National Demographic Trends For Hispanics
Houston Area Demographic Trends for Hispanics
Demographics and Trends in the Hispanic Church
The Context of Theological and Ministerial Training For Hispanics in the United States

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By David C. Byrne, D.Min., M.Div.

National Demographic Trends For Hispanics

As the United States has always been a land of immigrants, there have always in its history been issues of integration and assimilation of peoples of other cultures. Currently, Hispanics in the United States comprise the fastest growing ethnic group numerically and are poised to become America's largest ethnic minority by the year 2010 (Information Please Almanac [1996], 834). According to the same statistics, approximately 870,000 will be added to Hispanic America each year with no expectation of slowing in the immediate future.

Since early in this century when between the years 1890 and 1930 more than an eighth of Mexico's population came to the United States (Cockroft 1995, 13), there have been regular periods of rapid Hispanic immigration to the United States. Due to the proximity of the originating nations, the large number of people involved, and the fact that in large portions of the United States Hispanics are the original American settlers, questions of assimilation become complicated. Who should accommodate culturally and to what degree?

There is also a question of what constitutes the normative Hispanic culture. "Hispanic" does not indicate any particular race but rather refers to a group bound together by a language and some elements of common culture. Factors such as nationalism, regional distinctions in language, varying degrees of oppression or foreign domination historically in the originating nations, and many other regional differences cause individuals from the many Spanish-speaking countries in the world to have very different outlooks and values.

These differences combined with the obvious dissimilarities that exist between the recent Hispanic immigrants to the United States and the Hispanics from the United States who have formed a separate "Tex/Mex" cultural identity combine to create the multifaceted cultural gem which is the Hispanic community.

Further complicating any assimilation of Hispanics into non-Hispanic American society are factors of education and wealth. Statistics are just now beginning to show the development of an Hispanic underclass with downward instead of upward mobility. A recent article on the rise of Hispanic poverty in the Houston Chronicle claims that based on census bureau figures "the poverty rate among Hispanics in the United States has surpassed that of blacks" (Goldberg 1996, 1). In 1995 median family income "rose for every other American ethnic and racial group, but for the nation's 27 million Hispanics, it dropped 5.1 percent" (Goldberg 1996, 1).

Some studies are now showing that a higher percentage of Hispanic children live in poverty in the United States than children of other groups. "As of 1995, 40 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty, and many who are recent immigrants don't even get tallied" (Jones 1996). A 1995 Census Bureau study also reveals that there are already more Hispanic children in the United States than any other minority group. There are 12 million Hispanic children compared with 50.8 million non-Hispanic whites and 11.4 million non-Hispanic blacks (Jones 1996). The trend shows a young and rapidly growing Hispanic population that is struggling with poverty.

Although this is a disturbing trend, the other side of the issue is that the business community is waking up to the reality of a huge Hispanic market. It is estimated that, "the annual purchasing power of Hispanic American consumers is now $200 billion, three times that of all exports to Latin America, and that number will continue to grow" (Hispanic Times [1996], 42).

The Hispanic community is a force to be reckoned with but a force that is just beginning to come into its own. One of the limiting factors that is frequently cited as slowing the assertion of Hispanic needs into the American political agenda is a lack of education. In a study by the Census Bureau in 1995 it was found that "only 9 percent of Hispanics over age 24 held college degrees, compared with 24 percent of non-Hispanics". This rate is "proportionally worse than in 1975 when 5 percent (of Hispanics) held college degrees compared with 11.6 percent (of non-Hispanics)" (Goldberg 1996, 1).

Houston Area Demographic Trends For Hispanics Top of page.

In the Houston area the Hispanic population has been growing vigorously and reflects many of the national trends. In the years between 1980 and 1990 the Hispanic population of Harris county has grown at an impressive 75% compared with an Anglo population which measured an almost level growth rate of onepercent. If only the city of Houston is considered the difference is even more marked with Hispanic growth at 60% compared to a 21% loss in population among Anglos (Klineberg 1994, 8). Houston, like many large cities across the United States, is becoming an Hispanic city. It is projected that within the next few years Hispanics in Houston will be the dominant ethnic group with the largest ethnic population at 39% with Anglos comprising 28% and African-Americans making up 27.5% of the total population (Klineberg 1994, 8).

