and presented with such humility, grace, and hospitality.

These people were kind, gentle, self-deprecating – it was awesome.  Each session we as a class had a chance to come around these folks and pray for them.

And here’s when I “caught” it.

In our classroom of about 40-ish students, It seemed like we had the most AV problems I’ve encountered since 1995 (this is a joke but you get my drift).

But all the presenters, including the president, just flowed with it and didn’t get frustrated or perturbed in the slightest bit.  He even laughed it off!

At one point, one of our regional superintendents went up to the powerpoint and started manually hitting the space bar to help out one of the other instructors as he was teaching.

No complaining, no “I’m better than this”, no “what’s the problem”.

It was awesome.

I couldn’t have “caught” this culture of mutual service and humility without being there.

– Ministry to the Under-resourced – At the beginning of our class, we all had a chance to go around the room and share about our ministry contexts around the country.

What really stood out to me was how many churches talked about their ministries to the under-resourced, despite the varying size of their city or church.

I was really struck by this, and I could see how mission really is a common thread in ECC churches/ministries.

– Race, Compassion, & Justice – I must admit, I was a bit shocked at how many white people there were at Midwinter.  But then I remembered it was founded by Swedish immigrants!

But, I could see how intentional the ECC is in empowering people of color and women on stage and in positions of influence.

In one of the main evening sessions of the conference (I was able to attend evening sessions), the topic – from sermon to songs to prayer – was on compassion and understanding toward immigrants.

Uh, how many denominations are devoting an entire plenary on that subject?

Very cool.

– Generous Orthodoxy – Throughout the week I heard people quote Desert Fathers, Greg Boyd, Soong-Chan Rah, Rob Bell, & John Piper.

I don’t think all these people will be dining together soon, but at the Covenant table, we’re all welcome as we discuss “Where’s it written?”

3)  I Really Love our East Coast Conference – I absolutely LOVE hanging with these cats.  I especially appreciate the leadership of Howard Burgoyne, Jason Condon, and Kreig Gammelgard, because they embody so much of the above.

Plus, they know how to throw a great dinner party.  Those tacos… wow!

4)  I Love What We’re Doing at Hope Church NYC, and I Love Working Alongside Craig Okpala – I’m so energized by what’s happening at Hope, and I’m so excited for its future.  It felt really meaningful to be so new to the denomination and yet to hold to much of what the Covenant is about.

And yeah, I’m just so, so excited about all that’s to come for us as we seek to extend hope in Astoria and beyond.

I also got to spend the week with Craig Okpala, and that’s been so much fun.  We shared, laughed, ate lots of Mexican Food, and even had all-you-can eat Korean BBQ in Los Angeles.  So much fun.

I’m so honored to be planting this church with Craig, and I’m thankful to be working with someone I greatly respect but also someone I’m privileged to call my friend.

I think what’s been most fulfilling about church planting in general has been being able to do life and mission with my friends, and that seems wholly appropriate for us as we’re part of a movement that started out with the title “Mission Friends”.

Mission Friends.

I like that.

I like that very much.

Thoughts on Midwinter 2013

I know, I haven’t been much of a blogger lately, but there are lots of things I haven’t done lately since I 1) celebrated the birth of our son, and 2) helped plant a church with some awesome people.  I shall blog about the things I’ve given up sometime.

mwvideo-bgBut while I’m in California this week for a conference, I’m actually afforded a bit of time to reflect AND write about things, and so this brings you today’s post about Midwinter 2013, an annual conference that our denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church hosts every year.

Hope Church NYC belongs to this family of churches, and the ECC has been a wonderful support for us through our first few months of existence.

This week, I’m learning more and more about the denomination, and it’s been a sweet time to hearing of the history and culture of the ECC on a broader scale (Prior to this, I only had a chance to interact with folks from our East Coast Conference).

A few things have stood out thus far in the conference (the conference lasts until Friday – I’ve been here Mon-Tue thus far), and I thought I’d share them here.

1) This is more like a family reunion than a conference – I’ve seen more hugs and hang-outs here than any other conference I’ve been to.  This is a denominational gathering that the people here seem to LOVE to attend, mostly to see friends in ministry.  All the training, workshops, plenaries seem to be added bonuses to the main prize – reconnecting with God through friendships made amongst “mission friends”.

