SUWANEE, Ga. – The April 8-10 Korean Global Mission Conference may help shorten the hyphen between Korean and American for Southern Baptists.
Nearly 500 people from throughout the United States were on hand as leaders cast a vision for multiplying church planting among the 1.7 million-plus ethnic Koreans in the United States.
Many Korean-American leaders appeared ready to accept a new paradigm, having received strong overtures from North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell to participate in Send North America, NAMB’s strategy for rapid church multiplication in the U.S. and Canada.
Photo by Jim Burton
Bong Choi, senior pastor of Sugarloaf Korean Baptist Church, greets participants at the Korean Global Mission Conference, hosted by the Atlanta-area church and focusing on church planting in North America.
“I am so encouraged by the Korean pastors I met at the conference because of their passion for starting new churches,” Ezell said after addressing the conference, hosted and organized by Sugarloaf Korean Baptist Church in Suwanee, Ga. “We need churches of every ethnicity that are committed to starting new churches.
“They made it very clear that they have a desire to partner in planting churches of all ethnicities, not just Korean,” Ezell said. “The only way we will be able to start the number of churches that are needed over the next few years is for pastors to share their passion.”
For many Korean-American Southern Baptist pastors, church multiplication versus mega-church growth represents a non-traditional vision for their population segment.
“Any conference focused on church plating is a hard sell,” conference organizer Bong Choi, senior pastor of the Sugarloaf congregation, told Baptist Press, because Korean-American pastors more readily attend church growth and small group seminars.
Despite the tough sell, the attendance surprised Choi as it was larger than expected for the gathering that Sugarloaf began planning in late January.
“From the very beginning I felt that God wanted this,” Choi said. “I believe that if God likes this, He will bring the people.
“I think He [God] really wants this.”
Korean-Americans represent a vibrant segment of the SBC. Richie Stanley, team leader for NAMB’s Center for Missional Research, noted at the conference there is ratio of one Korean Southern Baptist church for every 2,018 Koreans in America. Nationwide, Southern Baptists average one church for every 6,169 residents.
While Korean-American church growth has kept pace with their overall population growth, Stanley also set forth some opportunities. For instance, there is no Korean Southern Baptist church in Pittsburgh, Penn.; Connecticut; Nebraska; or Nassau County, N.Y.
With an expanded mindset, Southern Baptists could see fast and broader growth of Korean-American churches, said Jason Kim, a national mobilizer on NAMB’s church mobilization team.
Given the enormous mega-churches in South Korea, many Korean-American pastors have come to North America with similar goals, Kim said in addressing the conference.
About 90 percent of Southern Baptists’ estimated 45,000-plus churches have 100 members or less. Does that mean that 90 percent of Southern Baptist pastors are failures? Kim contended that the answer is no.
“There is no such thing as a failure because a church is small,” Kim said. “We need to get out of that failure mindset.”
The 2013 Korean Global Mission Conference grew out of an informal meeting of about 15 Korean-American pastors last October. In 2009, a similar conference was held in Dallas, with an emphasis on international missions. Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board (IMB) had appointed approximately 300 Korean-Americans as of 2008. The Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches had set a goal of 1,000 appointees by 2010. Though the number of appointees fell short of that goal, the IMB’s Gihwang Shin reports that the board has communication with about 1,000 potential Korean-American candidates.
Choi recalled the days when IMB’s predecessor, the Foreign Mission Board, appointed only Anglos. Later as it began to appoint ethnic Americans, the board did not allow them to serve in their country or region of origin. Korean Southern Baptist churches consequently found ways to mobilize missionaries through other channels. Changing times, new leadership and better relationships among IMB and ethnic leaders have created a new dynamic.
Now, Korean-American Southern Baptist leaders are poised for a similar relationship with NAMB through Send North America. With more than 70 seminary students attending the conference via scholarships from NAMB, many observers are hopeful for an increase in Korean-American church plants and intercultural church plants by Korean-Americans.
“That’s what he [Ezell] wants,” Choi said. “We are excited to work together as partners.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a photojournalist in Cumming, Ga., and bivocational pastor of Sugarloaf International Fellowship: An Intercultural Worship Gathering in Suwanee, Ga.)