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Reaching Hispanics

The fastest growing population group in the U.S. is made up of Hispanics originating from close to forty different countries, each with its own internal history, its own cultural differences, and its own history of relationship with the U.S. The following table shows the growth of the Hispanic population from 2000 to 2010 both in numbers and in percent of the total population. It also includes projections for 2020 and 2050.

Hispanic Population in U.S.

Source: U.S. Census
2000 2010 Projected 2020 Projected 2050
Population % of U.S. Population Population % of U.S. Population Population % of U.S. Population Population % of U.S. Population
35,305,818 12.5% 50,477,594 16.3% 78,000,000 21.8% 111,000,000 27.8%

The church in the U.S. must consider this population if it is to be truly missional in its focus.

Consider the context of need

The most efficient time for missions is usually when people are going through transitions. When people are disenfranchised, vulnerable, and in need of assistance, they will often demonstrate a receptivity to new things, among which is the gospel. This can be a time of deep spiritual reflection and need. When there is a migration from rural to urban or immigration from another country, communities and families can become very unsettled. People will often leave behind a large portion of their former support system. The missional church can and should fill that void. The gospel brings peace, transformation and reconciliation (Eph. 2:11-22).

When we think of Hispanics in the U.S., we tend to think in terms of regional settlements. New York City and other urban areas of the Northeast have long been home to Puerto Ricans. Mexicans have traditionally settled in the West and Southwest. South Florida was the original area of choice for Cuban immigrants. Finally, Chicago was the one place where all three major groups could be found. However, over the last twenty years Hispanic populations decentralized throughout all regions of the U.S. In fact, between 2000 and 2010 nine different states had Hispanic population growth rates between of over 100% (almost 150% in South Carolina and Alabama).

What does that mean to the church in the U.S.? We can no longer think of Hispanics as living somewhere else for some other church to consider. We as Christians must embrace the missional challenge of understanding Hispanics as a whole, but also understanding each national group as a unique missional challenge.

Consider healthy growth

The healthiest and most productive growth is conversion growth. New churches grow best with new people. There is a sense of newness of life, new communities, new neighbors, new employment, new churches, and new problems. Churches must embrace the struggle of cross-social and cultural engagement in what may originally have been a homogeneous community. There can be no superior or inferior culture in the kingdom of God. Paul knows that boasting in one’s culture and history brings strife and that the cross levels us to see that we are all sinners in need of Christ.

Conversion growth leads to growth that is indigenous and self-supporting. Numeric growth that is both conversion-centered and biological will bring about a self-supporting and self-propagating church.

When we review what appear to be sociological trends, we need to realize that God is the sociologist, that push-pull migration/immigration dynamics are not really sociology but rather theology in the hands of the missionary God. Many Christians and their churches pay little attention to demographics or anthropology as they are disciplines that are viewed as secular. However, if we realize that these facts can be used to understand what our Lord is doing in His world, we will be more conscious of how the missional church can meet needs in new and different ways.

Different populations present different issues, issues that are fully known by our Lord. The Hispanic population presents a demographic picture that must be understood by the church for it to be effective. Although as of 2010 Hispanics made up 16.3% of the total U.S. population, Hispanic children under the age of 18 made up 23.1% of all the nation’s children. In 2010 more Hispanic children were living in poverty (6.1 million or 37.3%) than children of any other racial or ethnic group. This has to affect our missional considerations.

Consider balance

Churches begin and grow into healthy reproducing churches when they have a balance between organization and organism. Organism allows for initial starts with limited formal structure. This is not necessarily a balanced structure, but it gets the show on the road. However, this movement will eventually need stronger organizational components, such as leadership, theological training, and planning. Without this, the church will begin to weaken as it fails to have the structure necessary to maintain a meaningful scope of ministry.

The other side of the coin has to do with organizational overload. We need local churches to reproduce with a certain amount of fluidity and spontaneity. The organism of the church, its missional core, can be complemented by the organizational structure. But all too often, we are lop-sided. We are organizationally structured to the point of diminishing the organic and missional nature of the church. We then become guided more by “that’s the way we’ve always done it” than by the creativity which comes from our missional God.

Conclusion

We have looked at three considerations that are necessary for the U.S. church to reach out to the growing number of its Hispanic neighbors. Consideration of the context of need allows the church to more fully take advantage of the insecurity so often felt by newcomers so that we can present the gospel of our Trinitarian God to them. Consideration of healthy growth allows the church to embrace the need for conversion growth. Finally, consideration of the balance between organism and organization allows the church to have a structure with room for change and spontaneity. These considerations will allow a missional church to participate in what God is already doing in the U.S., especially in its cities.

About the Authors

Manuel Ortiz and Susan Baker

Manuel Ortiz and Susan Baker

Prior to coming to Biblical, Manuel Ortiz taught for 23 years at Westminster Theological Seminary where he now holds emeritus standing as Professor Emeritus of Ministry and Urban Mission. In addition to teaching, “Manny” is also the pastor of Spirit and Truth Fellowship church in North Philadelphia and is co-director of the CRC Philadelphia Church Planting Initiative. Susan Baker has taught at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, City Seminary of New York, the Center for Urban Studies, and Westminster Theological Seminary where she combined teaching with administrative responsibilities for seventeen years before joining Biblical Seminary. Both Manny and Susan have been instrumental in building our Urban Programs at our Philadelphia campus.

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