LifeWay Int'l Caters to Growing Hispanic Population in U.S.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Christian scholars and church leaders have for years now acknowledged the major shift in Christianity from the North to the global South. While many have said the center of Christianity has moved to Latin America, Asia and Africa, LifeWay International recently recognized the growth of the populations from the South, mainly Hispanics, in the United States and has taken the opportunity to meet the growing need for resources among the ethnic churches.

Behind Mexico City, the largest Hispanic populations are found in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Chicago. They are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S., according to new Census Bureau statistics, and church is a large part of their lives, with a majority coming from Christian cultures.

One pastor who leads a congregation in Brooklyn, N.Y., attested to the population growth that has in turn swelled church attendance numbers.

"We are gaining new members through new converts and people moving to this country, and through natural growth," said Felipe Arias, pastor of Brooklyn Missionary Evangelical Church (Iglesia Evangelica Misionera de Brooklyn), according to LifeWay. "We have lots of babies being born."

The Latin American population was reported to be much younger than other groups. The median age for Hispanics was 27.2 years in 2005, compared to 30.0 years for blacks and 40.3 years for white non-Hispanics, reported the Census Bureau.

At the evangelical church in Brooklyn, congregants are growing quickly also in spiritual depth.

"I am also seeing a great deal of change in the spiritual growth of our members," said Arias. "They are really studying the Bible and LifeWay has been a big part of that."

Currently, the church is utilizing such biblical materials as MasterLife and Survival Kit from LifeWay Christian Resources - resources that have "a lot of meat on the bones," as Arias stated.

"It is obvious to see how the church is becoming more spiritually grounded in Scripture and I believe it is because of the material's emphasis on the Word of God," said Iliana Granya, director of Christian education for the church, according to LifeWay.

The Christian resource provider, which publishes in more than 80 languages, had focused on training and providing resources for churches in Latin America and around the world, but the growth of the mainly Hispanic population along with the growth of ethnic churches affiliating with the Southern Baptist Convention, has shifted the focus to surging minority groups in the U.S.

Ralph Tone, regional consultant in LifeWay's international department, sees equipping ethnic churches in America as an opportunity to touch the people of the world with the Gospel.

"So many of the Latino pastors have the calling from God but not many of them have much formal training," he said. "We can help them become better pastors and leaders and help their churches become more committed believers. Through our ministry we have the opportunity to help develop healthy local churches."

In their growth and plans to increase the number of those involved in discipleship by 500 within five years, the Brooklyn congregation is emphasizing the Word of God to make that happen.

"It is hard but we have to be willing to learn the Word of God and apply it to every area of our lives," Arias told the congregation of some 70 people. "We have a goal to increase the number of people who are involved in discipleship ... I believe that will happen if we spend more time in the Bible than on learning the superficial things in our culture."