January 19, 2018

Una Puerta Abierta (An Open Door)

David Shumate

The Great Hispanic Ministry Opportunity in the United States

“Do you know of someone who could come and help us start a Spanish ministry? All of a sudden there are Hispanic people everywhere in our town, and we don’t know how to reach them.” Those connected with Hispanic ministries regularly receive such pleas from pastors and church members. No longer is the need for Spanish outreach limited to places like Los Angeles, El Paso, Miami, or New York. These traditional Latino population centers have been joined by such cities as Indianapolis, Wichita, and Charlotte and by smaller communities such as Dalton, Georgia; Dodge City, Kansas; and Siler City, North Carolina. All around us people who do not know Christ and yet who are open to the gospel are arriving by the score. God is bringing a vast mission field to our very doorstep, and we have a solemn obligation to reach it for Christ. This obligation is imposed upon us by four key realities: population changes, spiritual opportunity, our country’s future, and, most importantly, by the Great Commission.

Population Shifts

By most credible estimates the Hispanic population of the United States is now over forty million, rivaling that of Columbia, the second most populous country in Latin America.[1] It is now generally accepted that Hispanic-Americans are now the largest and in numerical terms the fastest growing minority group in the United States. Under current rates of growth and immigration, the Census Bureau estimates that by mid-century there will be more than one hundred million Hispanics in the United States, comprising almost one-fourth of the total population.

Although continued immigration, legal and illegal, makes up a significant part of the growth of this population group, the Hispanic population will continue to increases even in the very unlikely event that immigration stops completely. This reality is due to the fact that the Hispanic population is considerably younger than the population at large and has a birth rate twice as great.[2]

Besides its sheer size, the Hispanic population merits our serious attention because of its increasing geographic diversity. Especially in the last fifteen to twenty years Hispanics have been migrating from regions that they have traditionally occupied to other areas of the country. The map on page 9 shows growth rate of the Hispanic population between 1990 and 2000 by county. The Hispanic population increase for the country was 54 percent. Counties colored in light purple experienced between 100 and 200% increases (resulting in county Hispanic populations in year 2000 that were from twice to three times as great as the corresponding populations in 1990). Counties in the darker shade of purple experienced an increase of at least 200%. Notice in particular the population increases in the Midwest and Southeast. In fact, ten of the twenty cities with the greatest percentage growth in their Hispanic populations between 1980 and 2000 are in the Southeast.[3] Although the greatest effects have been felt in these regions, the phenomenon is virtually nationwide in scope.

The Spiritual Opportunity

It cannot be an accident that so many people are coming from the mission fields of Latin America to a nation where the gospel is still readily available. Neither can it be coincidental that many Hispanics are now moving to the “Bible Belt” and other regions in which there are many Bible-preaching churches. We should feel the opportunity and the urgency all the more when we stop to consider God’s working in the Hispanic world. Other religious organizations, such as New Evangelical and mainline churches, Roman Catholicism, and the cults are all aggressively seeking to reach this demographic group. Regardless of the difficulties, the Fundamental, Biblebelieving church must develop and implement the vision of bringing the gospel to our Hispanic neighbors.

There are several reasons that the Hispanic population of the United States is particularly open at this time. First is the great moving of the Holy Spirit these days in Latin America. In the history of modern missions, Bible-believing missionaries came to the fields of Latin America relatively late. Whether it was due to the intense opposition of the Roman Catholic Church, restrictive laws against mission work, or the fact that this region lacked the same appeal as missions to the Far East or Africa, Protestant missions did not begin in earnest in Latin America until almost the turn of the twentieth century. Despite this late start, however, we have been privileged to witness a veritable explosion of the gospel across many parts of Spanish-speaking America. Despite the continuing shortage of workers, the rise of Pentecostalism, and other difficulties, there can be no doubt that the Lord is working mightily among the Latin American people. These are people who are spiritually hungry. In many, if not most, places in Latin America, there is now the free opportunity to preach Christ as He is revealed in the Bible. At the same time, the religious traditions of the people, although not teaching them the Biblical way of salvation, have given many in Latin America an ingrained respect for the Word of God and for certain basic Christian doctrines such as the deity of Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection. This combination of factors has prepared the Latin American people for a time of extraordinarily fruitful harvest.

The second reason for the receptivity of Hispanics in the United States is the effect of immigration. In many cases the spiritual receptivity of U.S. Hispanics is even more pronounced than that of their Latin American counterparts. It is widely acknowledged in mission and ministry circles that times of change in people’s lives often provide an opportunity to reflect upon what is of ultimate importance. This is especially true when the social and cultural props that maintain a certain religious belief system are absent in the person’s new environment. Missionaries commonly report that for many people, especially for the relatively young (the group most likely to immigrate), attachment to Roman Catholicism is not a matter of personal conviction nearly so much as social convention. Especially now when large numbers of Latin Americans are moving to areas where there are many Bible-preaching churches, there is a wonderful opportunity to reach the new arrivals with the gospel.

Future of Our Nation

For many, the problems involved with illegal immigration are a barrier to, or at least a distraction from, the task of reaching Hispanic Americans for Christ. Immigration policy is currently the subject of nationwide, often intense, debate. The issues are real and serious, and Christians as citizens of our Republic have a right and an obligation to participate in the discussion. As we do this, however, we must not miss the spiritual opportunity that we have as citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom. Believers must remember that even legitimate concerns over the social and economic impact of our current immigration policy should never blind us to the Lord’s desire to bring multitudes of every kindred, tongue, and nation to saving faith in Christ.

