Reaping the Harvest of the Hispanic Community

Reaping the Harvest of the Hispanic Community
Sergio Vitanza

The Pew Report recently made this statement: “Since the year 2000, Hispanics have accounted for more than half (50.55 percent) of the overall population growth in the United States—a significant new demographic milestone for the nation’s largest minority group.” The question then to the United Pentecostal Church is, “How will we reach this increasingly burgeoning group of people?”

In a study by the Barna Group, statistics show that approximately 68 percent of
Hispanics identify themselves as Roman Catholic, 15 percent identify as evangelical, and almost one in ten claims no religion at all. Half of evangelical Hispanics are converts. The reasons they gave for conversion were that they desired a more direct, personal experience with God, and it was this search that directed them to change faiths. In addition, it was cited that many converts had been looking for a change from the somber services of their previous faith for something more lively and exciting. More than forty years ago, when the United Pentecostal Church began its original evangelistic thrust to the Hispanic community, they could not have foreseen the great influx of growth that would come in the future.

The goal at that time was to reach out to these people to win them to the Lord, get them in the churches (Spanish or English), and then the second (spiritual) generation would be ready to begin their spiritual life in the mother (Anglo) church. In other words, it was considered almost a “temporary” situation. Common thought was as generations grew and became acclimated to the culture of the United States, it would eventually be unnecessary for the Spanish church to exist. This was the thinking of the time, and it made a lot of sense. However, as the years have gone by, and the 1990s brought us the incredible growth surge of the Hispanic culture, we find that this goal is outdated.

It has been discovered that the places of worship most frequented by Hispanics are those that maintain distinctively ethnic characteristics. In addition, Hispanics attend churches where the leadership is predominately Hispanic as well. More than 75 percent of Hispanic immigrants attend churches such as these, but it has also been reported that almost half of Hispanics born in the United States attend these types of churches as well. In addition, it has been noted that second, third, and subsequent generations prefer to attend these types of churches.

The reasons for these seemingly separatist actions are not due to prejudice on the part of the Hispanic churchgoer by any means. They simply enjoy worshipping in the language, music, and culture from which they come. It is what they prefer. God is God, and He does not change, but the manner in the way He is worshipped spans a vast multihued rainbow that touches every culture, every ethnicity, and every country of our world.

The Hispanic culture finds itself multifaceted within itself. Overall, there are twenty-one countries in the world on five different continents that speak Spanish as their primary language. Each of these countries has its own music, foods, accents, dialects, and traditions.
Educational opportunities vary from country to country. Even vocabulary differs from one country to another. The one unifying cord in the knot is that all of these people are Hispanic.
The Hispanic churchgoer may be very nationalistic in his thinking. However, Spanish works, Spanish ministries, and Spanish churches can and will be successful if we determine the needs of the people and then meet those needs.

The Hispanic population is looking for something more than dead traditionalism. They are seeking out church services that do much of the following: incorporates preaching in their language, provides music in their language and style, and utilizes some of the Hispanic constituents in the leadership. There are many ways for this to be accomplished.
One way to do this is for the English-speaking church to reach out and offer services in Spanish or in English translated into Spanish. This particular church would probably label this a Spanish ministry. It would be considered an outreach of the church, much the same way Sunday school is considered an outreach of the church.

Another way to reach the Hispanic community would be through a Spanish work, an actual Spanish church version of the English speaking church, which is supported by the English church and might even have a Spanish pastor with the English-speaking pastor considered the head or lead pastor. Still another way to do this is to have an autonomous Spanish church. Everything, from the pulpit to the pew, is done in Spanish. Usually the pastor will be Hispanic or Spanish speaking. Raul Orozco pastors the largest Spanish church to date in our fellowship.
Currently, La Senda Antigua of the Los Angeles area runs over 5,000 people including fourteen daughter works. One daughter work alone, pastored by Mario Oseguera, and currently runs 2,500 people. The final way to reach this group is the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too way: the bilingual church. This is a growing concept in many of our churches. Everything is done in both languages.

The songs are sung in Spanish and English, the announcements are given in Spanish and English, and the preaching is interpreted from one language to the other to the congregation as a whole. Men such as Larry Romero of Denver, James Guerrero of Detroit, and Ric Gonzalez of Chicago successfully pastor bilingual churches.

It is no coincidence that God has brought the Hispanic people to the United States and Canada. He has a plan: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19). It is our mandate to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all. Though there are cultural differences between North Americans and immigrant Hispanics, our job is not to attempt to change their culture or assimilate them to us but to proclaim the gospel to them. The truth of salvation fits all cultures. It has no boundaries. It is for all. Peter said, “The promise is unto you, and your children, and to those that are afar off” (Acts 2:39). Reaping the harvest of the Hispanic community is an idea whose time has come.

“Reaping the Harvest of the Hispanic Community” was written by: Sergio Vitanza