Members ponder issues of integration, culture as Spanish ministries grow
Not all of them are in Texas
The 129-member Auburn Hills Church of Christ in Michigan recently hired its first full-time Spanish evangelist. About 40 Spanish speakers attend services each week, member Bill Young said.
The ministry didn’t develop from a detailed strategy to reach the growing Hispanic population in this Detroit suburb, Young said. One Sunday a Spanish speaker showed up at the church in nearby Romeo, so church members looked for someone to translate the sermons. The ministry grew and moved to Auburn Hills.
About 870 miles west, in Norfolk, Neb., about 30 of the Glen Park church’s 80 members speak Spanish, minister Jeff Schipper said.
In 1990 three Hispanic brothers from a newly opened meat packing plantstarted attending worship. The church recruited their father, JoseMartinez Sr., to serve as Spanish minister.
“Having a diverse congregation is a great blessing,” Schipper said. “Ittakes a little bit more effort to communicate, but it is worth it.”
In the 15 years since the church launched its Spanish ministry, membershave learned that “as diverse as we are in the world, our needs arestill the same — and the solution is still the same,” he said.
REACHING A GROWING DEMOGRAPHIC
In that same 15 years, the number of Spanish speakers in the U.S. hasgrown to more than 28.1 million — a 62 percent increase since 1990,according to census data.
Across the nation, Churches of Christ use different approaches to serve the growing demographic.
At the Silver Spring, Md., church, Spanish and English speakers haveseparate services, but meet together quarterly for bilingual worship,elder Earle West said. About a third of the church’s 300 members areSpanish speakers.
Both language groups have their own minister and choose their owndeacons, who meet jointly with the English-speaking deacons. Bothgroups share a budget and cooperate in mission work.
“The ideal of a unified, multicultural church is continually stressed,” West said.
The Westview church in Greeley, Colo., is “one church with twolanguages,” preaching minister Terry Newton said. Before they splitinto groups to hear a Spanish or English sermon, they worship together,singing hymns in both languages simultaneously.
“When people first see us do it, they think, ‘This isn’t going to work,’” Newton said. “But it just does.”
In Nashville, Tenn., the Spanish-speaking Grandview Heights churchmeets in a building more than five miles away from the English-speakingBrentwood Hills church. The two churches partner in outreach to centralTennessee’s growing Hispanic community, said Grandview minister RobertoSantiago.
In nearby Franklin, Tenn., a Spanish-speaking fellowship meets in ahouse on the campus of the Berry’s Chapel church, said educationminister Wes Gallagher. Several English speakers assist the Spanishservice, with an average attendance of about 35, but “there seems to bequite a bit of separation,” Gallagher said. “We would like to changethat.”
Many Spanish speakers come from a Catholic background, and “we arereluctant to leave behind all our traditions,” said Alejandro Sanchez,the church’s Spanish minister.
But that doesn’t mean that all Spanish speakers want to remain in separate congregations, Santiago said.
“I prefer to pray in Spanish. That is my native language,” he said. Butthe ultimate goal of the Grandview ministry is to “integrate themembers into mainstream, English congregations.”
MAKING THE MINISTRY MULTICULTURAL
For many churches, integration begins in children’s Sunday schoolclasses. The children of immigrants grow up bilingual, and often becomepart of their church’s English services, Santiago said.
That’s the case at the South MacArthur church in Irving, Texas, saidcross-cultural minister Berto Murillo. Worshipping together is good, hesaid, but the minister is concerned that young Christians may start todeny their Hispanic heritage.
That’s why Murillo, a native of Honduras, prefers the term“cross-cultural” to Spanish ministry. To build a truly multiculturalchurch, Spanish and English speakers must respect each other’sbackgrounds, he said.
Murillo takes Anglo church members on mission trips to Honduras andLatin America to work alongside church members and professionals inSpanish-speaking countries.
Placing Anglo church members in an environment where they are theminority helps them empathize with their Hispanic brothers and sistersback home, Murillo said.
“I’m here with a temporary visa on this earth,” he said. “We all are.”
Regardless of what language they speak, church members should worktogether “to be a part of this grandiose project of God,” he said, “toreach every soul from every culture.”