Who will you steal your next Hispanic minister from?

Money in handYour church wants to start a ministry. Hispanic ministry. Obviously, you need someone who speaks Spanish, preferably someone Hispanic.

“What about that preacher we worked with on our mission trip to Guatemala?” someone suggests, “He was a hard worker.”

So you contact Brother Gonzalez and offer him five times the support he’s currently getting to move to the States. He gratefully accepts. And everyone lives happily ever after, right?

Wrong. The church in Guatemala (or wherever) is weakened. It’s quite possible that Brother Gonzalez’ family will go through serious strains in the transition. And there’s not much correlation between being a good minister in Guatemala and being a good Hispanic minister in the States. At best, you can probably hope to build a nice congregation of Guatemalan immigrants.

I’m not saying you can’t ever hire someone from another country. I’m just saying that there are a lot of questions to ask: about how the church in the other country will be affected, about how the minister’s family will be affected, about why they are wanting to leave their home country, and about how well they will be able to work in the States. More times than not, you’re better off finding someone who is already living in the U.S.

Us, them and outreach

file8581285192158As we talk about reaching out to Latinos, it’s important that we not let such outreach lapse into paternalism. (Yes, I’ve written about that before in this same context) We can’t afford to have a “you people” mentality.

Notice that as I’ve addressed this topic so far, I’ve said little about Latinos themselves. Marketers and sociologists have written much about the different perceived needs among Latinos, about how to tailor advertising and political appeals to address those topics. I don’t think that’s how the church crosses ethnic barriers. (please remember that the term Latino does not refer to a specific race, nor even to a homogeneous group of people. It’s an ethnicity.)

As I said last week, it has to be about people. It has to be about relationships.

One of the good things that came out of the church growth movement in the 1980s (along with quite a bit of chaff) was the realization that we have to be intentional about reaching out to people from other social groups. People tend to befriend those most like themselves. If churches aren’t careful, they can get locked into one group, eventually becoming unattractive to those of other groups. (Sadly, the church growth movement chose to exploit that, wanting churches to start new groups within other social groups; that’s far from the biblical picture, in my opinion)

All of this is especially true when there is a history of distrust. That’s true in Texas. Years ago, Latinos were criticized, and at times punished, for speaking Spanish in public situations. One man told me the story of the time when he was a teen and dared speak Spanish to a cafe worker who was a member of the predominantly Anglo church of Christ in town; she grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him, saying, “Don’t you speak that Spanish to me, boy!” Many Latinos find it hard to speak Spanish to me, even when their English may not be so good, because they’ve been taught that you only speak Spanish to those that look like you. (Funny thing is, same thing happens to my wife, even though Spanish is her first language)

There other stories, as well. Anglos who have been mistreated by Hispanics. Hispanics raised in the States who have been ridiculed by immigrants. Immigrants who have been taken advantage of by U.S.-born Latinos.

Christ came to tear down walls, to eliminate the hostilities between people. His church is to be a model of people coming together.

None of this began with Martin Luther King, Jr., though we do well to remember the struggle he was a part of. Because of the example of our Lord, Christians should be at the forefront of efforts to unite and heal, to reconcile those who society has driven apart.

Reaching out to those unlike us is a beautiful way to do that.

photo from MorgueFile.com

Outreach is about people

groupAs the discussion about outreach to the Latino community moves forward, an important reminder needs to be stated: this is about people. Outreach is about people. It’s not about numbers. It’s not about methods. It’s about techniques.

Outreach is about forming relationships with people. That’s especially true when reaching out to Latinos, for the typical Latino tends to focus much more on relationships than the mainstream U.S. culture does.

Let me repeat some of the advice I gave Josh the other day (in the comments):

  • Be aware of the Latinos around you. It’s a bit like when I started dating a girl in high school that drove a Chevy Impala. Suddenly I was seeing Impalas everywhere, where I hadn’t paid attention to them before.
  • Be intentional about speaking with the Latinos around you. Introduce yourself to the girl at Dollar General. Make sure you learn your waitress’ name. Go to high school athletic events and speak with the parents in the stands.
  • Once you have a minimal relationship with some Latinos, ask them if there’s anything you could be praying about. This question rarely comes across as offensive, and many people are grateful for the interest.
  • Tactfully broach the subject of ministry with some of the Latinos you’ve gotten to know. Something like, “If our church were to do something for the Latino community here in Smallville, what would be the best thing we could do?”

The first part of outreach is going to be service and ministry. What’s the old saying? “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” It applies to much of church work.

So, we have to make this about people. Serving people. Getting to know people. Helping them get to know Jesus.

photo from MorgueFile.com

Does your church want a Hispanic ministry?

Anglo and Hispanic girlRafael made a couple of good points yesterday. Let’s use them to move this discussion forward. Rafael said:

I think the first and foremost question is, “does the anglo church want a hispanic ministry?”

Which is close to what I wrote before when talking about beginning a Hispanic ministry:

The first step, I think, is for the congregation to make a conscious decision that they are willing to do what it takes to mix different languages and cultures.

The church needs to address several topics as it considers this:

  • Change. People don’t like change. But a church has to change to grow. That’s one of the biggest barriers to church growth, and an especially big one when dealing with a church making a conscious transition. Someone said that we should aim for making the vast majority of the people happy about 80% of the time. That’s not a bad rule of thumb.
  • Minority/majority status. Are we willing to let our kids become a minority at church? It’s that simple. For some, it’s unthinkable. As churches change, some will say, “We’re going elsewhere; all of the kids in the youth group are Hispanic.” The church is willing to have the Latinos come participate in an Anglo church; is the church ready to participate in a church that is no longer considered Anglo?
  • Leadership. I think the goal of the church should be for the leadership of the church to reflect the racial makeup of the community it’s in. Is the church ready for that?
  • Racism. There is discrimination in all of us. We all have some degree of “us/them” thinking. For some, that thinking is based on race. And that will kill a church, even a church that isn’t making a conscious effort to integrate. Racism exists among Anglos, and it exists among Latinos. The fight against racism will be an ongoing one in the church, as new members are brought in.

Those are general thoughts. What other things does a predominantly-Anglo congregation need to think about when considering reaching out to Hispanics?

 

photo from StockXchange

Bilingual ministry: How do we begin?

spanishJosh asked a good question this weekend about how to begin an outreach with Latinos when the church has little to no interaction with the Latino community. I offered some suggestions, but would like to spend some more time this week exploring that question.

I will say that a monolingual church reaching out to a community that speaks little to no English would be next to impossible. I can’t envision such a scenario, especially given the number of Latinos in the U.S. that are functional in English, but if that scenario existed, I don’t see any immediate solution.

So let’s address a much-more-likely scenario: a church that has few if any Spanish speakers and a community with a growing Latino community. How do we begin to reach out?

I’ve asked that question before and even offered some answers, but would like to hear your ideas again before we proceed.

How does an Anglo church begin a ministry to Latinos?