When I was in Seoul for the first time last year many people expressed concern that the Korean church was starting to shrink, despite the fact that it had grown faster than the country’s population for the last 70 years. Everyone was worried about how to reach younger people. My guess is that this is also true in many other countries around the world, not just Korea.
The West has become highly individualistic — what matters is me, not my family, not my community. Am I happy? Are my desires being fulfilled? But in the rest of the world, that’s not how most people think. The Western narrative says the meaning of life is to be free and to be myself, but for the rest of the world, the meaning of life is to be a good person — a good son or daughter, a good husband or wife, a good member of my community.
But through the global influence of the Internet and other culture-exporting platforms, Western stories and movies are influencing the entire world. What you’re now finding in Korea, for example, is younger people that are a blend of Western and non-Western values.
These young Koreans are still pursuing honor and achievement for their family’s sake. But they’re not like their parents. Younger people in these cultures still keep those ties, such as deferring to authority in a way that Westerners have long since abandoned. But because of Western media, there’s a growing trend towards individualism. It’s almost like putting two chemicals together to form a new cultural compound. Nobody quite knows what to do with them. It would almost take somebody from the West and somebody from Korea working together to say, “How do you reach them?”
If we all admit that none of us really have the answers but that we all have some ideas, we could start navigating this challenge together. We have to collaborate. And we have to experiment.
On a related note, we at Redeemer City to City aren’t in the business of exporting Hollywood and Western values. Far from it. When Christians in America have a new idea, they churn out books and videos. If they have an evangelistic method that works in Florida, they think they should give it to everybody. The trouble is, when Americans export their way of doing evangelism to other parts of the world where people are more secular or non-Western, it rarely works well.
On a positive note, our kids are already connected across cultures. Young people are talking to each other all across the world. This is the sort of communication that church leaders need to reach the next generation — a collaboration across cultural, national, and denominational lines. And when we meet together, like the cultures of the world already are, then we can begin to meet the most important challenges of our day.
This article was originally published on Medium. It has been edited for space.