A general historical overview of Hispanic
immigration and churches in Los Angeles
and Southern California

Compiled by Clifton L. Holland

 

Maps of Hispanic population in Los Angeles County

Philip J. Ethington, History Department, USC, has created a website on Los Angeles and the Problem of Urban Historical Knowledge. See the following website for a series of maps by Ethington on Hispanic population distribution, 1940-1990:
http://cwis.usc.edu/dept/LAS/history/historylab/LAPUHK/Maps/Animated_Census/Pct_Hispanic_1940.htm

The American Cities Atlas Project is a continuing public education project of Professor William Bowen of California State University Northridge. For maps on Hispanic population distribution and density in the Los Angeles area based on 1990 Census see: 
http://130.166.124.2/LA_Pop.html

The IDEA Strategic Mapping and Information Service, directed by Clifton L. Holland, has produced a series of computer maps on ethnic and religious diversity in the Los Angeles 5-County Region, based on the 1990 Census of Population.   See the following links:   

Los Angeles County:  ../laco/hisp.pdf (note PDF format).   Orange County: ../orco/d-hisp.pdf  (note PDF format).

 

Map produced by Clifton L. Holland
via U.S. Census Bureau:  American Factfinder Website

 

TM-P001H. Persons Who are Hispanic or Latino (of any race): 2000  
Universe: Total population
Data Set: Census 2000 Summary File 1 (SF 1) 100-Percent Data

Legend

leg58941810.gif (5593 bytes)       58941810.gif (38387 bytes)
                                                     Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Summary File 1, Matrix P8.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mexicans, Pachucos, Chicanos and Latinos in Los Angeles

A steady migration of Mexicans to California from 1910 to 1930 expanded the Mexican and Mexican-American population in Los Angeles to approximately 200,000.  In 1930, the United States began expelling Mexican nationals, deporting over a half a million from California and 13,332 from Los Angeles County in the 1930s.  At the same time, the city celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1931 with a grand "fiesta de Los Angeles" featuring a blond "reina" in an historical ranchera costume.

During the World War II, hostility toward Mexican-Americans took a different form, as local newspapers portrayed Chicano youths, who sometimes called themselves "pachucos" as barely civilized gangsters.  Anglo-American servicemen attacked young Chicanos dressed in the pachuco uniform of the day:  long coats with wide shoulders and pleated, high-waisted, pegged pants, or zoot suits, in 1943.  Twenty-two young Chicanos were convicted of a murder of another youth at a party held at a swimming hole southeast of Los Angeles known as the "sleepy lagoon" on a warm night in August 1942; they were eventually freed after an appeal that demonstrated both their innocence and the racism of the judge conducting the trial.

The Hispanic or Latino community was largely disenfranchised until the 1990s, when redistricting led to the election of Latino members of the City Council for the first time since the 1950s and the first Latino members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors since its inception.  With the tremendous growth of the Hispanic community, primarily because of immigration from Mexico, but also from Central America and South America, it is now the largest ethnic bloc in Los Angeles. 

While Antonio Villaraigosa lost in his race for Mayor of the City of Los Angeles in 2001, Latino political leaders are likely to come to the fore in the next decade. Villaraigosa subsequently won the 2005 mayoral election, becoming the first Latino elected to that office since the 19th century.

Adapted from:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Los_Angeles,_California#Native_Americans_in_the_Los_Angeles_area

 

* * *


Exerpts from Clifton L. Holland, The Religious Dimension in Hispanic Los Angeles:   A Protestant Case Study.  South Pasadena, CA:   William Carey Library, 1974 (542 pages).

Overview:  This book describes the patterns of Mexican immigration, urbanization and assimilation in the Southwest in general, and in Southern California in particular.   It gives an overview of the growth and development of the Hispanic (predominantly Mexican and Mexican-American) population of Los Angeles County, which is the specific setting for describing and analyzing the growth and development of Hispanic Protestant churches and their respective denominations.

