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San Jose Chinese Churches Consultation report May 2, 2008

Posted by Tim Tseng, Ph.D. in updates.
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We had a wonderful time of learning, discussion, and fellowship at the South Bay Chinese churches consultation last Saturday! (The presentations and summaries will be posted in the resource section of this blog site)

The event created quite a stir! Dr. Samuel Tsang, the Vice President of Overseas Theological Seminary (OTS) has already posted his observation of the event on the seminary’s website at http://www.otseminary.org/site/news/43 – Here is an excerpt:

…the survival of our churches will depend on whether we listen to the next generation. Many OBC [overseas born Chinese]churches are denying a problem by ignoring it and by shifting focus to a more China-centered mission. The ministry to mainland China cannot happen until our present church survives and thrives. Without dealing with our problem at home, there will be no foreign mission soon. I hope this will be a beginning of something special, a movement that will change our global ministry. We must solve our local problems. OTS will work towards that end. – Dr. Samuel Tsang

And here is Dr. James Chuck’s summary of the day:

THE CONSULTATION FOR CHINESE CHURCHES held on Saturday, April 26, 2008, attracted more than 60 registered participants representing more than 20 Chinese congregations in the Bay Area, and several organizations. The Consultation was held on the campus of Overseas Theological Seminary in San Jose, joint sponsors of the event this event together with the Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity (ISAAC).

Dr. Sam Tsang, Vice President and Professor of New Testament of the Seminary, welcomed the participants and made the opening remarks. Dr. Timothy Tseng, Executive Director of ISAAC and a church historian specializing in Asian American Christianity, gave a particularly clear and insightful presentation outlining the three phases of Christian outreach to the Chinese in America, each of which is characterized by the themes “faith,” “hope,” and “love.” The first generation of Chinese Christians in America faced many economic and racist obstacles during a turbulent time in China. They were greatly supported by American missionaries, who also displayed great faith in their efforts to build the Chinese churches. The theme of the second phase is “hope” because post-1965 Chinese immigrants brought new energy to the Chinese churches. Tseng suggested that Chinese churches in America are now entering a third phase in its history. It is characterized by “post-modern” (and biblical) love – a love that is eager to communicate with people who are different without abandoning one’s distinctive. Indeed, this is the key for Chinese Christians to overcome the gaps between past and present, OBC and ABC, Chinese and non-Chinese in the future.

This was followed by a presentation by Dr. James Chuck, Director of the Bay Area Chinese Churches Research Project and Senior Consultant for ISAAC. Previously, Dr. Chuck served 40 years on the pastoral staff of the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco, followed by 16 years as Professor of Theology and Church Ministries at the American Baptist of the West in Berkeley. In his presentation, Dr. Chuck described the growth of the number of Chinese congregations in the Bay Area, from 15 congregations in 1950 to 158 in 1996, when the initial study was published and distributed.

Reasons given for this growth included the rapid increase of the Chinese population, wider geographical dispersion of Chinese in the Bay Area, Chinese coming from more diverse points of origin, immigrant pastors and their overseas network, the contribution of overseas Chinese students who had been nurtured in Chinese Bible study groups on U. S. campuses, church splits, the planting of new churches, increased involvement by denominations who had not previously worked in Chinese in the Bay Area, and the leadership of some gifted and entrepreneurial leaders, and last but not least the leading and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The current follow-up study, still in progress, updates the material published in 1996, and attempts to identify trends and issues. The results of our current study will be published this fall, and will include a brief description of each church included in the study, together with contact information. Dr. Tseng will have an article which puts the study in historical perspective, and articles on various issues facing the Chinese churches in the Bay Area will be included.

The afternoon session was led by Rev. Donald Ng, the Senior Pastor of the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco. Before coming to this position, he served for 18 years with Educational Ministries of American Baptist Churches of the U. S. A. Using a group process known as “story boarding,” Pastor Ng skillfully led the group to identify current challenges faced by Chinese churches in the Bay Area. Here is his report:

As the fourth and last consultation, we were able to compare the priorities of the South Bay with the previous events. The top priorities in the South Bay are: Spiritual Development and Leader Development. The second tier priorities are: Mission Outreach and Christian Education followed by Church Life.

Spiritual Development and Christian Education appeared also in the San Francisco and East Bay churches. Leader Development and Mission Outreach/Evangelism appeared in all four groups.

The concern for Church Life or Church Health only appeared in the South Bay and Alameda suggesting that in many of the newer churches, there are concerns about generational issues, communication, and church unity.

The churches perhaps older and historic in SF Chinatown and San Francisco expressed the priority of Retention of Members and Replenishment of Members. This may be the concern from declining members.

The next step on the results of the storyboard sessions is to draft an article analyzing the priorities and needs of Bay Area Chinese churches

For the future, ISAAC is currently discussing ways and means by which issues and challenges raised during our several consultations can be addressed. ISAAC desires to do this in partnership with seminaries, local church, ministerial groupings, and organizations of various kinds which relate to Chinese congregations. Your involvement is welcomed, and needed. – Rev. Dr. James Chuck



1. Why Chinese churches grow » Chinese » L2 Blog » church » L2 Foundation - April 14, 2010

[…] excerpts from a 2008 report on Chinese churches in the San Francisco Bay area provides some reasons for why Chinese churches […]

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