As a bi-literate Hispanic (a 1.5 Hispanic) living in two worlds, both the Hispanic and the American, I find if fascinating what is happening in the United States in regards to demographics. Recent demographics reveal some important facts in the Hispanic culture. These have implications when it comes how we approach and minister to them in the Christian church.
Here are my takeaways from the recent data.
Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic in the US
“Between 2010 and 2019, the Latino share of the total U.S. population increased from 16% to 18%. Latinos accounted for about half (52%) of all U.S. population growth over this period. They are the country’s second largest racial or ethnic group, behind white non-Hispanics.”1
I have observed this trend for a long time and I believe they will be the largest ethnic group in America. The census projects that by 2045 there United States will be “minority white”. It is important to note that most recent immigrants have been Venezuelan, Guatemalan, and Honduran (the fastest growth from 2010-2019), not just Mexican which is the largest ethnic group (61%) in the United States. Though all Hispanics share common traits, we also have unique differences. If you want to know about some general traits, I wrote about them. You can find them here.
The implications for churches are that we will have to be intentional in becoming more multiethnic and this means that we need to start reflecting the demographic of the community we serve which in many places includes a large Hispanic population. How this is done is something that no one has the “right” answers. It really depends of the church. It will take a lot of prayer, reading, planning and consulting with those who have experience with multiethnic churches.
The percentage of second and higher generations of Hispanics is growing
Some of the statistics:
- 60.6 million in 2019.
- 36% immigrants
- 34% US born one immigrant parent
- 30% third generation or higher 2
From this, I find that 64% are second generation or higher. This is more than half of the Hispanic population. This means that churches have a huge field to reach Hispanics of second and higher generations. My experience and my research indicate that most of these generations are either attending Spanish speaking churches on special occasions or no longer attend church. They are not attending English speaking churches either. The reason is obvious to me. They don’t fit in any of the two groups, one due to language, the second due to culture. As I said before, how we engage them will require a lot of work.
More are Hispanics are considering themselves as “American”
“About half (53%) consider themselves to be a typical American, while 44% say they are very different from a typical American. By contrast, only 37% of immigrant Hispanics consider themselves a typical American.“3
I believe there will never be 100% of Hispanics saying they consider themselves “typical American” due to their heritage (i.e., cultural pride). We don’t know exactly what “typical American” means to them, and my guess is that it not the same as everyone else’s. I don’t think that this means it will be easier for them to be part of “American” churches, but this could help especially if churches are intentional in becoming more diverse both in their staff, membership and adapt worship styles and ministries to engage them.
Spanish is becoming less of a distinguishing cultural trait; Hispanics are becoming fluent in English
“The importance of most of these elements to Hispanic identity decreases across generations. For example, 54% of foreign-born Hispanics say speaking Spanish is an essential part of what being Hispanic means to them, compared with 44% of second-generation Hispanics and 20% of third- or higher-generation Hispanics.”4
“In 2019, 72% of Latinos ages 5 and older spoke English proficiently, up from 59% in 2000. U.S.-born Latinos are driving this growth, as their share on this measure has grown from 81% to 91% during this time.”5 About 25% of Millennials speak only English at home.
This means that Hispanics will need churches where the services, classes, and ministries are in English. This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a Spanish (Spanish will not go away!) service or ministries. Having two languages is an asset and I don’t mean using them simultaneously or having bilingual services. However, English will have to be spoken for them to feel culturally accepted. If this is not true, they will stay on the sidelines.
Hispanics are younger
“About one-third, or 17.9 million, of the nation’s Hispanic population is younger than 18, and about a quarter, or 14.6 million, of all Hispanics are Millennials (ages 18 to 33 in 2014)...”6
More than half of the population is under 18. This means that churches need to be able to provide a place and the resources where they can engage children and young people. I have found that the parents and the children need to feel welcomed and at home before they can be involved in the church. They are very skeptical and it takes time to earn their trust. Once this is done, they become the voice for others to join.
Hispanics identify themselves as multiethnic or multiracial
“More than 20 million Latinos identified with more than one race on the 2020 census, up from just 3 million in 2010.“7
Hispanics are not monolithic. We are from a diverse background (e.g., Many are “Mestizos”, a blend of European and Native American) so it is natural to identify ourselves with other races. It should be easier to connect with other races and cultures in the Christian church. One of the roadblocks is that we don’t provide a social environment (this can be as simple as a shared meal “comida compartida” once a month) where relationships can be formed. This is crucial in order to become multiethnic.
Most Hispanics are US Citizens
“As of 2019, 80% of Latinos living in the country are U.S. citizens, up from 74% in 2010.”8
This is important because it eliminates the idea that all Hispanics are illegal or that they are not American. Most Hispanics are citizens and are here to stay. Churches need to see them as part of the mission field or as Alejandro Mandes in his book Embracing the New Samaria calls them (he uses this term to refer to all ethnic groups not just Hispanics) “Samericans”. They are “the blessing we must embrace as if our spiritual house depends on it. In fact, it does. If we can get our mind around this, we will not only save the church, ushering in the revival of Isaiah 58 that will give America another generation of life.”
With Hispanics we also have an opportunity to see the next generations of leaders, pastors and missionaries.
The words of Jesus to his disciples after encountering the Samaritan Woman are appropriate here:
“Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!” John 4:35
Indeed they are. The question for us, will we take part?