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Ethnic Emphasis Broadens SoCal Reach

Congregations respond to the growing population diversity among minorities.

When Ronald A. King became senior pastor of New Hope Family Worship Center in Corona, California, he sensed the Lord indicating He would bring a variety of ethnic groups to the church. Today, on Sunday mornings, five different ethnic churches hold services on the campus, including Samoan, Arabic, black, and Spanish-speaking congregations. In the past, the church has hosted Korean and Romanian churches as well.

“God is bringing the nations to us and we have to be able to introduce them to Jesus,” says King, 58. “We can’t just stay in our English-speaking churches. If we don’t go ethnic, we’re going to miss out on a lot of people. They’re all around us.”

The SoCal Network of the Assemblies of God is placing strategic emphasis on partnering with ethnic churches. Ken R. Walters Jr., SoCal Network intercultural ministries director, liaises with dozens of ethnic minority congregations, including a wide range of Spanish-speaking churches, Asia-Pacific Islanders, Vietnamese, Korean, Samoan, Tongan, Indonesian, Filipino, Chinese, African-American, Iranian-Assyrian, and Iranian-Armenian. The network recently added five intercultural executive presbyters.

“We want to engage with the various cultural communities in Southern California, to get out of our silos and get our various ethnicities out of their silos, too,” Walters says. “We try to accommodate rather than assimilate, meaning we make changes to relate to their culture.”

On a recent Sunday, Walters visited a onetime primarily white church in Pasadena, which prepared to install a Chinese pastor. That afternoon he visited a new Arabic-speaking church plant. That night, he attended a black fellowship meeting.

“We want to funnel resources into these churches and communities, to help them plant more churches,” Walters says. “A lot of these were pastors in their own country and some have experienced severe persecution. We have to afford respect and treat each other as equals.”

One refugee from Iran started an Iranian-Armenian church at a picnic table at a park in Glendale. Attendance quickly grew, and today the body meets in a building and more than 400 people call the church home.

At New Hope Family Worship Center in Corona, most of the people who attend church on Sunday are not English speakers. The predominantly white congregation King pastors is around 100 people, while the Arabic church, which meets on Sunday nights, is already up to 70. The three congregations that meet simultaneously on Sunday mornings — Spanish-speaking, African American, and English-speaking — share the same children’s church. While space limitations force the congregations to be creative, none has to pay rent.

“We have to operate under a lot of grace to do it,” King says. “It’s challenging, but it’s building the kingdom of God.”

Last year, the English, Spanish, and Arabic congregations conducted an outreach together that connected 17,000 homes with the Jesus film, then held an open-air service in the church’s parking lot. The worship music and message took place in three languages. King is now working with the congregations to register them as parent-affiliated churches, with the goal of their becoming General Council churches in two years.

“I enjoy the fellowship with all of them,” King says. “It’s part of missions for us.”

Photo: SoCal Network leaders in the expansion of ethnic minority efforts include (from left) Emeel and Samia Shenoda, Dalanda and Ron King, and Pastor Adel and Manel.

Joel Kilpatrick

Joel Kilpatrick is a writer living in Southern California who has authored or ghostwritten dozens of books. Kilpatrick, who served as associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel in the 1990s, is a credentialed Assemblies of God minister.