When Steve Chang started convening the Light Global Mission Church at Falls Church High School, he had about 20 congregants. Now, eight years later, the church is about to move for the fourth time because it has once again outgrown its space. Chang is now the senior pastor to a congregation of about 1,600, not counting youth. Worshippers come from throughout the region, including Bethesda, Manassas and Winchester.
The Light Global Mission Church is a branch of the Global Mission Church, a Korean Baptist sect that has about 20 locations, including one in Seoul, South Korea and another in Silver Spring, Md.
The local branch’s last building was a 22,000-square-foot church on Leesburg Pike near Colvin Run Road in the Vienna area, and its members are preparing for a move to a 75,000-square-foot location in Fairfax, which the church bought from Dominion Power. In the meantime, the congregation is occupying the upstairs level of a converted concrete warehouse near the Dunn Loring Metro station, where its youth programs had already been meeting.
Chang said the secret to his church’s success has been reaching out to a younger demographic. “That is the main weakness for current church communities,” he said, adding that the problem applies to all sects and nationalities. “Go to any church, and the main concern is how to attract the younger generation.”
Chang, in his mid-40s, is a relatively young pastor himself, and two of the church’s four Sunday services are presented in a casual, nontraditional format including Christian rock and jazz music. “We are the most contemporary in our sect,” he said. “Other sister churches consider us an experiment.”
The current sanctuary, for example was designed for an appearance “somewhere between Starbucks and Panera,” he said, adding, “Today in the full service, they even used the smoke machine.” About 140 volunteers are trained in roles ranging from playing in the band to audiovisual recording and production. Services are recorded and posted on the Internet.
Special services “for nonbelievers and the un-churched” are held three or four times a year, and members are asked to bring friends and family, said Chang.
On Saturdays, the church offers a cultural school for children and youths, teaching Korean language and arts, and young people can take lessons in subjects such as Tae Kwon Do, guitar, violin and drums on Sundays. As a result of the church’s predominantly young-adult demographics, there are plenty of young people to take part in these activities, and many of the youth programs are being held at nearby Stenwood Elementary School due to space constraints.
Most of the members are in their 30s and were born in Korea but arrived in the U.S. when they were children, so they are well-versed in both cultures, Chang said. “We use the term ‘1.5 generation,’” he grinned. Services are given in Korean, and the food is Korean, but the casual format is not.
Like most Global Mission churches, the local branch relies heavily on cell groups to maintain a strong sense of community. About 98 couples living throughout Northern Virginia and southern Maryland serve as lay pastors, hosting weekly meetings in their homes for congregants in their respective areas. Most cell groups consist of six to 10 members, although some are as large as 30.
The advantages to having cell groups are many, said Chang. “We can give more close, personalized pastor care and use our lay resources more effectively.” The church operates with 14 paid staff members.
He also noted, “As the church continues to grow, people tend to lose the feeling of a personal church,” a problem that is solved by holding smaller community meetings in addition to Sunday services. “So we use the phrase ‘growing smaller.’” He added that his church takes a “more radical” approach to cell groups than its sister churches, giving lay pastors more authority and allowing them to give communion and perform baptisms.
The Light Global Mission Church has already purchased its next building, which is on Fair Ridge Drive in Fairfax, and the congregation is waiting on a zoning change, which has already met with citizen approval. Chang said he expects to move some time in October or November.
— Mike DiCicco