One fear often voiced about the current wave of immigration is that the newcomers are not assimilating into American culture. Evidence shows that Hispanics do in fact assimilate to the larger culture, with each generation increasingly speaking English and adopting the attitudes of people in the dominant culture.[4] For believers, however, the most important question is to what Hispanics will assimilate. Hispanics on a whole are more socially conservative (on issues like abortion and homosexuality) than the non-Hispanic white population. The most conservative Hispanics are those that are foreign born. Subsequent generations born in the United States more closely reflect the values of our culture as a whole.[5] Not surprisingly, Hispanics that describe themselves as Evangelical or born-again Christians are more socially conservative than either Roman Catholic or non-religious Hispanics.[6]

The implications of this data are sobering. American culture is becoming increasingly indifferent and even overtly hostile to the truth of the Bible, discarding our nation’s spiritual and moral birthright. If we do not disciple young Hispanics, the popular culture will. If we do not reach Latin American immigrant families with the gospel, their children will progressively adopt the values of moral relativism, hedonism, and materialism that are shredding the social fabric of our nation. If that happens, the day may come when churches all over Latin America will have to send missionaries to the United States the way in which we are now sending missionaries to Europe. If, on the other hand, a large number of Hispanic residents are converted to Christ and taught the Scriptures, they could prove to be a major revitalizing influence both upon the American church and the American culture.

The Great Commission

Regardless of the social and economic implications of reaching Hispanics for Christ, the central issue is one of obedience. The Lord commanded us to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all of His commands, including the command to make other disciples (Matt. 28:18–20). The context and the content of this commission demand believers to cross ethnic as well as geographic frontiers to spread the gospel. This responsibility has never been easy, but difficulty is no excuse for disobedience. Biblebelieving churches must pray, plan, and work in order to take advantage of the tremendous opportunity that the Lord so graciously has given to us.

Dr. David Shumate is the General Director of Mission Gospel Ministries International. He has also served in the pastoral ministry and has taught in seminary.

Sidebar: What Can We Do?

American churches often feel helpless to reach their Hispanic neighbors. “We don’t speak Spanish, so we can’t do anything” may be the prevailing sentiment. An English-speaking congregation can do much more than it thinks, however, and may even be the key to developing effective Hispanic outreach in its area.

First, there is abundant gospel literature in Spanish, much of which is translated from English material that our churches already use for evangelism. Therefore, even non-Spanish speakers can have confidence the contents of the literature they are handing out. As a general rule, Hispanic people are open to receiving literature, especially if they know that it is based on the Scriptures.

Second, although it is difficult for an adult to become fluent in a new language, any church member can learn enough Spanish to initiate a conversation, open a heart, and hand out some gospel literature. A few words in Spanish, however halting, often melt the heart of someone who appreciates your attempt to communicate.

Third, many American churches already have bilingual individuals in their congregations. Although these individuals may lack ministerial training, it does not take much preparation to begin a Bible study with people who have very little knowledge of the Scriptures. Pastors can guide and equip their bilingual members to be effective in reaching out to Hispanics.

Fourth, one of the greatest sources for future Hispanic pastors is the large numbers of second- generation Hispanics. Often these children and young people, born in the U.S. of Latin American parents, are bilingual. Therefore a church youth group can reach them in English and prepare some of them to become Hispanic ministry leaders.

Finally, an American church can provide support, encouragement and a place to meet for a new Hispanic congregation. The American churches can play a crucial role in helping to reach the millions of Hispanics now living in the United States.


Cynthia A. Brewer and Trudy A. Suchan, U.S. Census Bureau; “Mapping Census 2000: The Geography of U.S. Diversity”; published June 2001; p. 92 (http://www.census.gov/population/cen2000/atlas/censr01-1.pdf)

(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2006. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. Mexico is the first with over 105 million people. Brazil, with 186 million people, is not included because it is Portuguese rather than Spanish in background. Unless otherwise noted, population figures within the United States are drawn from the United States Census Bureau website (www.census.gov). Information on the population different countries can be obtained from The World Fact Book online at www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook. []
  2. “Latino immigrants, most of them young adults in their prime child-bearing years, have proved highly fertile, with birth rates twice as high as those of non-Hispanics. Consequently, Latino population growth in the next few decades will be driven primarily by increases in the second generation. These native-born, English-speaking, U.S.-educated Hispanics will have a very different impact on the country than their immigrant parents had” (“Hispanics: A People in Motion,” Pew Hispanic Center [Washington, D.C., Jan. 2005], 2 [www.pewhispanic.org]). []
  3. A. R. Williams, “Latinos Rise Nationwide,” National Geographic Magazine, vol. 204: no. 5 (November 3, 2003), n. p. (map of United States). The increases in cities such as Atlanta, Georgia, and Charlotte, Winston-Salem, and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, were in the neighborhood of 1000%. []
  4. For example, 46% of second-generation Hispanics are English-dominant and 47% are bilingual, whereas only 7% report that they are Spanish Dominant. For third-generation Hispanics, these figures are 78% English-dominant, 22% bilingual, and 0% Spanish-dominant. Mollyann Brodie, Robert Suro, and others, “2002 National Survey of Latinos,” Kaiser Family Center and Pew Hispanic Center (Menlo Park, CA, Washington, D.C., 2002) (www.pewhispanic.org), 6, 16. []
  5. Ibid., 6. []
  6. Ibid., 54. []

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