Specifically, this study examines the historical origins of the Spanish-speaking Protestant churches, analyzes their growth patterns, evaluates their present problems in historical perspective, and seeks to determine the direction that the local congregations are now moving and to raise questions about the direction towards which they should be moving.  It is hoped that denominational leaders, pastors and laymen in the Spanish-speaking churches, as well as key leaders in the Ango-American churches, will be stimulated to re-evaluate the growth history of Hispanic churches, to define their strengthens and weaknesses in the light of the Christian Church's ministry of reconciliation in the world, and to set new priorities for the Hispanic Church so that revitalization and renewal will take place, thus enabling the local congregation to become an effective agent of God's reconciliation in their local communities.

Part I describes The Setting:  Immigration, Urbanization and Assimilation of Mexican-Americans.  Part II gives an Historical Overview of Hispanic Church Development in Southern California in general, and in Los Angeles County in particular.  Part III gives an Analysis of the Religious Dimension in Hispanic Los Angeles. 

The Appendices include a Directory of Hispanic Churches in Los Angeles and Orange Counties in 1972, with names and addresses for 227 Spanish-speaking churches.   In 1932, there were only 30 known Hispanic churches in the greater Los Angeles area.

* * *

A companion volume to the The Religious Dimension in Hispanic Los Angeles:   A Protestant Case Study (1974) was produced in 1993 in Spanish by the History Committee of the Hispanic Association for Theological Education (known as AHET in Spanish) in Los Angeles, edited by Dr. Rodelo Wilson, entitled:  "Hacia una historia de la Iglesia Evangélica Hispana de California del Sur" (AHET, 1993) -- "Towards a History of the Hispanic Evangelical Church in Southern California" (224 pages).  The specific purpose for producing this volume was to provide Spanish-speaking church leaders (specifically those studying in programs of theological education in Southern California) with a general orientation to the historical context in which they find themselves, and to learn from past mistakes and failures in Anglo-Hispanic relationships and church development, in order to become more effective and responsible church leaders.

The following table is taken from Appendice I of this study; translation by Clifton L. Holland.


HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF HISPANIC WORK IN
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA:  A CHRONOLOGY OF BEGINNINGS

Compiled by Clifton L. Holland

March 16, 1993 

                                                                                                                                      PLACE                                        DATE DENOMINATION/FIRST MISSIONS OR CHURCHES/FOUNDER          WORK BEGAN                       BEGAN

Presbyterian Church in the USA:

                  Pasadena Mexican Mission, William C. Mosher                                     Pasadena                              1875

                  First Mexican Presbyterian Church                                                           Anaheim                               1882

                  Los Nietos Mexican Mission, C. Bransby/A. Díaz                                  Whittier                                1882

                  Las Olivas Mexican Mission, Bransby/Díaz                                             Los Angeles                         1880s

                  1st Mexican Pres. Church, A. Moss Merwin                                             Los Angeles                         1888

                  Azusa/Irwindale Mexican Church, A. Moss Merwin                             Irwindale                              1889

                    (became El Divino Salvador, 1941)

                  San Gabriel Mexican Church, Antonio Diaz                                            San Gabriel                          1891

                  Iglesia Presbyteriana El Buen Pastor, Merwin                                         San Bernardino                   1903

                  First Mexican Presbyterian Church, Juan Guerrero                                San Diego                             1904

                  Riverside Mexican (became, Casa Blanca, 1922)                                      Riverside                              1910

                  Azusa Mexican Pres. Church (El Buen Pastor)                                          Azusa                                    1912

                  [Note:  by 1930, a total of 20 churches and missions existed]

               

Methodist Episcopal Church, North (now United Methodist Church):

                  Fort St. Church/Mexican Mission, Antonio Díaz                                    Los Angeles                         1879

                  Santa Barbara Mexican Mission                                                                  Santa Barbara                      1881

                  Grace Methodist Church/Mexican Mission, Limbs/Whitson               Los Angeles                        1898

                  Missions established in Redlands, Riverside & San Diego/So. Calif.                                              1900

                  Pasadena Mexican Mission, Oliver C. Laizure                                         Pasadena                              1907

                  Bloom St. Mexican Mission, V. McCombs & E. Narro                            Los Angeles                         1910

                    (became First Mexican Methodist Church, 1914;

                     Became Plaza Methodist Church, 1917)

                  [Note:  by 1920, when the "Latin American Mission" was organized,

                  there were 21 circuits; by 1929, there were 29.]

