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US pastors use karaoke to bring Asian Americans to church

Denomination has a colorful history of innovative evangelism

Betsy Shirley for Washington Post On Faith

Betsy Shirley for Washington Post On Faith

Updated: August 04, 2014 06:28 PM GMT
US pastors use karaoke to bring Asian Americans to church

File picture: Shutterstock

Four minutes into my phone call with the assisting pastor of Ark Gospel Church, a Chinese congregation in San Gabriel, California, we are singing.

The pastor, Steven Ho, sings the chorus of “How Great Thou Art.” I attempt “You Raise Me Up,” the love song some churches adopted as a contemporary hymn after Josh Groban popularized it in 2003. Both songs, Ho tells me, are his go-to picks when he sings at his church’s weekly karaoke outreach to the local Chinese community.

Singing is the most successful part of our short conversation. Ho’s English is limited; my Mandarin is nonexistent. We stumble through a few more questions before he politely refers me to Daniel Shiao, the senior pastor of South Bay Church, another Chinese congregation that hosts weekly karaoke.

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But before we hang up, Steven blurts out, “I hope that this music can help some people.” He struggles with the words. “They can know that we have a wonderful God. I hope that they know.”

If any place has been predestined to generate gospel karaoke outreach, it’s Los Angeles, a region that’s home to 1.5 million Asian Americans, the nation’s first karaoke bar, and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, a Pentecostal denomination founded in the 1920s.

Though unusual, karaoke outreach isn’t complicated: invite people from the community to sing karaoke. Listen to them sing and throw in some gospel favorites. Have fun. Get to know each other. Be there to pray and offer support when people share their struggles with marriages, kids, jobs, and illnesses. Invite anyone interested to other church events. Make disciples.

Both Ark Gospel and South Bay belong to the Foursquare Church, which teaches that Christ’s imminent return should compel believers to global evangelism.

Consequently, the denomination has a colorful history of evangelistic innovation. Its founder, the pioneering female evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, was one of the first to use radio programs, phonograph records, and moving pictures to spread the gospel.

Many of her efforts focused on jazzing up Sunday services to attract more newcomers. McPherson was famous for the “illustrated” sermons she gave in her L.A. megachurch, complete with lavish scenery, professional lighting, costumes, and props ranging from police motorcycles to live monkeys.

That her sermons’ resembled — in form and expense — nearby Hollywood was controversial, but McPherson was undeterred: “If we can hold the wavering attention and reach the heart of just one sinner through the costumes, the scenery and the properties of the illustrated sermon, the gain is worth all the efforts,” she told Sunset magazine in 1927.

McPherson was ahead of her time. Throughout much of the twentieth century, evangelists strove to make Sunday services entertaining and easily accessible, perhaps reaching a zenith in the “seeker sensitive” megachurch craze of the late 90s, featuring Christian rock bands and coffee bars.

This approach is not yet extinct, but many contemporary evangelistic efforts — like karaoke outreach — are rooted in a belief that the best place to share the gospel isn’t a church pew, no matter how trendy the service.

“A lot of time we are just waiting for people to come to the church,” Shiao explained over the phone. “But they don’t necessarily come. We have to go to people.”

Shiao has good reason to trust the effectiveness of this kind of evangelism.

At age 14, he immigrated to L.A. from Taipei with his family members, who were loosely Taoist. Some friends from school — also Taiwanese immigrants — invited him to play basketball at their church. Over time, Shiao got to know the pastors at the church and eventually converted to Christianity. He served as a missionary to Singapore for three years, and has been pastor of South Bay for the last decade.

“But if my friend first invited me to a church Bible study, I probably would not go,” Shiao admits.

Shiao also said that this was how Jesus himself often ministered. “He doesn’t just wait for people to come,” says Shiao. “Sometimes he will go to people and it involves food or weddings. He connects to them with their daily life.”

And in communities with large populations of Asian immigrants, karaoke is a good way to make that connection.

Full Story: Don’t Stop Believin’: Using Karaoke to Spread the Gospel

Source:Washington Post On Faith

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