LOS ANGELES (BP) – Berendo Street Baptist Church (BSBC) is known as the “mother church” of all 970 churches that worship in a Korean context in the United States, and it’s changing its name. Not officially. Not legally. But it will now be known as Saenuri.
Brenedo Street, started in 1957, is the first Korean Baptist Church in all of the Americas started by Southern Baptists. (There was an earlier Korean church, in Washington, D.C., but it was not started by Southern Baptists.)
The word “Saenuri” in English means New Community.
“Los Angeles Korean Baptist Church is our old Korean name,” Senior Pastor Sung Kun Park told Baptist Press. “We have removed the location and ethnicity.”
The pastor said the new name is strategic.
“We have a crisis,” Park said, referring to Christianity as a whole, the Korean church in America and in South Korea, as well as the church he has pastored since 1990. “Most churches are declining regardless of COVID. Korea and America are becoming more hostile to Christianity. It’s an anti-Christian movement – young people rejecting the Gospel – so we’ve got to pray for them.
“In my opinion, the most challenging thing we should be doing is we should take care of our people. When they go to college more than 90 percent leave the faith. … We have many colleges and universities in this area. I like to send workers and pastors to the campuses, to reach the students and bring them to our church.
“I put so much energy and prayer to this. We should be more aggressive in the future.”
The problem, Park said, is that today the 90 percent of those who leave the Christianity they grew up with to find their “own way,” don’t return. They’re on to something new.
But they long for community. Saenuri. New Community. No “Baptist” and no “church” in the name.
“We have to have some kind of strategy and plans to bring them back to church, to the God who loves them,” Park said. “All the pastors here are bringing energy to reach them. Without them, the younger generation, we will lose ground in the future.”
Berendo Street/Saenuri, where about 2,500 people attend Sunday services in person and online, has 22 associate pastors, (a few full time) plus 10 interns and 200 shepherds who care for the church’s 60 “flocks” or age-linked community groups. Park named all the groups, starting with Daniel for the youngest adults to Hannah and Abraham for the oldest.
The shepherds lead in Bible study and prayer Sundays before or after one of five services and serve in pastoral ministry throughout the week. They meet with the senior pastor on Wednesdays to receive insights about the next Sunday’s sermon, which they discuss with their flocks.
Early morning prayer time is a staple of Korean churches. Said to be related to the Welsh revival in 1905, it grew into national lament after the Korean War, when people had nothing but God.
Typical Korean prayer involves everyone praying aloud to God at the same time, usually with emotion, as those praying get caught up in their conversation with the Most High God.
At Berendo Street/Saenuri, there is early morning prayer six days a week, four Sundays in August for a prayer revival, and in October and November, an intense 40-day time of prayer for spiritual renewal and awakening.
Berendo/Saenuri is located in a crowded residential neighborhood, but the church is committed to stay, even though many members have relocated to the suburbs and drive in to church.
“Our vision is still to build up branch churches in the future: Orange County, San Fernando Valley, and so forth, the idea of having one church in many locations,” Daniel Lee told Baptist Press. He is lead pastor for the English ministry. “We still have a vision for that. However, according to Pastor Park, with him retiring soon, this vision will most likely be a task for the next senior pastor of Berendo Street.”
Two buildings were added across Berendo Street between 2014-18. One is an amphitheater-style, 1,600-seat, worship center regularly used by community groups for events like graduation ceremonies and seminars. The other adds to the church’s education space. A three-story parking garage is located underneath the new building, which can accommodate more than 450 cars.
Berendo Street/Saenuri is located in what still is known as Koreatown Los Angeles, though it has become multicultural. The area – west of Interstate 5 and north of Interstate 10 – has become crowded with homeless camps. The church provides a preschool and kindergarten for the community as well as a security force to keep students and parishioners safe.
COVID brought a halt to nearly all its local ministries because of government control. The deacons, however, have maintained the church’s longtime homeless ministry despite its growth over the last three years. On Saturdays, they take food to the homeless camps.
A FAITH evangelism program, which the church began in 2004, began again this spring after being shut down for two years because of the pandemic. Discipleship Training has also restarted.
A Hispanic church planted by Berendo/Saenuri meets at the church, as does a multi-ethnic church for the Deaf.
After a two-year COVID-related hiatus, mission teams will again travel this summer to Fresno, Calif., to minister among the sizable Hmong population there; to Arizona to minister on the Navajo nation; and to Mexico, to minister with former members of the church who pastor there.
Of the more than 200 members Berendo Street/Saenuri has trained and sent out worldwide as pastors and missionaries, the church financially supports 16 of them internationally and 14 in the U.S. It also supports and partners with eight churches in South America planted by Berendo/Saenuri and five local churches.
The church has 20/20 vision, Lee said, referring to eyesight rather than the calendar.
“Senior pastor’s vision for this is for our church to be a launching base for missions,” Lee said. “We want to be a mission center that empowers the second generation to be kingdom-focused, Gospel-driven missionaries who can radically impact the world for our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Two-plus of five goals have been achieved: The church started a coffee shop in a large nation in East Asia and ministers there with the Korean CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ); Eight churches have been started in South America; and three members of the church are now career missionaries with the IMB. Berendo/Saenuri’s goal is “as many we can send out,” Lee said.
Sung Kun Park will turn 70 on June 27. Church bylaws say the pastor must retire at age 70, but members objected and gave him two more years, the pastor said. A “Future of the Church” committee is already working, and the pastor is praying both for God’s plans for the church, and for the next pastor.
“God really gave me grace through ministering here,” Park said. “I emphasize the teaching of the Bible and the importance of prayer. Both make the church grow and be strong.”
Park was born in Korea in 1952 and moved to the United States in 1981. In 1992 he was the first Korean to graduate with a Ph.D. – it was in New Testament – from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Grace, have two daughters and one granddaughter. When he retires in 2024 he plans to teach in various mission fields, equipping missionaries with biblical and spiritual resources.