               

Congregational Church (now United Church of Christ):

                  Mexican Congregational Church, Alden Case                                         Pomona                                1897

                  Mexican Congregational Church, Alden Case/Blissell                          Chino                                    1906

                  Mexican Congregational Church                                                                Barstow                                1910s

               

Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches in USA):

                  Santa Barbara Mexican Mission, Conrad Valdivia                                   Santa Barbara                      1901

                  Oxnard Mexican Mission, Conrad Valdivia                                              Oxnard                                  1903

                  Calvary Baptist Church, Mexican Mission                                                 East L.A.                               1905

                    (now, Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana, 1912)

                 Rio St. Mexican Mission (became Anderson St. Mission;                         East L.A.                               1905

                    then Iglesia Bautista El Salvador, 1915)

                  Bandini Mission/Garnet Street Baptist Church                                        East L.A.                               1913

                  Lorena Heights Mission                                                                                East L.A.                               1923

                  [Note:  by 1940, 71 churches and missions had been

                  started, but only 30 still existed at that time.]

 

General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists:

                  Boyle Heights Mission, Juan Robles                                                           East L.A.                               1905

                    (now, Boyle Heights Adventist Church, 1929)

                  Mexican Missions formed in:  Van Nuys, Pasadena & Watts                 LA/CO                                 1920s

                  Belvedere Mission                                                                                          East L.A.                               1932

 

Church of the Nazarene:

                  Primera Iglesia del Nazareno, Bunker Hill                                               Los Angeles                         1910

                  Iglesia del Nazareno                                                                                      Pasadena                              by 1930

                  Iglesia del Nazareno                                                                                      Ontario                                 by 1930

                  Iglesia del Nazareno                                                                                      San Diego                             by 1930

                  Iglesia del Nazareno                                                                                      Santa Monica                       1930s

                  Iglesia del Nazareno                                                                                      San Fernando                      1930s

                  Iglesia del Nazareno                                                                                      Pomona                                1930s

                  Iglesia del Nazareno, Boyle Heights                                                           East L.A.                               1930s

 

Apostolic Assembly of Faith in Jesus Christ:

                  Spanish Apostolic Faith Mission                                                                 Los Angeles                         1912

                    (No. Hill Street, 1914; Juan Navarro)        

                    (Angeles & Aliso Sts., 1917; Francisco F. Llorente)

                  Watts Apostolic Assembly, Vicente García                                                So. L.A.                                 1918

                  Oxnard Apostolic Assembly                                                                         Oxnard                                 1918

                  El Rio Apostolic Assembly                                                                           El Rio                                    1918

                  San Bernardino Apostolic Assembly                                                          San Bernardino                    1918

                  Riverside Apostolic Assembly                                                                     Riverside                              1918

                  [Note:  by 1925, 15 churches had been organized.]

 

Friends Annual Meeting/Quakers:

                  Jimtown Mission, Enrique Cobos                                                               Whittier                                1915

                    (now Pico Rivera Friends Church)

 

Free Methodist Church:

                  Sotello Street Mission/No. Main Street Church                                       Los Angeles                         1917

                    (now First Mexican Free Methodist Church)

                  Iglesia Metodista Libre Mexicana                                                                Chino                                   1918

                  Terminal Island Mission                                                                               San Pedro                             1920

                  Palo Verde Mission                                                                                        East L.A.                               by 1932

                  Maravilla Park Free Methodist                                                                    East L.A.                               by 1932

 

Assemblies of God, Pacific Latin American District (PLAD):

                  Plaza Olvera Mission, Alice Luce                                                                East L.A.                               1918

                    (now, Iglesia El Aposento Alto; joined PLAD, 1938)

                  Iglesia El Sendero de la Cruz, Francisco Nevárez                                    East L.A.                               1922

                    (Mission, 1922; affiliated with PLAD, 1938)

                  Iglesia La Puerta Abierta                                                                              East L.A.                               1934

                  Asambleas de Dios                                                                                         Stanton                                 1940

                  [Note:  by 1940, only four churches had been organized.]

