Gospel Herald interviewed Christiaan VandenHeuvel, General Chairman of the Bay Area Sunday School (BASS).
For the last 40 years, BASS has provided resources and workshops for churches in the entire Bay Area of northern California. Initially starting as a collection of workshops for Sunday school teachers, the gathering has evolved into convention featuring the latest church resources and methodology training available in the region.
The BASS convention is currently the largest gathering of laymen, attracting visitors from San Francisco city to Berkeley.
In the last ten years, Asian American churches including those with Chinese congregations have played an active role in BASS. More recently, many speakers from Chinese churches have been invited to provide workshops available in Mandarin, Cantonese and English.
When not serving as the BASS chairman, VandenHeuvel is a children’s pastor at the Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore, CA.
How has the BASS convention grown from last year?
This year, we have yet another increase in the number of churches that register. We have just a little shy of 300. We have about a hundred people more who came without their churches. We have about 400 churches represented here – all here from the Bay Area – that’s very amazing. I love that. Not because of the numbers, but because of the impact we can have with the convention. We’re the "little convention that could." We’re not so little – we have a lot of people who come to attend. We have about 4,000 people who come to attend. We’re little in [the sense] that many people come from small churches – 100 people or less. A lot of ethnic churches as well, ethnic as in non-Caucasian churches. Mainly Chinese, Korean, Hispanic and African-American churches, and they come together here. We learn together and have awesome publishers with teachers to teach curriculums in the latest in techniques.
What are some of the needs of Sunday Schools in the Bay Area?
I think [there] is a huge need. Nowadays, with group publishing, they have a new website resource called "volunteer central." You get a lot of things online, these days. You can print things from online. For smaller churches that is hard to do. For larger churches it is hard, [too]. So, you can imagine what it is like for smaller churches with limited staff. [Churches] want to go in the same direction, and that is hard to do.
A lot of medium-sized and smaller churches have done a really good job sending their staff, volunteers and paid people to conferences. These are great things to do, but pretty expensive, though. So, they send all their people here for just one hundred dollars. Obviously, the need is here. That is why there is so many people who want to come here to find resource and network here. There is a big need out there.
Just based on what you have seen so far, what is the spiritual condition of the attending churches?
From the beginning BASS has been an evangelical non-denominational, Bible-believing organization. Additionally, we have a statement of faith for our organization, and most of those people who teach for us sign that statement of faith. So, we know most of those people are evangelical.
There are churches that are kind of in-between, with some being more agnostic in the way in which they present the gospel. They too still send people. There are a few who [are] not sure if they are presenting the absolute truth.
So, BASS seems just to be a resource convention where people from any church can get resources to manage their church. Is that how the BASS convention was intended?
Yes, it is very much a para-church organization. We have exhibitors and information to allow people to take back what they can and reach the people God has called them to reach. Whether that is to your generation, your church, or your ethnicity, if God has called you, go do it.
When we look at the feedback forms, we see people who are trying to quit but changing their minds after attending. Things like this gets met going. You see the impact this has on many people, so you want to do this again.
For the past 40 years, BASS has predominantly focused on Caucasian American evangelical churches. Why is BASS starting to invite Asian American churches?
We saw the need, especially Korean and Chinese churches bringing a huge number of volunteers. Whereas Americans promote BASS in their own churches to get people interested to come, the Asian churches bring in their whole church. They have a lot of people in their leadership who tell the congregation to invest in something like this.
So, we saw that need, and the opportunity to teach a few of the workshops in Cantonese and Mandarin. Also, we have Rev. Louis Lee on our board. He is the director of MESA, the Ministry of English-Speaking Asians. He pushed for that, and we thought it was great to do that.
How long has BASS been running Asian American workshops?
I’ve been a chairman for 7 years now, but I can’t remember when it started. I think it’s been around 10 years, to have a track for Asian Americans – to meet their needs.
There are other groups in the Bay Area besides Chinese and Koreans, including Japanese, Vietnamese and Pacific Islanders. Will BASS approach these groups as well?
I think with technology, it will get easier and easier to offer translations or workshops. That’s a really good question, because it is difficult for us to [ask] how we are going to reach the largest number of people, and not miss out on teaching it in a non-English language. Because, if it is a good workshop, we don’t want to limit it to just Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean or Japanese. Hopefully, technologically we can solve of those issues and challenges. I think the problem is that most Asian Americans speak pretty good English. Maybe if they understand just 40 percent of it, they’re still there taking notes and comparing notes. I think that is a good thing, but a bad thing, because it makes translating not so prevalent. Spanish-speakers, for example, don’t speak English at all. They live life in Spanish and speak Spanish. So, we need to translate that for them. For Mandarin and Cantonese-speakers, the need is not so great because most of them have learned English, and they can make the tracks available to their community in their native language.
Since the BASS convention itself only occurs once a year, how you plan to create a lasting impact on churches?
There are several factors. This is a volunteer-run organization, so people have other priorities. We are looking for people with more leadership and passion to the church in the Bay Area, who are willing to give in their time to fit the mold. There are people who want to change how things are run. My personal vision for BASS is to take the CD’s we have and put them online through pod-cast or download. We get the rights to them, and we are able to distribute them for free. What we’ve done in children ministry, we used BASS for a network meeting that meets every quarter.