Such rapid growth combined with value specific differences between cultures has created special concerns for the evangelical church and its leadership. Hispanics in Houston tend to be both younger and less educated than other ethnic groups. Thirty-seven percent of Hispanics in 1994 were under 30 years of age (Klineberg 1994, 9) and more than one third of all Hispanics are high- school dropouts (Klineberg 1994, 10).

Economically, Hispanics in Houston lag far behind other ethnic groups with 48% of households earning less than $25,000 compared to 14% of Anglo households (Klineberg 1994, 10). The growth and neediness of the Hispanic community has created difficulties for the Evangelical church. Andres Tapia reported in Christianity Today that, "Rapid Latino growth in evangelical churches is a point of both pride and consternation for the historic evangelical denominations. The 100,000 U.S. Latino evangelicals of 25 years ago have swelled to nearly 6 million today - more than 20 percent of all U.S. Latinos" (Tapia 1994, 38).

Demographics and Trends in the Hispanic Church Top of page.

Just as the Hispanic community is not monolithic in nature, neither is the Hispanic church. Even Evangelical Christianity is characterized by the strains of diversity. Not only do Evangelical Christians reflect the diverse cultural and nationalistic characteristics of their native lands, they also reflect the denominational diversities of their adopted Protestantism. Often the Hispanic church leadership does not have the training to bring these diverse elements together. Hispanics "are divided by theology, class, politics and national origin. Even language is a point of conflict; not all young Hispanics can or want to speak Spanish. The movement's ministers are often 'long on enthusiasm but short on education'" (Hispanics turn Evangelical [1994], 1183).

According to Dr. Jesse Miranda, the president of the National Alliance of Evangelical Ministries, "Hispanics account for almost all recent growth in evangelical churches, even in predominantly black and Anglo congregations" (Hispanics turn Evangelical [1994], 1183). The formation of this alliance of Hispanic Ministries called by its Spanish acronym "AMEN" shows the serious concern of Hispanic leaders for bringing the diverse elements of the evangelical community to a focussed agenda. Rapid growth among Evangelical Hispanics is both a joy and a threat for the future Hispanic church. It is a joy as hundreds of thousands of Hispanics experience new spiritual vitality and relationship with God. It is a threat to the future church if the present church is unable to disciple and incorporate the new believers who are looking for spiritual guidance.

Evangelical Christians are under pressure from within and without. "Some critics say Latinos become Protestants because they have been lured away by what Pope John Paul II has called 'rapacious wolves,' the mostly Anglo-American evangelical missionaries in Latin America" (Hispanics turn Evangelical [1994], 1183). Within the Roman Catholic Church there is significant introspection about the nature of the defection of Hispanic Catholics to Evangelical Christianity.

Current data is showing a marked decrease of Hispanics who identify with the Roman Catholic Church. Some statistics also seem to indicate that while there is rapid growth among Evangelical groups, there are large numbers of Hispanics who are abandoning organized religion altogether (In Touch 1995, 1).

The cry from the Hispanic church - whether Catholic or Protestant - is for Hispanic leadership that is prepared for the multicultural ministry required in the United States. Valentín González who is the director of the AD2000 movement in Latin America says that, "Ministers need more education. Today it is not sufficient to say, 'I have a call from God to be a pastor.' The new generation is university-educated, informed, and cosmopolitan. They don't want an ignorant pastor" (Sundstrom 1997, 87). This trend in Latin America creates a situation in the United States in which the Evangelical churches are increasingly polarized educationally with pastors who are often among the least educated in the congregation trying to hold the group together.

Writing from the perspective of the Roman Catholic Church, Demetria Martinez asserts that, "the health of the entire church depends in large part upon developing strong Latino leaders, because Latinos are expected to form the majority of U.S. Catholics in the near future" (Martinez 1995, 16). Simply because of the rapid Hispanic population growth, Roman Catholicism in the United States is in an Hispanic leadership crisis.

In the Evangelical Protestant churches across the country the rapid conversion of Hispanics is causing an even greater pressure to quickly develop effective leadership. One district superintendent from the Nazarene church made the half-joking claim to this author that if he had the Hispanic leadership, he would be able to plant one hundred churches next week. The opportunity is great, but the need for more appropriate models for pastoral training is also great.