 

Latin American Council of Christian Churches (CLADIC):

                  Iglesia de Bethel-Belvedere, Francisco Olazábal                                      East L.A.                              1923       

                  Templo Bethel-El Monte                                                                               El Monte                              1926

                  Templo Bethel-Watts, Francisco Olazábal                                                 So. L.A.                                 1928

                  Iglesia Bethel-San Gabriel                                                                             San Gabriel                         1930

                  Templo Belén, Guadalupe Armendáriz                                                      Azusa                                   1933

                  Iglesia El Salvador (Mission, 1933)                                                              Lynwood                             1934

                  Templo de Refúgio, Lugo District (mission, 1929)                                   East L.A.                               1935

                    (Founded by Manuel O. Vásquez)             

                  Iglesia Evangélica de CLADIC, Tomás Perea                                            East L.A.                               1939

                  El Tabernaculo Central, Lic. Melquiades Almanza                                  San Pedro                             1939

                  Iglesia El Buen Samaritano, Frank Flores                                                  Pico Rivera                          1940

                  [Note:  by 1960, 14 churches existed.]

 

International Church of Foursquare Gospel:

                  Misión Mexicana McPherson, Antonio Gamboa                                      East L.A.                               1929

                    (now Iglesia El Buen Pastor, independent)

                  Pan American Foursquare Church                                                              East L.A.                               1930s

                  Boyle Heights Foursquare Church, Eduardo Mata                                  East L.A.                               1949

 

Church of God (Anderson, IN):

                  Belvedere Church of God, A.T. Maciel                                                       Los Angeles                         1931

 

The Salvation Army:

                  Belvedere Garden Corps.                                                                             Los Angeles                         1933

 

Southern Baptist Convention:

                  Primera Iglesia Bautista del Sur, Jesús Rios                                              Los Angeles                         1949

                  Iglesia Bautista El Camino, Carlos Carreón                                             Los Angeles                         1953

 

Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA:

                  East Los Angeles Parish                                                                                East L.A.                               1950s

 

Conservative Baptist Association: 

                  Jimtown Mission, George Bowman                                                            Whittier                               1953

                    (now, Carmenita Baptist Church, Norwalk)

                  Fullerton Mission                                                                                           Fullerton                             1962

                  Hawaiian Gardens Mission                                                                          Hawaiian Gardens             1963

                  First Baptist Church of Commerce                                                             Commerce                           1964

 

Church of Christ                                                                                                              Los Angeles                         1950s

 

Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod:

                  La Santa Cruz Lutheran Church                                                                  Los Angeles                         1957

 

Church of God (Cleveland, TN):

                  First Spanish Church of God, Belvedere                                                    Los Angeles                         1960s

                  Boyle Heights Church of God                                                                      Los Angeles                         1960s

                  Montebello Church of God                                                                           Montebello                          1960s

 

Church of God of Prophecy:

                  Boyle Heights Church of God of Prophecy                                               Los Angeles                         1960s

 

Evangelical Covenant Church:

                Iglesia Evangelica del Pacto, near Downtown L.A.                                    Los Angeles                         1960s

 

Baptist Bible Fellowship                                                                                                 Los Angeles                        1960s

 

General Association of Regular Baptists                                                                     Los Angeles                        1960s

 

Assemblies of Christian Churches, NY                                                                        Los Angeles                        1960s

 

Victory Outreach /Alcance Victoria:             

