(Photo: Cornerstone Church of San Diego)
SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Second generation Christian Latinos in the nation are spearheading a shift in the evangelical community, accounting for 35 percent of the country's 52 million Hispanic population. Among them are leaders who are emerging as influencers who have built Hispanic ministries within predominantly English-speaking churches.
During the Heart Revolution conference at Cornerstone Church of San Diego – where Sergio de la Mora, a second generation Mexican-American, serves as senior pastor – attendees were able to participate in a "Latin Immersion" workshop where they were given invaluable information on how to launch a Latino ministry in order to cater to Hispanics who are rising as the country's evangelical majority.
"Starting a Spanish ministry is a calling of God," Mike Ramirez, associate pastor of the Hispanic ministry at Cornerstone Church, said during this past week's conference. "The English-speaking church is the machine and that's why the senior pastor of that church needs to be fully immersed in the calling of launching a Spanish ministry, otherwise it's going to be a hindrance."
Before launching a Latino ministry within Cornerstone Church, where services are multi-cultural but English-speaking, Ramirez said de la Mora was not planning to begin a Spanish ministry, but then he gave in after realizing the need of the Hispanic community.
"He didn't want to do it, first of all, he didn't even speak Spanish that well! It wasn't until the demand of Hispanics attending the church who would ask if we had Spanish resources such as translation became evident, and so he saw the need and the heart of those people, then his heart began to change," Ramirez said.
Now, de la Mora is considered one of the leading voices of the Hispanic evangelical church within the nation, alongside the likes of megachurch pastors Samuel Rodriguez, Benny Perez, Obed Martinez, Wilfredo De Jesus and others.
Most megachuches pastored by leaders of the Latino evangelical movement are predominantly English-speaking and multicultural, but they hold a strong Hispanic presence, much like Cornerstone Church.
Both Martinez and Perez, from California and Las Vegas, Nev., respectively, and speakers at The Heart Revolution conference lead large congregations that draw in a diverse membership, but their platforms as Hispanic pastors have given them the leverage to become recognized as influencers who contribute to the larger scope of pushing along the Christian Hispanic agenda.
"Your main leaders in the Spanish ministry have to be bilingual in order to be effective," Ramirez said.
He noted that de la Mora sits down with his team while writing out his sermon to assure it translates well into Spanish. In addition, all of Cornerstone's events aimed for the general congregation always have an equivalent for the Hispanic ministry because Ramirez considers a successful Latino ministry the result of an awareness and respect for cultural differences.
In taking the notion of being an inclusive church even with two language ministries, Cornerstone's growth has been rapid and the Hispanic ministry itself has grown to over 1,000 members within a short time frame.
Cornerstone Church came to be known as one of America's fastest growing churches for three consecutive years by Outreach Magazine at one point and the growth of their Hispanic members alone has been because of the resources church leaders have invested in order to create a relevant and welcoming environment for those seeking to be among fellow Spanish-speaking worshipers.
"Our Spanish culture is shifting, they're thinking a little differently because they're typically more traditional," Ramirez said. "A lot of them grew up in church with the fear of God instilled in them by their parents so when they convert to Christianity, it's almost just like a sidestep, and oftentimes, they expect a lot of religious undertones to be there at all times."
Ramirez said their church takes such ideals into consideration for their Hispanic ministry, which he said is something that all churches should embrace in order to grow the Latino membership. He also emphasized the importance of working alongside the senior pastor of a church where a Hispanic ministry is established in order to deliver a cohesive message to both the English and Spanish-speaking congregation.
During the "Latin Immersion" workshop, one participant asked Ramirez about beginning a Spanish ministry but using non-bilingual volunteers – because of a lack of staff – to partake in the services for tasks such as greeting. He told her that a ministry has to cater to its members even in those situations because oftentimes they will feel as though they cannot relate to those facilitating the service and also because the Hispanic congregants expect to find resource information from those volunteers, which a language barrier would hinder.
"Every person that walks in through the doors has needs, they want to be heard and they are looking for a place that has everything," Ramirez said.
However, he acknowledged that the church cannot always accommodate those seeking traditional ideals within every aspect of a service especially within the contemporary Christian realm.
"We're just trying to reach the unsaved and speak their language, we are designed to reach a certain demographic which is the unchurched, but we realize we aren't for everyone," Ramirez said.
With Hispanics taking charge in the expansion of the evangelical church, effective methods within Latino ministries such as Cornerstone's, continue to create a vast influence on the American landscape of religion, which only begins once a Latino leader identifies the needs of their community, according to Ramirez.