As for Canada, the Spanish-speaking population “is estimated to be a half-million people, and is growing 3 percent a year— three times Canada’s national average.”
The Lord Jesus says: “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). As an American of Hispanic origin, I view this urging from our Lord as applicable to what I call our new “Samaritan” harvest fields (John 4): the rapidly increasing Latino population in the U.S. and Canada. How exactly can we Latinos and Latinas further help in the spiritual harvest of our own people? I will attempt to answer this question in a slightly different manner than it has been traditionally done. Three additional questions will guide our conversation.
1. Can we Latinos and Latinas start more Hispanic churches?
Yes we can. These language, ethnic, and culture-specific new churches will be churches in which Spanish in its several dialectical forms continues to be the main or only language for ministry. This is how our denominational leaders have traditionally conceived of the harvesting of the Latino and other non-white harvest fields. In A Holy Purpose, a book widely distributed at the M11 Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, this year, editor Bill Wiesman points out that one of the key assumptions of the USA/ Canada Regional Office for new church development is that, “People must be reached in their own language and culture” (Assumption Four).2 One reason for this, he points out, is that, “Waves of immigrants are coming from countries where the United States and Canada once sent missionaries”.3
Following this denominational model, two types of Latino congregations have been developed over the last 100 years in the U.S. and Canada:
- The autonomous Latino congregation (organized as a local church and normally led by a person of Hispanic origin as its pastor),
- The semiautonomous Latino congregation (the one that is part of a multi-congregational church, the lead or overseer pastor typically being a person of Anglo origin, but the person in charge of the Latino, Spanish language “church within a church” normally being one of Hispanic origin).
These two types of Latino congregations are normally the ones accounted for in the official statistical reporting of the denomination. In recent years, Nazarenes in the U. S. and Canada have been doing this kind of new church development at a faster pace than any other language, ethnic, or race specific group in our region. Roberto Hodgson, Hispanic Ministries Director for the USA/Canada Region, and District Superintendent of the Southwest Latin American District, writing in the same book mentioned above, states the following: “In the last ten years Nazarene Hispanic ministries in the United States and Canada have almost doubled to 500 churches and 30,000 members”; and Latino Nazarenes in the region “have set a goal to double again in the next ten years to 1,000 churches."4
Again, almost all of these churches have responded or will respond to the denominational expectations as mainly language specific (Spanish), and their membership primarily formed by immigrants and perhaps one or two of their succeeding generations of American-born children and grandchildren. This traditional type of Latino church, especially in the Southwest, dates back to the times of Phineas F. Bresee and Sister Santos Elizondo in the early 1900s.
A careful observer will agree that there is an inherent limiting factor in this traditional model: who will reach the non-immigrant Hispanics who do not speak Spanish well or do not speak it at all? Who will reach the Latino family in which English is the dominant language of children and Spanish the dominant language of parents and grandparents? Who will reach the Latino “postmodern” family that may prefer a church that is not segregated by race, ethnicity, culture, or language? Who will reach the interracial family with a Latino component in it? Surveys show a marked increase in the American-born or American-raised Latino segment of our population (See: pewresearch.org/pubs/644/ english-language-usage-hispanics) that may resist the Latino traditional church model.
Therefore, when making the list of assumptions for the new church development, it is encouraging that Bill Wiseman opens the door for other ways of doing church, which may better lend themselves to winning and discipling this kind of Latino or Latina and his or her family. Wiseman says: “These new churches will take on a variety of identities—rural churches, urban churches, suburban churches, multi-site churches, multi-congregational churches, culturally specific churches, multi-cultural churches, organic churches, cowboy churches, and so on. . . Some will begin immediately as new churches, and some will begin as ministries or small groups, and perhaps someday become organized churches.”5
I will go ahead and ask the next question to my fellow Latino/Hispanic Nazarenes, and to those Anglos, Blacks, Asian, and Native Americans who may feel called by God to claim for their churches and ministries the wider Latino population.
2. Can we Latinos and Latinas help start more Latino ministries, Latino sites, or Latino campuses within existing non-Latino churches willing to widen their missional scope?
