More than one in 10 new Southern Baptist churches…

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The Southern Baptist Convention launched its most focused effort to plant churches among the Hispanic community in North America with the expansion of Send Network Español this fall.

“Since 2010, Send Network has planted nearly 10,000 new Southern Baptist churches across North America, more than 1,000 of which are Hispanic churches,” said Félix Cabrera, a Puerto Rican-born with more than a decade of experience in church planting. “Because of this and the tremendous growth of the Hispanic community, the organization’s leadership understood the importance of allocating resources specifically to this area.

In October, Send Network, the church planting arm of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, announced new values ​​and leadership for the ministry. Cabrera will serve as vice president of Send Network Español and has commissioned eight regional Hispanic church planting “champions” across the United States. The rollout of the changes follows record funding for Send Network, with $68.9 million donated by Southern Baptists as part of their annual Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.

A new website, SendNetworkEspanol.com, offers specialized resources for Hispanic planters, many of whom minister to populations from Catholic backgrounds and families who have moved to the United States for employment opportunities.

Image: Courtesy Iglesia Bautista Ciudad de Dios / Send Network

Felix Cabrera

CT spoke with Cabrera, who has helped establish more than 50 churches, beginning with Central Baptist in Oklahoma City, about the diversity among Hispanic Americans, the importance of work in Hispanic faith and life, and the time investment often required for church planting in this context. .

What motivated this new strategy and what are the main changes you expect after the consolidation of Send Network Español?

The launch of Send Network Español basically provided a formal framework for the efforts we had been doing as a pilot project. Since we started and to date, we have prepared between 50 and 60 men who are already planting churches or are ready to do so in the near future. We also established the importance of creating a website that would not consist of a simple translation of everything we do in English but that would have specific and contextualized content.

In assuming the role of Vice President, I have had the opportunity to lead a team that works across all seven NAMB regions. In each of these regions, we have a leader who trains, resources and works with churches, as well as identifies the fastest growing Hispanic communities to bring our efforts to that region.

Send Network Español is the dream of many Hispanics who for years have been asking God to open doors and bring awareness to the great harvest that is ready within Hispanic communities. It’s a dream come true.

What has been your experience with church planting here in the United States? What challenges did you encounter?

Well, maybe 20 or 30 years ago, the Hispanic reality in the United States was totally different. The rapid growth this social group has experienced over the past 20 years has created a landscape in which the population has not only grown in number but also in diversity.

When you start working with the Hispanic Church in the United States, perhaps the first thing you notice is that everyone comes from different backgrounds. We are Hispanic, yes, but we come from 21 different countries. A second challenge that makes the diversity even greater is the different generations, that is, the differences between those who emigrated from other countries and those who were born in the United States. We can no longer reach them with single-language strategies as we used to.

On the language question in particular, what changes have you noticed?

When we talk about Hispanics, we can’t just say, “All Hispanics are the same because they speak Spanish.” It must be understood that not all Hispanics in the United States speak Spanish, and even where the language is the same, we are socially, economically, culturally, and contextually very different.

Hispanics who speak Spanish are generally the first generation, the migrants. But according to the census, they make up perhaps 34% of America’s Hispanic population. The challenges are very different when it comes to second- or third-generation Hispanics, who make up more than 60% of the Hispanic population in the United States. They mostly prefer to speak English.

For our ministry, this means striving to reach each individual in the language of their heart so that they can respond to the call of Jesus Christ and be part of a church.

Are there specific cultural challenges?

We know that migrants come to the United States seeking a better quality of life, what we call the “American Dream.” But for us Christians, their presence here is an opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and for them to know that God has a better dream for them through Christ. God wants to save them and transform their lives.

The Hispanic comes with one thing in mind: work. So these people think they don’t have time for church, they don’t have time for God. Moreover, it is true that most Hispanics see this quest for a better life in a Catholic context. In the Catholic tradition, there is a correlation between working for your subsistence and your works for God; it’s what you do to get results.

Many migrants have been educated in a religion that derives some of their beliefs from the Bible and some from elsewhere. They come from backgrounds where they have been given the wrong ideas about God and the Scriptures. This is why it is very important to have leaders who are well trained in theology, leaders who know the Scriptures well, so that they can answer people’s honest questions.

What lessons have you learned?

I learned that in order to plant Hispanic churches in the United States, you must take the time to learn about the culture of the people and understand that you cannot assume that all people have the same background. You need to understand their context, their reality and their individual challenges, especially those who have gone through the challenge of migration.

For those who have migrated to enter the United States, as we have said, their top priority is to provide for their families and to do everything to ensure that their family prospers economically. Therefore, in planting churches among these communities, it is important to focus on meeting them where they are and beginning to serve them by helping them with their basic needs.

It’s also important to build a relationship with them and let them see in our own lives what it means to be a Christian, because many of them don’t even have a clue what church is, and we told them to beware of any non-Catholic religion. They just know what the Roman Catholic Church is like in their home country, and that’s it. So, building relationships that will pave the way for eventually sharing the gospel takes time, perhaps much longer than in the Anglo-American context in the United States, as it has always been a Protestant country. As we can see, in the Hispanic context the priorities are reversed, and it takes longer.

However, in contexts where there are second and third generation Hispanics, the challenges are very different. The goal is to plant churches with services in English, or bilingual, as needed.

With experience, we have learned that by planting a church with services in English, we are able to bless not only second and third generation Hispanics, but also other ethnic groups who seek churches that are more racially and culturally mixed. We have multicultural churches with Asians, Africans and people from various countries.

What trends or patterns have you observed in church planting?

Well, the way we operate, in most cases it all starts with an Anglo church realizing that their community is changing, that there are more and more Hispanics there. This Hispanic church feels responsible for reaching these groups with the gospel, but it recognizes that there are barriers, not only linguistic but also cultural. So they contact their local conventions and they refer them to us so that we can help find a man (leader) who would be able to plant a Hispanic church in that community. Sometimes they have already identified a man who has felt the call; sometimes we have to look for it. But either way, we train him and make sure he really has the calling and the skills to start a church.

Other times, there are Hispanic churches established in one city or region, and they want to reach another city where there is another growing Hispanic community. Then they contact us.

Much of our work is to train the leaders who will pastor church plants in both theology and the practical side of church service. We develop an intensive internship program to prepare and train leaders, then ensure they are confirmed by the local church before they are sent out to serve. They must be well trained but above all compassionate leaders who can show the love of Christ to those who have been through so much.

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