                  Boyle Heights Victory Outreach, Sonny Arguinzoni                               Los Angeles                         1967

               (now affiliated with the Assemblies of God, PLAD)


* * *

In 1985-1986, the Hispanic Association for Theological Education (AHET) sponsored a Hispanic Church Growth Survey of Southern California, which was conducted by Mr. Lou Cordova of the Institute of Latin American Studies at the U. S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, CA, with technical assistance provided by Clifton L. Holland of IDEA-PROLADES Ministries.  This study, published in May 1986, identified 1,048 Hispanic Protestant churches in Southern California, which included the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Imperial, Ventura, Santa Barbara and Kern.  The total for the  Greater Los Angeles Metro Area (GLAMA) was 767:  Los Angeles County 687 and Orange County 80.  A total of 60 Protestant denominations were identified with affiliated Spanish-speaking or English-speaking churches and missions, compossed predominantly of Hispanics of many nationalities, although Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were the predominant ethnic components.  The following table gives the totals for the 12 largest denominations with Hispanic ministry in Southern California.


AN OVERVIEW OF THE 12 LARGEST HISPANIC DENOMINATIONS
IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, 1980
(includes 9 counties)

NAME CHURCHES MISSIONS TOTAL CH & MIS *TOTAL
MEMBERS
Seventh-day Adventist Church 54 14 68 16,262
Assemblies of God 111 13 124 12,537
Apostolic Assembly of Faith in JC 108   108 11,278
American Baptist Churches 77 20 97 8,264
Southern Baptist Convention 39 28 67 5,542
Foursquare Gospel Church 48   48 4,637
Church of God (Cleveland, TN) 42 3 45 4,347
Church of the Nazarene 38 2 40 2,075
United Methodist Church 18 1 19 1,900
Conservative Baptist Association 23 1 24 1,150
Presbyterian Church-USA 8 10 18 1,368
Assembly of Christian Churches 16   16 757
TOTALS 582 92 674 70,117

% of all denominational listings

    60.1% 65.2%

* Table columns sorted by membership

* * *

A STATISTICAL OVERVIEW OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA:
HISPANIC POPULATION BY COUNTIES WITH NUMBER OF
ESTIMATED HISPANIC CONGREGATIONS, 1985, 1990, 1995 & 2000

 Created by Clifton L. Holland, PROLADES
10 May 2007

 
COUNTY

HISP
CHRS
1985

HISP
POP

1990

HISP
CHRS

1990

HISP
POP EST
1995

HISP
CHRS
1995

HISP
POP
2000

*HISP CHRS
2000

LOS ANGELES

687

3,351,242

930

3,796,726

1,026

4,242,213

1,122

ORANGE

80

564,828

134

720,204

182

875,579

230

GLAMA TOTAL

767

3,916,070

1,064

4,516,930

1,208

5,117,792

1,352

SAN BERNARDINO

65

378,563

79

523,975

93

669,387

107

RIVERSIDE

52

307,514

74

435,545

97

559,575

120

VENTURA

29

176,952

32

214,343

45

251,734

58

5-COUNTY TOTAL

913

4,779,118

1,249

5,690,793

1,443

6,598,488

1,637

KERN

26

151,995

17

203,016

25

254,036

33

SANTA BARBARA

12

98,199

17

117,434

27

136,668

37

SAN DIEGO

75

510,781

106

630,873

99

750,965

100

IMPERIAL

22

71,935

21

87,376

29

102,817

37

9-COUNTY TOTAL

1,048

5,612,028

1,410

6,729,492

1,628

7,842,974

1,844

 

ACCUMULATE TOTALS

NOTE:  GLAMA = GREATER LOS ANGELES METRO AREA (LOS ANGELES & ORANGE CO)

SOURCES: 

