“Silent exodus” of second-generation Korean-Americans accelerates

Dubbed the “silent exodus” by Helen Lee in 1996, second-generation Korean-Americans are continuing a decades-long trend of leaving their parents’ churches—often to multi-ethnic congregations and, more recently, to non-affiliation. Given that the Christian church has been a shelter where marginalized Korean immigrants, mostly of the first generation, could find comfort in their common cultural identity as well as their faith in God, the departure of the second generation raises significant concern for many Korean-American Christians. It seems that many second-generation Korean-Americans are not as strongly attached to Korean ethnic churches as their parents because of their identification as American rather than Korean, their language skills, the availability of multi-ethnic churches, but also the diverse sources of Korean-American social networking and fellowship available to them other than churches. “No longer restricted to the church, Korean-Americans today can turn to sources of their culture that didn’t exist when their parents first immigrated.…Korean culture has flourished outside the church with the expansion of Koreatown and the breakthrough of K-pop bands,” writes Paulina Cachero in a recent KPCC article. “The younger generations are not so apt to just be committed to a church. There are other things that will satisfy their cultural needs,” says Benjamin Shin of Biola University in the article by Southern California Public Radio (April 4).

According to sociologist Pyong Gap Min, only about 30 percent of second-generation Korean-Americans attend a Korean church every Sunday—bad news for a church that already suffers from schisms even among first-generation Korean-Americans. However, even though the “silent exodus” may seem to be an irreversible trend, the KPCC article describes the different experiences of two second-generation Korean-Americans at Young Nak Church, one of the largest Korean immigrant churches in Los Angeles, with one continuing to attend and the other leaving the congregation. Most second-generation Korean-Americans who go to either their parents’ or a multi-ethnic church hold to a conservative faith like many of their parents, and faith in Christianity remains important to this generation’s Korean identity. As the Korean-American who left Young Nak put it, “Young people can socialize in Koreatown and meet in Koreatown, but they all still grew up in church….Going to church is the Korean thing to do.”

(Southern California Public Radio, http://www.scpr.org/news/2018/04/03/81489/silent-exodus-from-korean-american-churches-as-you/)

By KT Chun, a New Jersey-based writer and researcher