August 6, 2015
By Juan Tornoe
At the end of a recent presentation during a Christ Together Greater Austin board retreat, one of the board members asked for specific/practical advice on how to better connect with Latinos attending his church. If I recall correctly, he used the term, “best practices” …
An extremely insightful question, that just kept spinning inside my brain. Since then, I’ve gathered some of my thoughts on this subject and wanted to share them with you.
- Don’t call it Hispanic (or Latino) Ministry: If you choose to reach out to Spanish-dominant Hispanics, call it “Spanish Ministry” or “Spanish Service”. It should be intended for everyone who wishes to worship and be taught in Spanish, independently of their ethnicity. Your current “general audience” English service should be sprinkled with bits and pieces of Latino culture every now and then, in order to recognize those sitting on the pews who are culturally Hispanic, but for whatever reason prefer attending church in English.
- Cultural Sensitivity Training: Make sure that everyone, from the lead pastor, to all church staff, elders, and volunteer laypersons who interact with churchgoers understand the church’s goal or reaching out to all ethnicities/people groups in Austin and is willing and ready to interact with them in a way that makes them feel at home at your church.
- Don’t assume that if someone “looks” Latino they will prefer to be addressed in Spanish. In a mature, multi-generational market like Austin, we should first talk to people in English, and then adapt depending on how the conversation progresses. If they don’t understand what you are saying or speak English with a thick accent or with some difficulty, switch into Spanish or make sure to introduce them to somebody who can help them in that language.
- If you have (or hire) a pastor to lead your Spanish language services, don’t measure his success by service attendance, but by spiritual growth of their service attendees as well as by their integration into your church’s entire community.
- Provide timely information about all of your church’s ministries, events, classes in both English and Spanish. Everyone should know what is going on in your church: Activities from Nursery all the way up to College ministry and beyond.
- Don’t treat your Spanish ministry/service as if it is a different church that happens to gather at your premises. Have a “Our Church 101” in Spanish to give to new visitors to the Spanish service, with information on EVERYTHING that goes on at your church, not only at the Spanish service.
- Cross-pollinate sermons on a regular basis: make sure to bring in your Spanish pastor to preach at your general service (with an interpreter if needed), and have several of your English-speaking pastors preach at the Spanish service (again, with an interpreter). This also applies to worship, mix it up a bit: It is easier with worship songs that are popular in both English and Spanish, and having members of each worship team singing some verses in their language.
- Add an easy to access Spanish page to your website (at the very least), with all the basic information about your church, services, etc., and make sure to provide contact information of someone who can follow up with them in their language of choice.
- Pay attention to translations: When you are making the effort to speak to Spanish-dominant Latinos in their language, you can butcher it all day long; we appreciate you making the effort of speaking to us in our mother tongue. Now, when it comes to written materials, make sure that it is properly translated and intended for no more than a 6th grade reading level.
- As much as possible, keep the the same teachings at the pulpit, Sunday school, and small groups. This will create conversation opportunities between attendees of both services.
- Everyone should be invited to any and every church activity, independently if it is organized by the English or the Spanish service.
- There should not be any mentions of the “American church” (or any similar way to talk about the English service) or the “Spanish church”. Both should be of the same heart and mind, identify as one church, and only refer to the other as the “English service” or “Spanish service”. This will help build a stronger bridge between all church members, rather than the auto-segregation that it produces.
This is just a stream of consciousness addressing some of the things that could be implemented at any given church, and I believe could generate positive results for church growth and community integration.
Hope it helps.
God bless you!