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Are Hispanics in the U.S. losing faith?

New on The Christian Chronicle’s website is a story about the faith of U.S.-born Latino youths, who often feel like they live between English- and Spanish-speaking worlds. The report comes from the recent “Reunion Nacional Juevenil” (“National Youth Conference”) hosted by the Southeast Church of Christ, a Spanish-speaking congregation in Oklahoma City. (See my earlier blog post about the conference.)
You’ll also find a related review of “A Future for the Latino Church,” a new book by Daniel A. Rodriguez of Pepperdine University. Rodriguez, a third-generation Hispanic American, conducted a five-year study among churches and found that U.S.-born descendants of immigrants from Latin America are overlooked in missions and church culture. (We have discussed this subject with Rodriguez before — in a 2008 story about immigration and a 2008 feature on the North County Church of Christ in Escondido, Calif.)
Since we published the story and review, a news release from The Barna Group has emphasized further the need for ministry among Spanish-speaking youths.
The research group’s “State of the Church – 2011” report details the shifts in beliefs among ethnic groups in the U.S. since 1991. According to the report:

The ethnic group that reflected the most profound level of religious change over the last 20 years was Hispanics. Not only did Hispanics see the greatest number of the 14 religious variables shift, but the magnitude of the changes they have experienced dwarfed the changes relevant to white and black adults.
Of the six religious behavior factors tracked, Hispanics have experienced statistically significant change related to five of those domains.

  • Church attendance dropped by 21 percentage points, from 54% to 33%.
  • Adult Sunday school attendance among Hispanics declined from 28% to just 9%.
  • Bible reading plummeted from 55% to 30%.
  • Attending a church of 600 or more people is much more likely these days among Hispanics. While that was the case among less than 1% of Hispanics in 1991, 24% attend a large church today.
  • The percentage of unchurched Hispanic adults has doubled in the last two decades, jumping from 20% in 1991 to 40% today.
  • The only behavior that did not transition substantially in the past 20 years was church volunteerism. While even that statistic sank from 22% back in 1991 to 13% in 2011, the gap is not sufficiently large to exceed the maximum possible sampling error.

Read the news release.
George Barna, the researcher and author who heads The Barna Group, says about the results on his personal blog:

One of the outcomes that rocked me was the dramatic surge in the unchurched proportion among Hispanics. While the unchurched average has exploded among whites and blacks during the past two decades as well, only Hispanics doubled their percentage of unchurched adults. This condition is especially significant because of the large family sizes and young age of the Hispanic segment. Past studies we have conducted indicated that being an unchurched adult is related to one’s church experiences while young. If America’s Hispanic adults are increasingly shifting away from church attendance – or any kind of organized faith experience – the future does not bode well for the expansion of Christianity in the U.S.

During the Oklahoma City conference, I asked Patty Rivera, a member of a Spanish-speaking Church of Christ in Rogers, Ark., if she saw her peers falling away from the church.

Carla Martinez and Patty Rivera from the Rogers, Ark., Church of Christ at the National Youth Conference. (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

Rivera said that she has seen some of the youths at her church leave the faith after they move away from home.
She’s also seen others who have grown in their faith, becoming devoted followers of Christ as they mature, she said.
One such follower is Ben Hobbes, an Oklahoma Christian University graduate who was born and raised in Guatemala, where his parents served as missionaries. Addressing the youths at the conference, Hobbes asked how many of them were born outside the U.S. A few hands went up.
Then he asked them how many had family born outside the U.S. Almost all the attendees raised their hands.
“Add that to the fact that we follow Christ and his teachings, and you realize that we’re a pretty unique group of people,” Hobbes said.

Read the full story.
Do you agree with The Barna Group’s findings? How should church leaders address these grim statistics?

  • Feedback
    I’ve noticed that Brazilian-American young people (technically not Hispanics) tend to favor English and American culture. It seems to me to be a mistake when ministering with them to do so in Portuguese. As for Hispanic youth…I can’t speak with any authority.
    Adam Gonnerman
    August, 9 2011

    Dios los bendiga! Since we have been ministering the Hispanic members in Silver Spring church of Christ (8 years ago), the average attendance has gone up every year. We always encourage the anglo congregations to start worship services in Spanish, this way, while the first generation of Latinos can attend the services in Spanish, the second or third generation (whose first language is now English) can attend the English services (both in the same building under the same Eldership). It has worked very well with us, so we encourage more churches of Christ to try this and help us win with the Gospel the 50 million Hispanics that live in the US. May the peace of God be with you. -Elmer Pacheco
    Jos� Elmer Pacheco
    August, 11 2011

    The conclusion noted above ‘ the future does not bode well for the expansion of Christianity in the U.S.’ is not our experience in Elgin Illinois with the Hispanic Church of Christ.
    John Barhydt
    August, 11 2011

    If I were Hispanic, I would be alienated from most of the “Christian churches.” Especially among smaller congregations of the Church of Christ, I see members (preachers included) who are greatly influenced by the negative political rhetoric coming from conservative politicians about these “illegal aliens.” In my experience there is no interest at all in carrying out the real mission of the church as it relates to “aliens.” Sadly, they don’t seem to be aware that one of the questions at judgment will be, “How many strangers (aliens) at the gate did you take in?” Many of these members have incorporated the common negative stereotypes and resent their presence.
    In contrast there some other congregations (usually large ones as suggested) that have effective ministries designed to teach and nurture Hispanics. One congregation in Texas has established eight Hispanic congregations in the past eight years and have plans to establish two more in the near future. In some cases Hispanic preachers are brought in for gospel meetings. Some meet in the same building and have Spanish speaking services. And numerous other attempts to reach them with the gospel.
    But other congregations are exhibiting the same attitude they did 40 years ago toward African Americans. I contend that it is the pulpit that is failing to preach on these matters. They appear to be more influenced by political talking points than they are with the gospel of Christ.
    Who among us will stand in the gap and remind us of our real spiritual mission?
    Harold Williams
    August, 12 2011

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