2)  This is the most intergenerational and ethnically diverse conference I’ve been to – Most conferences usually have a specific type of audience, understandably, whether it’s a conference that tends to have a younger crowd or an older crowd or a megachurch-y crowd or a minority crowd.

There are so many people at this conference SIMILAR to me and DISSIMILAR to me.  It’s a bit jarring and comforting at the same time.

3)  I feel at home – This probably deserves another blog post, but there’s so much about the heartbeat of this denomination that resonates with me.  The churches and church leaders I’ve encountered here are SO different than me and our context at Hope, and yet, there’s a similar thread and heartbeat that weaves us together.  Amazing.

4)  Better together – I believe one of the Covenant World Missions folks used this phrase, and it’s such a delightful phrase to describe who we are and what we can be when we work together.

This spirit of relationship and unity really permeates the culture – or at least amongst the folks I’ve encountered thus far.

Better together.

That sounds familiar, something akin to “the world will know that you are my disciples by your love.”


I’ll share more as the conference wraps up on Friday, but yeah, it’s been a really sweet time for me to immerse myself in this family of churches and ministries.

Drinking the Kool-Aid…

Hope Church NYC Launches This Sunday, September 23rd

It’s hard to believe that September 23rd is finally here.  After months of wrestling with God about what our next steps were, Tina and I came to the conclusion that God was calling us to stay in NYC and plant a church in Astoria, NY.

Less than one year later, Hope Church NYC officially launches.  I am so humbled and grateful as this church planting project is born.


As we head into this Sunday, I wanted to recognize some folks whom God has graciously allowed to have a hand in planting Hope.

1)  Tina and Our Son David – This has been an unbelievable season for our family, and one that has taken precedence over what’s happened at Hope.  David has been such a gift, and Tina has been the best mom and wife I could have ever asked for.

My wife and son have been a gift from God.

With all the stresses of a newborn and a new church, Tina has been a steady and faithful rock throughout the process, even putting up with my shenanigans with good-spirited aplomb.

And David has been a true champ.  I love these two!

2) Launch Team –  What makes a church is the people, and Hope is full of some incredible people.  I can’t thank these folks enough for their commitment, their volunteering, and most of all, their presence!

There have been some funny, “that’s church planting” moments for sure, but I’m so grateful for the willingness to go with the flow as we’ve had so many stops/starts & twists/turns.

This community has also shown me so much grace through my own mistakes – many of which have been painful but necessary to see.

Launch team and new regular attenders – thanks so much for being part of what’s happening at Hope!

PS Special shout-out to our other pastoral staffers – Craig Okpala and Joe Longarino.  Studs.

3) The Evangelical Covenant Church – It’s been such a joy to be part of a larger movement, and the Evangelical Covenant Church has been super supportive and encouraging throughout.  Jason Condon, the Director of Church Planting for the East Coast Conference of the ECC, has been so helpful and insightful in this process, and learning alongside other church planters in NYC, NJ, and New England has challenged and encouraged me in so many ways.

We’re so lucky to be part of this family of churches!

4) Family and Friends who have Supported Hope – So many friends and family have supported this church plant with their prayers and their financial support, and it’s been so humbling to hear stories of people fasting and praying on our behalf, while others have given sacrificially so that we could launch.

Seriously humbled by all these folks who are literally all around the world. Thank you so much for your friendship, mentorship, and generosity.

And a very special thanks to the Hyun and Park families.  Tina and I are so, so grateful for you and your support.

5) New Life Fellowship – I’m so grateful for all the friendships I’ve made at New Life over the years, and the incredible people I’ve learned so much from. Obviously Pete and Geri Scazzero have had a significant part in that journey, and I’m so, so grateful for all they have deposited in me over the years.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without New Life, and Hope wouldn’t be the kind of church that it is without New Life.

6) Other churches in NYC – There have been so many pastors who have voiced their support of what we’re doing, and to know we stand side-by-side with so many churches is an amazing feeling.

There’s something stirring in NYC…

Reflections on Exponential 2012: Sifted

I’m in Orlando for the Exponential Conference, which is a gathering for church planters from all over the country.  I’m here with a group of planters from the Evangelical Covenant Church & the East Coast Conference, a group of fellow pastors and leaders who are becoming family to me.

I didn’t know what to expect when I got here, but in short, I’ve had an unbelievable time.

I ain’t gonna lie, I’ve been crying non-stop like a baby.

Something about this conference has touched me deeply, and I’d like to think that something has forever changed in me as a person.  Well, I hope.