  1. HISPANIC CHURCHES IN 1985 = CORDOVA, 1986
  2. HISPANIC POPULATION 1990 = 1990 FEDERAL CENSUS
  3. HISPANIC CHURCHES IN 1991 = PROLADES DATABASE OF HISPANIC CHURCHES
  4. HISPANIC POPULATION 1995 = HOLLAND, 1995
  5. HISPANIC POPULATION 2000 = 2000 FEDERAL CENSUS
  6. HISPANIC CHURCHES IN 2000 = ESTIMATE BY PROLADES

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Cordova, Lou.  Directory of Hispanic Protestant Churches in Southern California, 1985.  Pasadena, CA:  AHET, May 1986.
Holland, Clifton L.  Database of Hispanic Protestant Churches in Southern California.  Pasadena, CA:  IDEA-PROLADES Ministries, 1991.
Holland, Clifton L.  A Resource Directory of Hispanic Protestant Churches in Southern California.   Orange, CA:  IDEA-PROLADES Ministries, May 1995.


* * *

wpe1.jpg (39564 bytes)

CODE YEAR

1 = 1932 2 = 1940 3 = 1950 4 = 1960 5 = 1972 6 = 1985 7 = 1990 8 = 1995 9 = 2000

SOURCES
Holland, Clifton L. The Religious Dimension in Hispanic Los Angeles:   A Protestant Case Study.  South Pasadena, CA:   William Carey Library, 1974
Cordova, Lou.  Directory of Hispanic Protestant Churches in Southern California, 1985.  Pasadena, CA:  AHET, May 1986.
Holland, Clifton L.  Database of Hispanic Protestant Churches in Southern California.  Pasadena, CA:  IDEA-PROLADES Ministries, 1991.
Holland, Clifton L.  A Resource Directory of Hispanic Protestant Churches in Southern California.   Orange, CA:  IDEA-PROLADES Ministries, May 1995.

Created by Clifton L. Holland, PROLADES

May 10, 2007


* * *


Protestant Hispanic/Latino Ministry in Los Angeles:  2000

Arlene Sánchez-Walsh provides an overview of important issues facing Latino Protestant churches in Southern California today.
Latino Ministry in Southern California: A Preliminary Report on Latino Churches (April 2001) (PDF)


Transitional Ethnic Communities

The changing demographics of cities have dramatically affected the urban church in the last 30 years.  These churches have had to cope with transitional ethnic communities in ways difficult to anticipate.  Illuminating some past problems and possible solutions might help churches work through these problems.

The series of problems faced by established congregations, often follows this pattern.  The congregation, usually Anglo, is in a neighborhood with a burgeoning Latino population, and the congregation has two pastors. The Anglo pastor, unable to communicate with his new congregants, watches as his Anglo congregation shrinks, and the Latino congregation grows.  First Baptist Church in Huntington Park is an example of this general case.  Between 1994 and 1999, the Latino congregation grew from 80 to 300 people.  The dwindling English service has remained traditional and the Anglo pastor is monocultural and monolingual.  The Latino pastor does not have the English fluency that he needs to pastor the entire church beyond the immigrant generation, which will likely be English-speaking.  In this instance, one possible solution would be to hire a bilingual, bicultural pastor to work through the transition.

Often, working through a transition phase such as this means little more than brokering an arrangement over financial details such as money and property.  There are many documented cases of these situations across the denominational spectrum.  For example, a church, be it Anglo, African American, or U.S.-born Latino, sees its membership dwindle and its coffers no longer full, but a growing Spanish- speaking church meets on the premises.  It does not give as much in tithes, but the pews are filled.  After several years of this trend, the Spanish-speaking congregation wants its own reserved time for worship, youth night, and their own pastor.  Tension results as members of the host church begin to grumble about how the Spanish-speaking church has not "paid" for their church use.

