Southern Baptist mission leaders have taken notice of the rapidly expanding Hispanic population in North America and are addressing ways to overcome cultural barriers to reach this group.
Among the many obstacles, the most prominent are a Catholic family background and the language barrier between generations of a Hispanic family living in the United States.
Although many Hispanics are not active participants of the Roman Catholic Church, they often face pressure from their families and friends when they engage in evangelical activities, writes Bobby S. Sena, a member of the Church Planting Staff at North American Mission Board, in a feature posted on the Web site ChurchPlantingVillage.net.
Ministers need to understand the pressure that Hispanics with a Roman Catholic background face and the "doubt and confusion" they struggle with as they compare the Bible's teaching with the religious traditions they're accustomed to.
"Evangelical efforts to lead Hispanics to faith in Christ need to be accompanied by much prayer, love and patience," Sena writes. "Often, even after a Hispanic has indicated a desire to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it may take months or even years for him or her to make the decision to be baptized and become a member of an evangelical church."
A genuine friendship, therefore, should be established with Hispanics who do not have an evangelical background to offer them support as they wait for their parent or spouse to also join the evangelical church.
Some effective and no-pressure ways to reach entire Hispanic families include ministers inviting them to their homes for coffee or a meal, or inviting them to activities such as backyard Bible clubs, Vacation Bible School, Christmas or Easter programs, film festivals (related to family or marriage), or Jesus film showings.
NAMB's Sena says home Bible studies are shown to be one of the best ways to reach Hispanics.
Another cultural issue ministers must be attentive to is that Spanish is not the primary language for all Hispanics. Rather, the preferred language depends on which generation they come from in the United States.
New immigrants and first generation Hispanics, for instance, need to be ministered to in Spanish, but the second generation is more comfortable with a bilingual approach, Sena writes. And an English approach should be taken with third and onward generations of Hispanic-Americans.
This language preference is important to keep in mind, Sena writes, because Hispanics function as a close-knit family unit and are likely to want to attend the church as a family once they accept the Protestant teachings.
The suggested solution to the language barrier during church service is to have bilingual worship services or two different services, one in English and the other in Spanish, and Sunday school classes taught in different languages.
"Flexibility and adaptability are needed if all of the segments in the Hispanic community are to be reached with the gospel and disciples in New Testament-type congregations," Sena writes.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are 45.5 million Hispanics in the United States as of 2008 – an increase of 374 percent since 1970. The number is predicted to jump to 128 million by 2050 if the immigration trends continue, according to Pew Hispanic Center and the U.S. Census Bureau.