The Context of Theological and Ministerial Training For Hispanics in the United States Top of page.

Theological preparation of Hispanics in the United States has generally followed one of two traditional tracks. The first track is a Bible school track that is available in a number of cities across the country and is sometimes available in Spanish. These tend to be denominational programs that do not address the current ministry needs of the large number of pastors who are already serving a church congregation.

Many Hispanic young people are preparing themselves in these programs and are receiving a good foundation for future Christian service. Since the majority of these programs are specific to a particular denominational perspective they are not necessarily available to Hispanic students from other groups. In Houston the Christian Church, the Baptists and two independent charismatic groups have Bible schools with Spanish programs. This is a healthy trend that will need to expand to other groups in the coming years. This is the first step toward filling the leadership gap in the Hispanic Evangelical Church.

The other track for ministerial training for Hispanics are the traditional seminaries that seek to involve Hispanics in their English-based program. Many of these are excellent programs that provide quality theological and ministerial education for the few Hispanics who can take advantage of them.

Many obstacles stand in the way of those Hispanic students who would prepare themselves for full time ministry in the traditionally "Anglo" seminaries. The lack of a college degree as noted above is a key limitation. Another limiting factor is a lack of English proficiency among many of the leaders who are already serving in a church or who are called to the ministry. Financial concerns are also a major issue as are personal issues such as family and church responsibilities.

Andres Tapia also identifies poor high school education, lack of financial resources, and cultural biases as obstacles for the training of Hispanic ministers (Tapia 1994, 38). For many of these same reasons Manuel Ortiz writes in his book, The Hispanic Challenge that "sadly, our evangelical colleges have made hardly any effort to include the Hispanic-American" (Ortiz 1993, 129).

This fact is illustrated in that a total of only 1,670 Hispanics were enrolled in all of the seminaries belonging to the Association of Theological Schools in 1994. In the Houston Graduate School of Theology, a multi-ethnic urban school, statistics show that among the major ethnic groups, Hispanics are the most under-represented, comprising only 2.5% of the student body. Dr. Pablo Jimenez, the director of the AETH (Asociación para la Educación Teológica Hispana) says that "the key is to increase cooperation between Bible institutes and seminaries" (Tapia 1994, 38).

A great effort is being made to provide entry points for Hispanics coming into traditionally Anglo seminaries. Azuza Pacific University conducts a multi-level program under the leadership of Dr. Jesse Miranda that provides certificate training in the community and a masters program that can include an LEP (Limited English Proficiency) track. Hispanics in this track can take their first 20 units in Spanish, the second 20 units in bilingual courses and then finish their program in English. (Miranda 1994, 1).

It is worth noting in this same context that it is not an unmixed blessing for the Hispanic church when its students study in established English-speaking seminaries. Those students who do attend an English-based seminary program are often faced with the same pressures as national leaders from other countries who come to the United States to study. It is generally more profitable financially for a student who has graduated from seminary to pastor an "Anglo" congregation after graduation than an Hispanic one. Many Hispanic seminary graduates never find their way into Hispanic ministry. The opposite is often true as some of the most capable Hispanic leaders are siphoned away from Hispanic ministry to "Anglo" ministries.

Dr. David Moran writes in his dissertation on bilingual and bicultural Hispanic churches that:

The area of Hispanic leadership development must be thoroughly explored. Some have said that 20,000 church leaders need to be added before the year 2000 in order to address the Hispanic challenge before the church. Innovative training programs need to be developed, especially in light of the high standards of many denominations and the low educational levels of many Hispanics (Moran 1995, 137).

Organizations such as AETH (Asociación para la Educación Teologica Hispana) based in Atlanta and HABBM (Hispanic Association for Bilingual Bicultural Ministries) based in Southern California are currently being formed in order to address these very issues.

It is the purpose of this project to make a contribution to the area of theological education for that particular group of Spanish-speaking Hispanics who are involved in ministry but who do not have the opportunities for more traditional programs of theological education or who are not interested in attending such a program. It is assumed that most of these men and women have the biblical, theological and spiritual formation required for ministry in their denominations, but that a significant number of these ministers are lacking in leadership skills and in their relational support contacts.

