LA Church Planting Part 3
This week in two separate gatherings Exponential met with 40+ Asian American and Hispanic planters, pastors and network leaders in the Los Angeles area to hear the stories of the ministry work happening in these groups and how the church planting community can come alongside this new generation of leaders to serve and help them make disciples. Repeatedly, these leaders were told that they are the church of the future. Indeed, as these leaders are equipped and empowered to plant and lead churches, a vibrant future for both the Asian and Hispanic church–as well as the the church at large–awaits. Below are key takeaways from each gathering:
AMONG ASIAN LEADERS
Within the Asian-American church, there is a pent-up capacity of leaders waiting to be activated and mobilized, as second- and third-generation potential leaders struggle to find blessing and empowerment from their first-generation church leaders for following their calling to plant a church. “They’ve been raised in a culture that says, ‘Stay in your place and wait your turn,” Ambassador Church Pastor Ray Chang said. “They haven’t been trained or empowered to step out.”
“We’re not children anymore, but we’re not being empowered by the first generation,” said one leader. “Our leaders are not telling us, ‘You guys are the hope of our future.’” Another leader summed it up: “Sons are growing up, but they’re not becoming fathers.”
The Asian-American church is in a state of transition and experimentation as new waves of leadership begin to strengthen and leaders work to find successful ministry models. “We’re just struggling with significance,” said Saddleback Church Irvine Campus Pastor Kevin Nguyen. “It’s too soon to tell what the wins are, in terms of successful models.”
The ministry models that are working are those churches where a strong, symbiotic relationship between first- and second-generation leaders exists and thrives.
Many English ministry pastors are planting out of the wrong motivation: frustration vs. planting for the revival and renewal of their city.
Because Asian-American churches are so community-oriented, church planting is an uphill climb. “It’s not part of the DNA,” said church planter Samuel Choi. “Why do we want to split up the community? We have the best leaders already falling out because we’re frustrated.”
The opportunity to advance the Gospel is unprecedented. Coming alongside these leaders to help facilitate opportunities for church ministry experience outside their context is vital, Chang explained. “I would love for these young men to have access to the rest of the church and get a different idea of what ministry could look like.”
Bringing together leaders and potential leaders in informal, enriching gatherings is essential to accelerating these leaders and the work they’re doing or considering. “These kinds of small meetings are huge,” Chang said. “We need more of these to learn from each other, encourage one another and dream together.”
AMONG LATINO LEADERS
The Hispanic church is not reaching younger generations. This is a given fact, based on study research, statistics and personal anecdotes.
Latino leaders are extremely concerned that the Hispanic church is not reaching younger generations. “The very traditional model has worked well,” said Templo Calvario’s Danny deLeon Jr. “We continue to plant churches. But I think we desperately need to be thinking of churches for the second and third generations. That’s who we have not been successful at reaching.”
Eddie Aleman, pastor at Emanuel Reformed Church in Los Angeles, echoed deLeon, “That’s one of the biggest challenges we face: How do I connect my own kids? They prefer to speak English rather than Spanish. How do we effectively reach the second generation and do so without stopping our ministry to first-generation Latinos?”
Hispanic churches have the opportunity to be on the front end of something and build a model that will reach younger generations. Creativity is essential. “We’re taking bits and pieces from everyone and asking, ‘What is it going to look like in the life our church and our community?’” DeLeon said. “We’ll take all this today and go back to our weekly staff meeting and ask, ‘How can we learn from what they’re doing?’ Creativity needs to be a part of finding these models.”
Young Latino leaders are often blessed by the sage leaders of the Hispanic church to go out and start churches. But the across-the-board handoff has yet to happen. “These leaders are talking about empowering the next generation, but they’re not doing it,” says Long Beach, Calif., church planter Josh Chavez. “We look at the Templo Calvario’s and say, “Let’s learn from them. These guys have been doing it for years. Those are the wins. We want to celebrate these first-generation Latino churches, but there’s a handoff we’re talking about that hasn’t happened yet.”
Fear is a great barrier for the younger generation. Vision is greater than fear. “One of the things that combats fear is when we chart a vision that’s bigger than the fear,” says Larry Acosta, founder of the Urban Youth Workers Institute. “If we realize we’re at a strategic time in history and that vision for following the Great Commission, the vision trumps some of our insecurities and fears.”
Risk will be integral to the future of the Hispanic church. “My sense is that if we’re going to turn the tide, we have to become more risky,” said veteran Vineyard leader Bob Fulton. “I think of releasing young leaders as a 10- to 15-year deal. How risky can we be in releasing young leaders, staying with them long-term to see them release a bunch of new leaders?”
In the weeks to come, Exponential will be telling specific stories of how these leaders are advancing the Gospel, as well as offer specific opportunities to pray for them and the work they’re doing.
Special thanks to DJ Chuang, Ray Chang, Mission OC’s Chris Lagerlof, John Blue, Bucky Dennis and Watermark OC Church for organizing and hosting the insightful gatherings.
Ray Chang, Josh Chavez, Chris Lagerlof, DJ Chuang and Larry Acosta will be several of 75+ leaders speaking at the upcoming Exponential West conference Oct. 7-10 in Los Angeles.