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They Call it the Silent Exodus

Some interesting facts:

  • 70% of 1st generation Korean immigrants are churched.
  • 95% of 2nd generation Koreans are unchurched by the time they enter college, making them one of the most unreached people groups in American cities.

They call it the Silent Exodus.

Gone.

Immigrant churches are torn between tradition and language and practice from the “old country” and passing the faith and engaging their children who quickly identify and assimilate into American culture, language, and practice.

Honestly naming something gives capacity to act on it. Click To Tweet

Gail and Tesfai PLI

Rev. Dr. Tesfai Tesema (pictured here with Gail) has a powerful story. An Ethiopian pastor in San Francisco, he participated in the D.C. learning community last week. Tesfai fled Ethiopia in 1978 during the Red Terror and escaped (walked for 21 days) to refugee safety in Djibouti. A long and storied journey (a book on his life will be released in August by missionnationpublishing.com) has lead him to expertise and passionate insight around the Silent Exodus of 1.5 (children age 12 and below when they came to the U.S.) and 2nd generation adult children leaving the church and the Christian faith of their immigrant parents.

It’s easy to throw a couple of stones toward immigrant congregations that refuse to let go of language or ethnic origin to embrace and disciple their Americanized emerging adult children. Never mind their limited resources or deep feelings of loss for themselves or fear for their kids.

Do American church bodies have a name for the mass exodus of most adults below the ages of 35 or 40 from their congregations? Honestly naming something gives capacity to act on it. Congregations and their leaders have been left feeling guilty and either giving up hope or reaching for a new marketing push or program promising unbelievable results. A decided few congregations accepted the challenge sometime back and are being used by God in wonderful ways with emerging adults.

The solution is a simple one!

Not an easy one. Not a quick one. It comes in two parts.

One – Shifting the EXPECTATION of members from one who believes in Jesus to a disciple who follows Jesus.

And two – Shifting the OPPORTUNITY for every disciple from being a church volunteer to being a shepherd/missionary where they live, work, and play.

These shifts won’t come easily!

For us as leaders?

It always starts with us. What needs to change with us so that we stop contributing to the problem and start investing in the solution? Where are our blind spots? What do we need to do differently? Are we ready for help?

It’s likely a five or seven year shift for most congregations. We’re like churches filled with immigrants to a strange world learning a new language while dealing with our newly discovered sense of loss and fear…except we never moved geographically.

There’ll be plenty of breakthroughs along the way. Setbacks, too. So why not start now?

This is a world with opportunity for every kind of church and every kind of person to engage. Churches growing by addition. Churches declining by subtraction. It’s not solely for the “best church” at the most well-traveled intersection with the biggest pipe organ or praise band. It seems we might be recovering a church in this new immigrant land where tax collectors and fishermen and Pharisees could do well being discipled for the mission of God and discipling others to be leaders for the mission of God.

But it takes someones to lead! Right?

So, why not a conversation with your leadership group next week?

  1. Does our ministry have a problem meaningfully connecting with adults in their 20s? In their 30s? (Ask someone to count them in worship this weekend!)
  2. What “fears” or “losses” might we experience that would be similar to a Korean or Ethiopian immigrant congregation?
  3. The shift of EXPECTATION and OPPORTUNITY noted above may not be new to you but what would hold you back from an intentional and significant investment in that future NOW?
  4. Are you a “stopped hoping” or a “just try a new program” church? Should you be?

Instead of just talking about it, PLI provides training and tools for leaders to wrestle with the challenge and confidently accelerate into this immigrant mission field.

The PLI family is full of pioneers like this. Some are immigrants. Others … same country…just in a different world.

Raechel can be helpful about new learning communities beginning this fall.

Jock Ficken
Rev. Dr. Jock Ficken

Interested in hearing more stories like Tesfai’s? Check out these interviews.

4 Responses

  1. Interesting, but this article still sounds like the last “new thing” that promised to give me the “secret key” to filling the pews. Show me how this website is any different from Text-In-Church, or Purpose Driven, or any other Church Growth product.

    • Jock Ficken says:

      Great question. I’m not confident that Matthew 28:16-20 will fill the pews in any church. It’s the humble belief that God has called the baptized people of God to be more than “consumers” in our current church culture and that God can and will use them in the carrying out of his mission. My experience? .. most of us are skeptical and a bit tired of being over promised and under delivered. What we’re seeing in PLI is leaders that begin to address changes in their own lives then beginning to invest in others while building relationships with people outside the church. The combination is slow but it’s resulting in people hearing the Word of God in pockets and places that wouldn’t have otherwise and the Spirit working to bring people to faith. But it’s slow.. on all counts.

  2. kris won says:

    where did you get the stat on 95% of 2nd gen leaving the church? A source would be appreciated

    • Sarah Greiner says:

      Thank you for asking Kris. We apologize for omitting the resource. The statistic is from an unpublished PhD dissertation by Dr. Tesafai Tesema. A biography has also been written on his life,”No Accidental Missionary: How an Ethiopian man became a Christian in Saudi Arabia, and a missionary to America” by Marilyn Feldhaus.

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