Hispanic advisory group sees 'enormous' challenges, opportunities for Baptists

Baptist Press
Posted: May 02, 2014 4:52 PM
ATLANTA (BP) -- Calling Hispanic church involvement "critical" for long-term sustainability of Southern Baptists' efforts to reach the nation and the world with the Gospel, SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page received a report from the Hispanic Advisory Council at its final meeting and pledged to form an ongoing council representing the numerous racial, ethnic and language groups in the convention.

The council, encompassing Latino leaders from a broad spectrum of Spanish cultures across the United States, presented the 79-page report to Page at its March 20–21 meeting in Atlanta.

Compiled by co-chairs Bobby Sena and Daniel Sánchez, the HAC report was a "collaborative ... effort by the members of the Hispanic Advisory Council who, in turn, sought information, observations, and recommendations (through personal interviews and surveys) from consultative groups representing churches, associations, state conventions," fellowships and SBC entities.

The report completed the council's three-year assignment.

Noting that the HAC information "was corroborated and supplemented" by reports by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Pew Hispanic Center, the Barna Group, LifeWay Research and the North American Mission Board Center for Missional Research, the report also leaned heavily on "strategic observations of the HAC members based on their in-depth knowledge of the Hispanic culture as well as their extensive ministry experiences."

Divided into five sections -- knowing, evangelizing, congregationalizing, training and mobilizing Hispanics -- the report noted that "Hispanics are transforming the nation's social, economic, educational, political, and religious life." The growth and dispersion of the Hispanic population present "enormous challenges and opportunities for Southern Baptists in their commitment to reach all segments of the population for Christ," the report said.

The Hispanic population in the U.S. and Canada grew by 48 percent during the first decade of this century, from 38.2 million in 2000 to nearly 52 million in 2011. The report noted that two-thirds of all U.S. Hispanics live in five states -- California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas.

"The rapid and widespread growth of North America's Hispanic population sends Southern Baptists a clear message that we cannot reach all of North America for Christ without making an unprecedented commitment to evangelize and congregationalize this mission field at our doorsteps," the report stated (emphasis in report).

In his oral summary, Sánchez reported that Arkansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina and South Carolina experienced the most rapid Hispanic population growth, while Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia also saw more than 100 percent growth in Hispanic population during the same period.

Overall, the Hispanic population grew in 3,000 of the nation's 3,141 counties. Some counties with the fastest Hispanic population growth were in the Northeast (Maine and Vermont) and far west (Montana), Sánchez said.

Sánchez observed that relational evangelism and ministry evangelism were two of the more effective strategies in reaching Hispanics. He cited a LifeWay Research finding that 77 percent of Hispanics who are now evangelical believers first heard the Gospel message through a family member or friend (45 percent heard from a family member; 32 percent from a friend; only 11 percent from a church member).

Sánchez also reported that more than one-half of Hispanics (57 percent) are "willing to have a personal conversation about spiritual matters with a friend or neighbor from church."

In its "Evangelizing Hispanics" section, the report stated, "In light of the explosive growth of the Hispanic population and their unprecedented receptivity to the Gospel message, the HAC recommends that Southern Baptists seize the moment and design a North American-wide strategy to lead the largest number of them possible to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ."

Noting that two-thirds of Hispanics are bilingual or English speakers, the report urged that "all Southern Baptist churches see this segment of the Hispanic population as one they can witness to immediately without any delays," the one "most receptive to the Gospel message."

Page, in his response, reviewed the recommendations from the 2011 Ethnic Study Committee Report adopted by the convention. That report called on all SBC entities to submit, as part of their annual ministry "data call," a descriptive report of participation by ethnic church and church leaders in the entities' ministries and to give special consideration to the recruitment and employment of qualified individuals who reflect the diverse population of the SBC to serve in professional staff positions, as seminary faculty and as appointed missionaries.

Page pledged to keep these and other SBC commitments before all facets of SBC life and encouraged Hispanic church leaders to participate in the "Many Faces of the SBC" booth in the exhibit area at the annual SBC meeting in Baltimore.

In his opening remarks to the council, Page used an extended metaphor to describe the perennial tensions in an organization as large and diverse as the SBC. He noted that there are multiple "fault lines" in Southern Baptist life that create pressure points. As these tectonic plates push against each other, they can lead to earthquakes. These earthquakes reveal weaknesses, but they also reveal strengths, he said. Despite these pressure points and tensions, Page cited optimism for the future as Southern Baptists continue to submit to the Lord and experience "But God!" moments, a reference to God's intervention on behalf of Daniel and his friends reported in the book of Daniel.

The advisory council, appointed in 2011, was a three-year initiative appointed by Page. The report reflects perspectives from Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central American, South American, Mexican and European Hispanic communities and first-, second- and third-generation Hispanic immigrants.

Members of the advisory council contributed to the final report as follows: Francisco Aular, Hispanic Baptists in Canada; Pedro Avilés, Hispanic Baptists in Puerto Rico; Elías Bracamonte, National Hispanic Baptist Fellowship; Yolanda Calderon and Daisy Ríos, Hispanic Baptist women; Daniel Dominguez, second- and third-generation Hispanics; Luis López, Hispanic leadership training; Frank Moreno, state missions directors and leaders of Hispanic work in state conventions; Mike Gonzáles, Hispanic Baptist laymen; Salomón Orellana, key Hispanic pastors; Joshua del Risco, Hispanic church planting; Daniel Sánchez, Hispanic education; Jonathan Santiago, Hispanic evangelism; Bob Sena, state Hispanic fellowships/networks; Gus Suárez, Hispanic Baptist theological education; Fermín Whittaker, executive directors of state conventions.

Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations for the SBC Executive Committee. This article first appeared in the Executive Committee journal SBC LIFE, on the Web at www.SBCLIFE.net.

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