It’s no secret that many Presbyterian congregations have a difficult time keeping their young adult members active in the church. The problem is even more complicated for Korean-American Presbyterians.
“There are lots of Korean young people who have been turned away from the church by language, culture, theology,” says Eric Eun. “Most Anglo parents have a better understanding of what their kids are going through than first generation Korean-American parents who have no idea.”
That’s why Eun, a seminary dropout, has started Wellspring here, an outreach ministry to second-generation Korean-American young adults, whom he calls “2-Gs.” “We’re trying to educate, encourage and equip young Asian Christians to help them make sense of their lives,” he says.
On Friday, March 23, Wellspring is hosting a gala to celebrate its first anniversary. The festivities will include a sumptuous feast, entertainment and a live auction.
“The last eight months have been incredible, and I predict that by 2014 Wellspring will be a West Coast phenomenon,” says North Puget Sound Presbytery Executive Presbyter Corey Schlosser-Hall, “with similar programs in Vancouver (B.C.) and San Francisco.”
The presbytery is partnering with Wellspring ― supporting Eun half-time and providing cash flow for Wellspring events.
“The blessing to North Puget Sound is that we gain access to second-generation Korean Presbyterians because usually we’re just ministering with first-generation folk,” Schlosser-Hall says. “They enact our mission with second-generation Koreans in first-generation congregations.”
Wellspring offers a variety of programs for second-generation Korean Christians, but the focus of its ministries is to equip them for leadership in their own congregations.
Wellspring’s centerpiece ― a worship/fellowship gathering each Thursday evening ― “is designed to help young Asians be spiritually fed so they can stay in their mostly small home churches without burning out,” Eun says.
“It’s also a great place to meet people,” he adds with a smile.
“We’re trying to use what God gave 2-Gs and bring it back into the church,” Eun says. “By doing that we take a lot of the politics and cultural conflict out of the churches and demonstrate that we’re all striving toward the same salvation goal.”
Organizationally, Eun says, Wellspring ― which partners with congregations of several denominations ― “chose to work with the PC(USA) because it’s highly organized and accountable and we need structure and accountability.” Also, he adds, “Corey is very cool to work with.”
Though Wellspring is fueled by volunteers, the mentoring of young leaders is carefully monitored.
“For too many 2-Gs, church work feels like an obligation, not a calling, so we limit the volunteer hours and if they volunteer in their home church they can’t volunteer at Wellspring,” Eun says.
But after one year, there seems to be plenty of energy to go around. In addition to the central Thursday night gathering, Wellspring sponsors mentoring and sports programs, as well as youth and collegiate ministries.
The youth ministry ― dubbed “One Love” ― consists of quarterly events: leadership development retreats in the summer and winter and religious “revivals” in the spring and fall.
“The ‘silent exodus’ gets younger and younger,” Eun says, “so leadership in churches gets iffier and iffier for them. We’re trying to reinvest in youth, starting with young people in small churches without pastors.”
Wellspring’s collegiate ministry is built on partnerships with existing college student ministries in the Seattle area. “We don’t want to reinvent anything,” Eun says. “Our focus is on volunteerism and leadership development, on young people who have taken 10 steps back from the church ― helping them rediscover their passion for their home church by volunteering.”
Engaging young adults in sports activities is a no-brainer but is also challenging, Eun says.
“People connect so easily with sports ― it’s the greatest and worst thing at the same time because you have the tension between cooperation and competition,” he says. “We’re trying to create a healthy sports environment.”
Wellspring has also developed an internship program, placing students from local seminaries in small churches. Wellspring works with the churches on timelines and job descriptions. “The interns just do the ministry, I take all the political heat,” Eun muses. “If Wellspring and the seminaries are willing to serve as buffers, then the interns will be willing to serve in small churches and can have positive experiences.”
Friday night’s gala is going to be a real celebration. “The response has been great,” Eun says. “We want to draw people back into their churches and we’re seeing that happen in many ways in lots of places.”
Schlosser-Hall sees no limits to what Wellspring can accomplish. “North Puget Sound Presbytery isn’t doing nearly enough given the benefits to us,” he says. “This is like venture capital for us … and it’s amazing.”