ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Twenty-three of the top Korean Southern Baptist leaders in the United States and Canada met at the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga., to explore ways of reaching some 1.5 million Koreans across the continent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Steve Lee, national missionary for Asian people groups in NAMB’s church planting division, noted, “This conference, the first of its kind in several years, was historic because of the number of Korean Baptist pastors who attended as well as the number of second-generation Korean pastors who were there.”
In welcoming the Korean pastors, NAMB’s interim president, Richard Harris, thanked the group “for all you do in America to fulfill the Great Commission.” According to NAMB’s Center for Missional Research, there are 838 Korean Southern Baptist churches in America with more than 79,000 members. “That’s huge — a significant impact on the Kingdom,” Harris said via video. “Because of your leadership in 2008, there were 36 new Korean church plants and more than 2,700 baptisms,” Harris said, citing the most recent statistics available.
Richie Stanley, director of the Center for Missional Research, said the estimated Korean population in the United States increased from 1.2 million to 1.5 million from 2000-08.
The states of California and New York lead the U.S. in Korean population, with 471,180 and 138,835 Koreans, respectively. The other “top 10” states in Korean population are New Jersey, 89,791; Texas, 73,749; Washington, 72,494; Virginia, 68,033; Illinois, 67,631; Georgia, 53,424; Hawaii, 51,357; and Maryland, 50,231.
The number of Korean SBC congregations (churches and missions) has risen 33 percent since 2000, a net gain of 206 toward the 838 counted by the NAMB Center for Missional Research.
The top 10 states with the most SBC Korean congregations are California, 222; Texas, 124; Virginia, 50; Georgia, 43; Maryland, 42; Illinois, 36; Florida, 35; Washington, 28; New York, 25; and North Carolina, 20.
The “dean” of the Korean Baptist pastors in the United States is Chang Sun Moon, 68, of Tacoma First Baptist Church in Tacoma, Wash., which has an average weekly attendance of 1,400.
Moon, who has led the church 30 years, said he learned much from the younger Korean pastors at the April 26-28 summit.
Describing his and other Korean Baptist churches as too “locally oriented,” Moon said, “We’re not trying hard enough to plant new churches. More Korean Baptists, including me, should be challenged to start new churches.”
In Washington State and the Northwest alone, Moon estimates there are from 70,000-100,000 Koreans whose hearts are more open to the Gospel than other Asian groups.
“But our biggest challenge is to reach the second-generation Koreans, those born in the U.S. and whose main language is English. Small Korean churches with only 50 members can’t hire a youth pastor to reach them,” Moon said. “We must train lay Korean leaders to reach our youth.”
“The biggest problem for Koreans coming to the U.S. is adjusting to their new setting and the language,” said Sung Kun Park, pastor of Berendo Street Baptist Church in the downtown Korea section of Los Angeles.
“We try to make our church a bridge for these problems. For instance, we have English language classes at our church,” said Park, who first came to the United States in 1981. Berendo Street Baptist Church, planted in 1957, is widely considered as the “mother” of all Korean Baptist churches in the U.S. — one of the country’s two oldest Korean churches.
Park added that the 2,500-member church, the largest Korean Baptist congregation in California, has been active in planting other churches, having started four Korean churches, along with Japanese, Hispanic and Chinese congregations.
David Gill and his wife started Concord Korean Baptist Church in Martinez, Calif., near San Francisco 30 years ago. The church now has 1,000 members and has planted Korean churches in Nevada, New York and many Korean churches in China.
Describing himself as a “proud product” of the Southern Baptist Convention, Gill served as a second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention under then-President Bobby Welch and as vice chairman of the trustees of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.
Koreans in the San Francisco area number around 150,000, said Gill, but there are only 17 Korean Baptist churches in the Bay, Sacramento and northern California areas.
“It’s difficult to reach Koreans in our area, where the Koreans are hard-working people, busy with their jobs and families,” Gill said. “Some are very well-to-do and don’t have room for God or the church. And it’s getting more difficult all the time.”
Gill said Concord Korean Baptist Church tries to attract Koreans via educational programs for children, such as a Korean language and cultural school for second-generation Koreans whose principal language is English.
“We try to teach young kids Korean and about the Korean culture,” Gill said. “Then we lead them to Christ. But we need to facilitate new ways of winning Koreans. We are coming up short on reaching second-generation Koreans.”
But not all Koreans or the SBC’s Korean Baptist churches are on the West Coast.
Manpoong Kim has served as senior pastor of Global Mission Church in Silver Spring, Md., for 18 years.
The church, now 36 years old, has 3,000 members and conducts five Korean-language services on Sundays and three English-speaking services. It’s one of 42 Korean-American churches in Maryland, serving 4,000 Korean Baptists in the state.
Kim said the region encompassing Washington, D.C., Richmond, Va., and Baltimore is a mission field of 150,000-230,000 Koreans.
“We want to fulfill the Great Commission by building solid, sound and healthy churches,” said Kim, who first came to the U.S. in 1982. “We can be assured of the fact that this is what God wants us to do — plant churches. It’s our mission and our duty.”
Kim and Global Mission Church practice what they preach — planting new churches in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Korea. Kim said the church plant in Korea alone numbers some 35,000 members.
“This summit at NAMB was helpful in many ways,” Kim said. “Even after 40 years — 18 at Global Mission Church — I picked up some new ideas and was glad to share my experience.”
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.