The conference theme is “Sifted”, a word taken from Luke 22 where it talks of Satan sifting Peter (this is what Jesus tells him).  Each of the main sessions here have addressed some sort of “sifting” that church planters go through.  I’ve been wrecked by all the messages and talks I’ve had with other church planters here.  Wrecked.


Before I share some reflections, here is some information about me as a church planter: A team of us are planting Hope Church NYC in Astoria, NY, a western part of Queens.  We began launch team (core group) gatherings in January, and we’re just coming off of our first preview service which was on Sunday, April 22nd.  Our grand opening as a church will be sometime in the Fall.

My wife Tina and I also celebrated the birth of our first child on Tuesday, January 31st.  We’re planting a church that mirrors the age of our first child.  In other words, there are two newborns in our lives.

With this said, here are some reflections from this conference:

1) Church Planting is Hard… Really Hard – Every main session – from Wayne Cordiero to Jud Wilhite, to church planting spousal teams that have shared, to the Hybels family sharing – has stressed the ways in which church planting has been the hardest thing these folks have ever done.

Each speaker has shared with surprising honesty and vulnerability, something I’m not used to at some of these larger gatherings.

Whether they’re stories of marital & family pain, physical ailment, leadership quandaries, or criticism, the presentations have gone past the fluff and really pinpointed the kinds of emotions and challenges that church planters face.

– They’ve spoken of the fears of starting something new and not knowing if it will succeed.

– They’ve spoken of the stress on family life that is practically unavoidable.

– They’ve shared about the criticism that has come from unexpected places.

– They’ve shared about the disappointment and messiness that inevitably comes with church planting.

There have been stories from other planters that have confirmed all of these struggles – planters who are persevering through terminal cancer, church conflict, & marital strife.

There came a moment, maybe halfway through the first session with Wayne Cordiero when he was really spilling his guts out, when I came to a couple of startling realizations:

– I am a church planter.

– Church planting is really hard.  Really hard.

Hence, the weepy mess.

Each session has been an exhortation toward faith, perseverance, integrity, dependence, obedience, and hope.

I’ve spent a lot of time weeping, repenting, and praying the past couple of days.  Church planting might very well be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

2) “In Ministry You’re Going to Disappoint Someone, Try Not to Make it Your Kids” & “When your Time at Your Church is Done, You Will Only Have Your Ultimate Small Group (your family) to Return to” – Lynne & Bill Hybels shared this with the audience in a powerful interview with the Hybels clan (Bill, Lynn, and their adult kids Todd & Shana).

I could hear the anguish in Lynne and Bill as they shared of the struggle in those early years of parenting and planting a church.

And yet, I could also hear the love and joy that Todd & Shana shared about having the family that they do.

Todd said, “I would love for my future family (Todd is single) to be just like the one I grew up in.”

As a son of a vocational minister (albeit my father entered vocational ministry when I was a teen), I wept through most of the interview.

Needless to say, Tina and David have been on my mind in a special way this week.  And I’ve vowed to giving my best to them.  I do so with much repentance and fear, knowing I could only do this with God’s strength.

3) I Love the Evangelical Covenant Church & The East Coast Conference – Sure, it’s an imperfect group of pastors and leaders, but I’ve been so blessed by my time with these fellow pastors and leaders.

Each night we return to the rooms we’re renting and eat, drink, tell stories, laugh, cry, pray, and laugh some more.

I’m so grateful for the support of fellow pastors, our church planting director Jason Condon, and our district superintendent Howard Burgoyne.

4) “It Feels a Lot Like Faith” – This quote comes from my good friend Dave Choi, a fellow church planter of a great church called Church of the Beloved in Chicago.

I asked him how planting has been going, as he’s been a little ahead of me in the process.  He said, “it feels a lot like faith.”

I can so relate to what he’s saying.

Church planting requires such tremendous faith.  There are so many unknowns about it, and it requires a level of dependence on God that I don’t think I’ve been asked to have before.

5)  I love, love, love the people of Hope Church NYC – I couldn’t have asked for a better team of people to roll with.  Their support, love, and friendship have been unbelievable.

It’s with great fear and reverence I echo the words of Bart Scott, “Can’t wait.”

For what, you ask?

To go through one of the hardest endeavors of our lives…

…so that we can say, “Only God could do that.”

Let’s do this.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” – Hebrews 11:1