A Comparative Study of Chinese and Korean Churches
Comparative Research and Communication on Faith & Value
We conduct and fund comparative research and communication in Religions between East and West in order to promote cross-cultural understanding of faith and belief systems. We are especially interested in research that results in practical methods that can guide believers to take action.
This research is funded by Daofeng and Angela Foundation to provide guidance for Chinese churches. A research report and an impact report will be released when the research are completed.
About Wheaton College
Wheaton College serves Jesus Christ and advances His Kingdom through excellence in liberal arts and graduate programs that educate the whole person to build the church and benefit society worldwide. Wheaton College is an explicitly Christian, academically rigorous, residential liberal arts college and graduate school located in Wheaton, Illinois, 25 miles west of downtown Chicago. The college is home to more than 40 undergraduate degrees in the liberal arts and sciences, and 18 graduate degrees, offered by top-quality professors from around the world who engage in robust research agendas. This Christian liberal arts approach to education and research expands intellectual horizons through engagement with the issues, ideas, and methods central to a broad array of disciplines. It trains students to think, read and write skillfully and prepares them to understand the complex challenges facing our communities and our world.
About The Humanitarian Disaster Institute of Wheaton College
The Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) of Wheaton College is a faith-based academic research center dedicated to helping churches prepare and care for their communities. HDI helps address the needs of today’s world by applying the liberal arts to urgent contemporary societal challenges for the church: disasters, international development, migration, and more. HDI does this through research and research translation into distinctively Christian educational programs, professional training, resource development, outreach activities, and partnerships. Since launching HDI has created campus-wide opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to serve churches and communities in over 40 countries. In the first six months of the COVID pandemic, HDI’s resources trained more than 29,000 people around the globe.
About “A Comparative Study of Chinese and Korean Churches” Project
The full name of the project is “A Comparative Study of the Development and Public Engagement of Chinese and Korean Churches in the Washington D.C. Area.”
Daofeng and Angela Foundation (DAF) and The Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) of Wheaton College launched this project in January, 2022. DAF provides a gift with the amount of US$99,956 to support the research. HDI has announced the grant on its official social media.
The research will be completed in December, 2022 and released in February, 2023.
The Targeted Issue
Christian churches across the United States are facing challenges related to religious affiliation, attendance, and other forms of participation. Certain churches are growing rapidly while others are declining. Key issues include affiliation, attendance, giving, volunteering and activism. Diaspora churches are often considered some of the country’s most successful, part of a great wave of immigration to the United States over the past fifty years. Yet their own situations are complex and multi-faceted. The Chinese Christian Church in the United States, for example, has not grown according to the same patterns as other immigrant churches, such as the Korean church. Specifically, it has not developed new believers and engaged in the public affairs of their community at the same rates. Scholars note that Chinese have approached religious life in the United States according to various patterns. To name a few, some Chinese newcomers to the United States have arrived in metropolitan areas and lived in enclaves with their cultural communities, tending to their immediate family’s livelihood, and not engaging in religious and political issues. Others have prioritized education and economic advancement, moving to both urban centers and suburbs, in search of excellent schools and opportunities for themselves and their children. The target group for the study will be the thousands of Chinese in the United States who have established or joined churches. Some of these have grown into large influential congregations, others have served a smaller community, and still others gather in small home-based groups. While there are several patterns, the Chinese, overall, have developed churches and believers differently than other cultural groups in the United States.
The Covid-19 global pandemic exacerbated this issue, particularly given the demonstrated and perceived hostility towards Asians. For Chinese in the United States, the results was a triple crisis: safety concerns regarding the virus itself; angst regarding loved ones in China who were suffering; and the racial and cultural injustice they endure socially. Taken together, these phenomena have impacted the development of Chinese churches and believers and may continue to do so for years into the future.
The objective of this project is to compare the development of believers and public engagement of Korean and Chinese churches in the Washington D.C., Virginia and Maryland areas (known as the National Capital Region or DMV), and provide findings and implications to local church leaders throughout the country.
