Category Archives: Hispanic ministry

Self-identifying as Hispanic (or not)

Pew Research published an article yesterday with the title “Key facts about young Latinos, one of the nation’s fastest-growing populations.” One interesting data point they noted was

About 14% of Americans ages 18 to 35 with Hispanic ancestry do not identify as Hispanic. The share who do not self-identify as Hispanic rises to about 25% among third-generation young adults with Hispanic ancestry. Among the fourth generation or higher – the U.S. born with both parents and all four grandparents born in the U.S. – more than half (56%) of young adults with Hispanic ancestry do not self-identify as Hispanic.

If you think about it, this is pretty logical. My great-grandmother was born in Germany, but I don’t identify as German. Carolina’s grandmother was born in Spain, but Carolina doesn’t call herself Spanish. There are some ethnic groups that seek to hold onto their ethnicity generation after generation, but most don’t.

This has major implications for our Hispanic outreach, namely that some people that we consider to be Hispanic may not consider themselves to be Hispanic. I remember my classmate Conrad Lopez. He was incensed in 7th grade when they put him into the heritage Spanish class “with all those Mexicans.” He in no way identified with the Hispanic ethnic group.

Just because someone “looks Hispanic” or has a surname that sounds Hispanic doesn’t mean that you should direct them to a Spanish-speaking Bible class. We need to be sensitive and let people choose the ministries that best fit their needs.

Discomfort zone

The other day I presented some thoughts on how uncomfortable growth can be. Then this week I asked some about your thoughts on Hispanic outreach. I want to combine those ideas a bit.

It’s not easy to reach out to others across cultural and linguistic barriers. One problem I see is that we frequently want to do this outreach from our comfort zone. In Hispanic ministry, this often comes in the form of outsourcing the work. Rather than trying to reach out to those unlike us, we hire someone to come in and do it for us. We can sit back and wait for the “hired gun” to bring people in to where we are; that keeps us from having to go out!

In order to avoid change, we often set up “separate but equal” church structures for Hispanics. Let them meet over there, out of sight, out of hearing. Don’t bring Spanish into our assembly, nor include it in our bulletin. And please don’t make us have bilingual services!

If we truly want to reach others, we’re going to have to step into the discomfort zone. (This goes equally for Hispanics and non-Hispanics) If we’re going to be the church that God wants us to be, we’ve got to put the interests of others ahead of our own. We’ve got to be willing to give up what’s comfortable in order to achieve what’s needed.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11)

How do we reach out to our Hispanic neighbors?

I’m preparing a class for the Harding Lectures on “Reaching My Hispanic Neighbor Next Door.” It was an assigned topic, but one I’m happy to address.

I’ve written about this topic a number of times; sometimes I’ve gotten feedback on why outreach to Hispanics should be different from other types of outreach. Here are some random thoughts:

  • Language plays a big part. But not in the way that a lot of people think. According to Pew Hispanic, 69% of Hispanics are proficient in English.* The use of Spanish is more about identity than functionality. Still, it matters.
  • Culture also has a huge role. It’s hard for me to speak to other immigrant groups, for I haven’t spent much time around them. But the large number of Latinos in the U.S. makes it easy for them to live in virtual isolation from the mainstream community. (And while we tend to lump Latinos into one basket, they don’t see themselves that way. Salvadorans recognize a commonality with Mexicans, yet also recognize great differences. They identify themselves as being from a certain country, just as most of us would do when living overseas. In Argentina, I knew people from Canada and Great Britain, and I knew that would were all English-speaking expatriates, but I didn’t view as as a single group.)
  • There is a major difference between Latinos who have grown up in the States (and are typically part of the mainstream culture) and those who have come as immigrants. We have to be sensitive to differences between the groups. Just because someone is of Hispanic heritage, they don’t necessarily listen to tejano music or want to worship in Spanish.
  • Our churches have to be intentional about making inroads into immigrant communities; that’s not something that happens naturally.
  • With heritage Hispanics, we need to recognize the strong family and culture ties that may hinder their coming to “an Anglo church.”

Random thoughts for a Tuesday morning. What would you disagree with? What would you add?

*Facts on U.S. Latinos, 2015

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