Ask Rooted: How Do You Structure Your Youth Ministry in the Asian American Church? (Part II)

Rooted believes the best ministry creatively and winsomely communicates the gospel in each church’s unique setting. We asked our Rooted writers how they disciple teenagers, partner with parents, and integrate the generations in their Asian American and Asian immigrant churches. Whatever your own context in youth ministry, we trust their answers will be edifying as you serve teenagers.

Sign up to join us for our next Rooted Webinar on March 22 at 1:00 CST on a related topic: “Gospel-Centered Ministry to Asian American Teenagers.” Host Clark Fobes will lead a conversation with panelists Danny Kwon and Connie Nelson about leveraging Rooted’s five pillars for youth ministry to Asian American teenagers and their families. We’ll take time to brainstorm together as well as for Q&A. 

Justin Wong, Youth Pastor at Chinese Baptist Church in Houston, TX

When our students and leaders came back following the Covid shutdowns, our goal was simple: first, to teach the basics of the gospel and second, to model basic ecclesiology (what it means to be the church). We wanted to invite everyone to rest in the finished work of Jesus and to belong. 

Our first priority for all youth, leaders, and parents was to push them to corporate worship before anything else. We supplemented corporate worship with second hour Sunday discipleship group time in which students had a chance to decompress and reacclimate to our church community. We also offered Friday night courses to address the theological training aspect of their discipleship. Last year we used a mix of our own curriculum with supplemental podcasts and books. Lastly, we used events (outings, meals, camps, and retreats) to round out the discipleship process through relationship building.

One practical aspect of thinking through ministry within our Asian American context is to consider what we teach in Christian education. There are two (maybe three) layers to think through: First, what the parents are learning (dependent on our Chinese pastors), second, the doctrinal/theological foundational elements for the youth (dependent on children’s ministry formation before students arrive in youth group), and third, the cultural/worldview context elements (i.e. sexual ethics, identity, race, etc.). 

Structurally we’ve had to shift our formal Christian education component to Friday nights rather than doing traditional “Sunday school.” We realized many of the students coming on to our group on Sundays were not yet Christians; therefore we needed more heart-to-heart engagement during that time of the week rather than passive engagement in classroom lecture.

Connie Nelson, Young Adult Leader at Edmonton Christian Community Church in Alberta, Canada

Our college fellowship meets weekly on Saturday nights, following a week-to-week rotation of three basics: 1.) Bible study, 2.) topical teaching on relevant issues, and 3.) time to meet in gender-specific groups. In addition to this rotation, there are also non-recurring events that are unique to the year, such as weekend retreats, outreach series, English-congregation-wide events etc.

One of our biggest challenges is the absence of a full-time staff member dedicated to overseeing the fellowship. As a result, the org chart that I could draw you is honestly, a bit chaotic. In addition, student leaders are in short supply because many serve in multiple ministries of the church. The student leaders who do sign on need supportive discipleship in their roles. So it can be tricky for adult leaders to balance working alongside students and discipling them.

At the same time, we see evidence of God’s work in the ministry. Many unchurched students who more to our area for higher education come consistently. We’ve been able to connect ‘older’ church members with the students by inviting them to come in and speak in panels on faith and Christian living. We’ve found that this is a great way for the older adults to show their care for the students that doesn’t require as much of a time commitment as signing on as counselors.

Our main goal is to disciple students in the gospel so that long after they graduate, they are still walking faithfully with the Lord. It’s been a blessing to see graduates who were part of our community years ago come back as adult leaders, and to walk together in faith with grads that we now call friends.

Kai Chen, Youth Minister at West Houston Chinese Church in Houston, TX

Asian American teenagers are not so different from other American teenagers—but how they process and engage can often look different compared to the majority culture. You will rarely find an Asian American student in my youth group who is eager to speak up in a large group of 10 or more students, even though they have good ideas to share. So the lack of response and silence can be easily interpreted as a disconnect for the youth minister. But in reality, most of my Asian American students are internal processors who only feel comfortable sharing in smaller groups within established relationships. 

This cultural observation has important implications in both small and large group settings. If we want to create any type of conversation and learning in our gatherings, it is almost always done in the context of small groups. On Sunday mornings, our students are each assigned to a small group depending on gender and grade. On Friday nights, while I may teach the large group as a whole, they are already sitting in small groups and we do a back and forth dance between the lesson and small group discussions. In baptism classes, mission trip training/debrief, student leadership training, adult youth worker meetings, and even parent gatherings, we always orient our discussions around small groups, giving students a comfortable space to engage actively rather than passively.