Yes we can, and we should. As mentioned earlier, the method the denomination has used in gathering Latino church development statistics in the U.S. and Canada does not lend itself for the reporting of the kind of new church development I am here acknowledging. However, experience shows an increasing number of mainly Anglo and Black uniracial churches, which are willing to become multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multilingual, multi-sites, and so on. in order to better help in the efforts of the Church of the Nazarene to reach our Latino population, wherever they may be located.
I was personally involved as District Hispanic Coordinator to a recent initiative being developed along this line in the Southwest Oklahoma District. The following two churches are involved in this initiative:
- Oklahoma City Trinity Church of the Nazarene
- Oklahoma City Western Oaks Church of the Nazarene
Both churches are led by Anglo pastors, but their Latino/Hispanic outreach ministry is under Latino personnel. Internal statistics in both churches will show a substantial contribution by their new Latino constituency in membership by profession of faith, in Sunday morning attendance, and in finances. There are Latinos and Latinas already involved in leadership and administration in these churches. You may visit these newly inclusive Nazarene churches by Internet at the following websites: trinitynazokc.com and wonaz.com.
New and different opportunities of harvesting the wider Latino “Samaritan” fields throughout the USA and Canada are emerging. Nazarenes are not standing on the sideline watching others do the harvesting. But this leads me to the last question.
3. Can we Latinos and Latinas start more multi-racial churches in the U.S. and Canada?
As surprising as this question may be for some, I would like to think that its answer is also “yes.” Granted that their “cultural quotient” (CQ) has been duly developed,
- Pastors of Hispanic origin currently pastoring ethnic specific churches may want to consider the possibility of transitioning them into a diverse, inclusive church;
- Latinos and Latinas called to pastoral ministry may want to consider the type of college or seminary training which will enable them to become the lead or senior pastor of a multi-racial, inclusive church;
- Latino new church planters, when trained, may want to accept the challenge of starting churches that are multiracial, multi-cultural, and multi-lingual from the outset.
Gabriel Salguero, of The Lamb’s Church of the Nazarene in New York City, has shared in a recent interview with Grace and Peace Magazine6 how an Hispanic senior pastor leads a multi-racial/multi-cultural/ multi-lingual church. His church’s welcome web page is straightforward and unapologetic in this regard: “No matter what age, race, culture, or class you are welcome here” (lambschurch.org).
It is not my intention to discuss here in detail this model of new church development by Latinos and Latinas in the U.S. and Canada. Anyone interested specifically in multi-racial church development will benefit a great deal from reading United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race. I would refer you specifically to chapter 8, “Arguing the case for multiracial congregations.” The authors, boldly and clearly, advance the “controversial argument” that “Christian congregations, when possible, should be multiracial,” and that, “The twenty-first century must be the century of the multiracial congregation." 7 That, as United by Faith argues, was the type of church early Christians strived to establish during the New Testament era.
The Latino mission fields, which the Lord is asking us to engage, are “ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). It is a wide and varied population up for grabs. As fruitful as the Latino language and ethnic specific approach to church development may have been in the past, it has not exhausted and will never exhaust the Latino harvest fields in our region. Nor will it exhaust the potential for pastoral leadership in our Latinos and Latinas called by God. We as Nazarene people of Hispanic origin in the U.S. and Canada, and those non-Hispanic Nazarenes friends who can open their eyes and look with us at these new “Samaritan” fields, must be willing and eager to explore as wide a variety of church development models as possible, if we are ever to win and disciple the Latino souls for Christ and the Church in much greater numbers.
JUAN VÁZQUEZ-PLA, an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene, is Director of the Synergy Ministries, dedicated to promote cooperation in the advancement of Christianity (http://www.thesynergyministries.com)
1. “U.S. Hispanic Population to Triple by 2050,” USA Today, 12 February, 2008.
2. Bill Wiesman (editor), A Holy Purpose: Five Strategies for Making Christlike Disciples (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2011), 211.
4. Ibid., 178.
5. Ibid., 210.
6. “The Challenge of Multicultural Preaching: An Interview with Gabriel Salguero,” Grace and Peace Magazine, Fall 2010, 31-33.
7. Curtiss Paul DeYoung, et al, United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 2.