Some come looking for a congenial fellowship in which to exercise their Christian beliefs; others come seeking a link to their Chinese cultural heritage.
"We have a combination of everything," said the Rev. Man-King Tso, senior minister of the Chinese Community Church, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend.
Some of the more than 300 members of the church, located on the L Street rim of Washington's Chinatown, travel from as far away as Great Falls and Gaithersburg for bilingual religious services on Sunday and a range of cultural and educational activities through the week, Tso said.
"My husband and I are both Christians," said Ruth Chan, who teaches second grade in D.C. public schools. The Chans, with their four children, could have gone to other churches, she said, "but we felt the children needed Chinese friends."
The Chans have been members for 15 years, and now their oldest son, Daniel, is assistant church treasurer.
The national backgrounds of members is "very diverse," explained the Rev. Judy S. Chin, assistant minister. The Chans came from the Philippines. Others come from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. By now, the majority, like Chin, who grew up in Mississippi, are American-born.
The church avoids clashes of international politics by ruling such disputes out of bounds. "As a church we feel we can't take one stand politically," Chin said. "We try to celebrate the holidays from the different countries and affirm people's background, but we don't feel we should take a political stand."
"We don't want to quarrel, so we avoid politics," explained long-time member S.Y. Leung. "We are all Chinese in America."
Through the years, the church has been a link between new immigrants and the more established Chinese community.
Leung, who has been a member since 1939 when he came here from Canton province to study at Georgetown University, said, "a lot of our members grew up in this country and don't speak Chinese." He estimated that while 90 percent of the congregation speaks English, "50 percent does not speak Chinese."
On Saturday mornings, the church has classes in both English and Chinese. Like most activities at the church, the classes are open to persons who are not members of the church.
The Saturday program also offers classes in kung fu and Chinese folk dances. "Our folk dancers have performed at the White House," Tso said proudly.
The Chinatown Service Center, located in the church, offers an array of free services -- everything from finding jobs and housing to filling out income tax or immigration forms.
"The church has the reputation of being the place you can come for help," said Chin.
The Chinese Community Church was organized in 1935 in the Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church, a few blocks west of its present location at 1011 L St.NW. The congregation moved into its handsome red brick building with distinctive Chinese touches on its facade in 1957.
While Tso holds his ministerial standing in the United Methodist Church and Chin is a Presbyterian, the church is interdenominational. With a membership as diverse theologically as it is in countries of origin, the church tries to accommodate a variety of viewpoints.
"Most of our people are highly educated," said Leung, who retired recently from the Voice of America where he wrote and edited programs for the Chinese branch. "They are more broadminded. We never question our members on delicate questions of Biblical interpretation.
"We respect their beliefs."
Chin said the congregation was equally "broadminded" in accepting a woman as minister. "The church was interested in having an associate minister who was American-born to work with the young people . . . and I was the person who happened to come along" nearly three years ago when she graduated from Yale Divinity School, she said.
Sometimes those who come seeking help wind up joining the church, but there is no pressure on them to do so, Tso said. "We have lots of young people" involved in various programs at the church, he said. "But those who come to our programs and don't want to go to religious services -- that's all right."
He defended his low-key approach to evangelism as "a very good policy. We don't want to impose our views on anyone. But we tell them that the church is open, whether they are religious or not religious."