Specifically, it will explore in which ways the Korean Christian church in the DMV area developed differently than the Chinese Christian church, and the proportion of Chinese Americans who believe in Christianity compared to that of Korean Americans in the area. It will also provide deeper understandings about why these realities exist, asking, what are the key reason for the differences in development of the two groups of churches?
Key Activities and Outputs
Key activities will be to conduct practical research including:
Literature review exploring the Chinese and Korean diaspora churches in the United States, including cultural antecedents to religious practices
Quantitative (survey) study of the affiliation, attendance, internal and public engagement of 100-200 Chinese and Korean Christian churches in the DMV area, representatively sampled from Catholic, Black Protestant, Mainline Protestant, and Evangelical traditions, using pre-validated questions
Qualitative (interview) study, exploring the initial findings of the survey with a purposeful sample of clergy, lay leaders, regular attendees, lapsed attendees, and community members
The final report will provide implications and suggestions, based on data collected, for the Chinese American Church to successfully develop believers.
This research will be disseminated throughout a variety of channels, including the Wheaton College website and collaborating partners.
Outcome and Impact
This study will contribute a unique comparative research perspective on Korean and Chinese congregations in the United States. This will be an important contribution to the growing body of literature about diaspora churches, their influence on the religious life of the nation, the wellbeing of the communities they serve, and the interaction of culture and the development of new believers.
Knowledge gained in this project will contribute to the knowledge available for both Christian scholars and congregational and faith-based leaders who are interested in the development of Chinese churches and how they engage with their communities.
This project will have a positive impact on both scholars and practitioners, serving as a resource that furthers understanding of Christianity in the world today, and helping leaders, particularly those who serve Chinese and Korean churches, to make decisions that advance the Christian faith.
The methods and theoretical framework of this project will draw from existing studies. Regarding methods, this study will follow aspects of The National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices, The National Congregation Study, and a study of Chinese churches in the United States. There are several helpful elements to these existing studies. First, these studies have included in their sample congregations that are both formally incorporated with the United States government, and those that are not. The sampling techniques are such that both are taken into account. These studies also have designated categories for Christian religious traditions with common terminology that can be compared across studies. Finally, many of the survey questions have been validated and can be compared across studies.
This study will also build on existing theories of Chinese Christianity, which include a book series on Asian Diaspora Christianity, a recent study on Chinese diaspora churches in Chicago, and several others. Taking into account these cultural studies will be foundational. Such studies will help situate the HDI research team and particularly aid the participant recruiting process, the creation of the interview protocol, and initial frameworks for analysis. HDI takes an approach to research that highly values previous knowledge, and considers how existing theories and practitioner approaches can be advanced and refined. Each context is unique, and the influence of religious life in the United States is dynamic, thus integrating both existing literature and new findings will multiply the depth and number of insights produced.
Researchers use qualitative methodologies to understand why or how a phenomenon occurs, to cultivate a theory, or explain the meanings of an experience. In contrast, quantitative inquiry explores questions about causality, generalizability, or magnitude. The research team will leverage the advantages of both quantitative and qualitative methods of inquiry, by using a two-phase, mixed-methods sequential explanatory design which includes systematic literature review, surveys and open-ended interviews.
In order to identify churches, the study team will rely on published directories, 990 tax documents, and other lists of registered churches in the area, as well as established networks to recruit participation from unregistered churches. The study will seek a representative sample of 100-150 Chinese and Korean churches, and will weigh the sample according to the standard in U.S. church surveys, National Congregation Survey, updated in 2020. A purposive sample of 30-40 interviewees will then be chosen from the congregations represented to conduct the interviews. This sample will look for maximum variation among congregants, and will also include a sample of lapsed attendees, and those who are otherwise involved in the community represented (Chinese and Korean) but have never regularly attended the church. In this regard, the study will not only hear from those who succeed in forming part of the church, but also those who do not.
Finally, survey items and interview questions will be adapted for the needs of this research from the pre-validated survey questions on the National Congregation Survey and National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices.
HDI will arrange faculty and staff to conduct this research as follows. In addition, Wheaton College and the Global Diaspora Institute will help with recruiting and promotion of the study.