Fred Biby thought his congregation was missing an opportunity.
Dozens of Chinese immigrants were sending their children to Bridges Community Church’s preschool. But the Fremont, California, church wasn’t engaging the adults. So the associate pastor teamed up with the preschool to promote Bridges’ Sunday morning services and outreach events in Mandarin. A Mandarin-language small group formed, and 15 years later, Bridges is a congregation of about 100, with a Mandarin-language pastor on its payroll.
Biby’s initiative aligned with broader demographic trends: in 2013, China overtook Mexico as the No. 1 sender of legal immigrants to the United States.
When Latino immigration spiked in past decades, many Anglo congregations launched Spanish-language ministries. Should US churches now devote more resources to the Chinese? And will the bilingual ministry learning curve be faster this time?
Experts agree that churches won’t be able to cut and paste from their Spanish ministries.
For example, since two-thirds of Mexican immigrants live in poverty and half lack health insurance, many churches offer social services like food pantries and ESL classes. But only one-third of Chinese immigrants live in poverty, and more than half are college graduates (compared to 6 percent of Mexican immigrants), according to the Center for Immigration Studies. These demographic differences mean churches can’t rely on the same strategies to woo them.
A better fit for Chinese immigrants might be student ministries or afterschool academic programs, said Peter Wang, director of Overflow Ministries, an organization in the Bay Area that trains Asian American Christian leaders.
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