Ministry in the Hispanic communities across the United States needs to be multiplied many times over. One area of preparation for such a multiplication is in that of leadership development for Spanish-speaking pastors and church leaders who are already called and committed to leading the church but who lack the tools they need for long-term success. These are people who are often isolated by language, culture, economics and personal commitments even from their own denominations.

This is the group which is the ministry focus for the leadership training program being developed by this author in the southeastern part of Houston, Texas. Top of page.

Bibliographic Information:

  1. Cockcroft, James D. 1995. Latinos in the Making of the United States. New York: Franklin Watts. Return to text.
  2. Comfort, Duane, Executive Assistant for Evangelical Friends Mission. 1996. Interview by author, 5 March, Minneapolis. Tape recording.
  3. Deck, Allan Figueroa. 1989. The second wave: Hispanic ministry and the evangelization of cultures. New York: Paulist Press.
  4. Díaz Vilar, J. Juan. 1995. The Challenge of Proselytism. In Perspectives: Hispanic Ministry, ed. Allan Figueroa Deck, Yolanda Tarango, and Timothy M. Matovina, 83-89. Kansas City, MO: Sheed & Ward.
  5. Falzon, Rafael. 1986. The Hispanic Mennonite Church in North America: 1932-1982. Scotdale, PA: Herald Press.
  6. Ford, Leighton 1991. Transforming Leadership. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  7. Gangel, Kenneth O. 1989. Feeding & Leading: A practical handbook on administration in churches and christian organizations. Wheaton: Victor Books.
  8. Goldberg, Carey. 1997. Hispanic poverty on rise. Houston Chronicle, 31 January, 1(C). Return to text. (2nd citation return).
  9. HACR study finds only one percent of corporate leaders are Hispanic. [1996]. Hispanic Times Magazine, May/June, 42-28. Return to text.
  10. Hispanic Youth Challenge. [1995]. In Touch Newsletter - Hispanic Association for Bilingual Bicultural Ministries, Spring 1995. Return to text.
  11. Hispanics turn evangelical. [1994]. The Christian Century, 14 December, 1183. Return to text.
  12. Holmes, Cecile S. 1996. Targeting Hispanic Leaders. Houston Chronicle, 20 January, 1(E).
  13. Information Please Almanac. [1996]. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co. Return to text.
  14. Jones, Rachel L. 1996. Hispanics now largest group of U.S. children other than whites, Census Bureau says. Knight- Ridder/Tribune News Service, P701K3770. Return to text.
  15. Klineberg, Stephen L. 1994. Houston's Ethnic Communities Houston: de la Garza Public Relations, Inc. Return to text.
  16. Leach, Stan, Director of Church Planting for Southwest Yearly Meeting. 1996. Interview by author, 22 March, South Houston, TX. Tape recording.
  17. Martinez, Demetria. 1995. Hispanics tackle leadership deficit. National Catholic Reporter. 25 August, 16. Return to text.
  18. McKenna, David L. 1989. Power to follow, grace to lead. Dallas: Word Publishing.
  19. Miranda, Dr. Jesse. 1994. Interview by author, December 3, Friendswood, TX. Tape recording. Return to text.
  20. Moran, Dr. David L. 1995. A study of bilingual, bicultural Hispanic churches. D.Min. Diss., Reformed Theological Seminary. Return to text.
  21. Myers, William R. 1993. Research in Ministry. Chicago: Exploration Press.
  22. Mylander, Charles, Superintendent Southwest Yearly Meeting. 1996. Interview by author, 17 April, Los Angeles. Tape recording.
  23. Ortiz, Manuel, The Hispanic Challenge: Opportunities Confronting the Church. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. Return to text.
  24. Sandoval, Moises. 1990. On the move: A history of the Hispanic church in the United States. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
  25. Sundstrom, Bill. 1997. "Growing confidence spurs Latin American outreach." Christianity Today, 3 February, 87. Return to text.
  26. Swindoll, Charles. 1996. What I want to be when I grow up. Leadership Summer96, 59, 1p, 1bw.
  27. Tapia, Andres. 1995. Growing Pains. Christianity Today, 6 February. Return to text. (2nd citation return)

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