Chinese Baptists more than double size of church
Arizona Daily Star
Jan. 24, 2008

By Stephanie Innes

Arizona Daily Star

Tucson, Arizona | Published:

It's a Midtown construction project that's hard to miss: The Tucson Chinese Baptist Church is more than doubling its size with a two-story, $1.5 million addition.

Construction, going on about a year, is expected to be complete in a month or so.

And though it's the biggest project the English-speaking Chinese Baptist congregation has undertaken, members have already paid the tab in full.

"We didn't have a campaign or anything, we just asked and they gave," Pastor Joe Chan said.

By this time next year, Chan expects the church, which is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, to serve as a thriving community center.

He hopes to reach out not only to the region's approximately 5,000 people of Chinese origin but also to the general Tucson community, particularly those around the church's location near North Tucson Boulevard and East Fort Lowell Road.

The church recently began outreach at the University of Arizona, for example.

"Tucson is so spread out," Chan said. "So we think people might not always know we are here."

The two-story addition will take the church from 9,000 square feet to 23,000 square feet. The sanctuary will remain as it is, in the old building, which the congregation purchased from another Baptist church in 1986.

The new space will add 14 classrooms on the top floor plus eight classrooms, a 3,000-square-foot multipurpose room on the bottom floor, and a covered back porch with ceiling fans that overlooks a basketball court and play area behind the church.

"We will be having a celebration when it's done. It's been a big, long process," said Chan, a Hong Kong native and former real estate investor who began attending seminary in the 1990s.

The church will double its festivities by celebrating its new space at the same time it toasts its 30th anniversary, though technically that milestone occurred last year. The church once served predominantly first-generation Chinese immigrants and offered services exclusively in Cantonese and Mandarin, but its members are increasingly second- and third-generation, Chan said.

Many of them, like 47-year-old Steve Mar, did not grow up in religious homes, since most Chinese people are atheists. The government in China says it must approve any faith that's practiced there, so many people of faith, including Christians, worship in secret.

About 3 percent to 4 percent of the population in China is Christian, and between 1 percent and 2 percent is Muslim, the Central Intelligence Agency's World Fact Book says. Other religions in China include Taoism and Buddhism.

Mar, a Tucson native, began attending the Tucson Chinese Baptist Church in the 1970s when he was a teenager and went with a friend. He's been going ever since and now brings his wife and three children, and his mother was just baptized.

In addition to the worship, Mar, a real estate developer, says he most appreciates the sense of community the church gives.

Mar, who is overseeing the church's construction project, says family is a high priority for the congregation.

One of the first programs already planned to use the new space is a "Mother's Day Out," during which mothers may leave their children with child-care workers at the church for a half-day so they can spend some time on their own.

● Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or

The Tucson Chinese Baptist Church

History: Established in 1977. Its forerunner was a non-denominational Chinese Christian church that had already been meeting for several years.

Location: 2411 E. Fort Lowell Road.

Membership: 180.

Pastor: Joe Chan, Hong Kong native, pastor since 2001.

Services per week: Two one in English, one in Cantonese and Mandarin. About 75 percent of the congregation is English-speaking.