Eventually, members of the host congregation want some compensation for either hiring a Spanish-speaking pastor, and/or losing "their" church property.  The Episcopal Church, the subject of a recent Los Angeles Times article dealing in part with transitional ethnic communities, is, according to their spokesperson, dedicated to staying in these communities, no matter what ethnic group takes up residence.  Similarly, the Evangelical Covenant Church reports that problems in their churches are usually avoided because of the clergy's progressive ideas about working in diverse communities.  Nevertheless, even the most progressive clergy cannot deter the inevitable clash of cultures when one group sees its influence, often colored by money, diminish in the wake of the overwhelming numbers that Latinos bring to certain churches.  Sometimes, in extreme cases, the conflicts cannot be resolved and the groups controlling church property refuse to sell the church to their Latino ministry group, selling it instead to another denomination. 

Some see the conflict rooted in cultural barriers that prevent the smaller Anglo, African American, or English-speaking Latino group from acknowledging that immigrant Latinos now comprise the majority in their churches.   Potential problems arise as the well-meaning Anglo member wishing that "they" would learn English confronts some Latino pastors.  The lingering issues of stewardship and paternalism have no simple solutions.  One can expect more issues to arise in transitional ethnic communities where the fallout from the post-1965 increase in immigration changes into problems retaining the second generation.

Retaining the Second Generation

As Latino churches grow rapidly, the issue that surfaces is their sustainability, i.e. retaining the children of the Spanish-speaking parents and members of the second generation.  Problems retaining the second generation in churches are intimately tied to culture.  But, to what extent are churches responsible for conveying culture and maintaining cultural traditions?  In general, the findings indicate that the church can serve as a maintenance organization for specific things like language, but it often does so at the expense of its second generation.

Churches that do not preach, teach or worship in English have lost and will continue to lose their second and third generations. Youth enjoy popular culture and are attracted to current music, movies, and fashions.  Evangelical youth can be geniuses at appropriating worldly accoutrements to build ministries.  Such cultural appropriations should be nurtured by pastors to create new strategies to reach youth within the church and their friends outside.  But, can churches strike a balance with the needs of first-generation Latinos, many of whom find church a more welcoming place if their language, culture, and traditions are recognized as valid?   Certainly, returning to the outmoded idea that becoming a Christian equals becoming an Anglo American is not a productive course.  Following are some examples of what churches are and are not doing to retain their second generation.

  • One way churches like the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Free Church, and American Baptist Church are coping with the language/culture issue is to insist that future pastors become proficient in and use English in their services.  Youth activities in nearly every church are held in English.  However, either through resistance or lack of resources, churches have had considerable difficulty finding a place for youth in traditional Spanish-speaking churches, for instance in La Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana, an ABC church in East Los Angeles founded decades ago as a Mexican church.  This church imports its leadership, has traditional worship, and for the foreseeable future, will continue to be a Spanish-speaking congregation.  The ABC has churches that have made successful accommodations to all its constituents.  One church, First Baptist in South Gate, has Spanish, English (traditional), English (contemporary), and Portuguese services.

Finding a bicultural, bilingual, multigenerational church is a difficult task.  Often, churches decide that they will give up one for the sake of the other.  Whatever solutions churches choose, they do well to implement something soon.  Recent estimates indicate that this generation is one of the largest, most technologically adept, multicultural, and unchurched-ever.

Social Mission

Latino churches are involved with social missions to varying degrees.  Whether they are involved in formalized programs or informal networks depends largely on what the church sees as one of its chief goals. Social missions can be categorized along several lines:

1. Programmatic social missions-marked as a part of the historic mission of the church,

2. Mixed programs with formal missions, evangelism, and informal networks that serve the varied needs of specific congregations, and

3. Informal networks that react to needs in the congregations as they arise.  These churches are usually heavily focused on evangelism.

The first type of social mission is usually represented by historic traditions that emphasize programs that the churches see as part of their larger social and evangelistic mission.  The Episcopal Church, Disciples of Christ, American Baptists, Salvation Army, United Methodist, Evangelical Free, and Seventh Day Adventists were among those that have formal programs offering a multitude of services, including food and clothing distribution, ESL, health services, immigration help, family services, counseling, and drug rehabilitation.  For some, social mission entails political action focusing on economic and social justice issues in the Latino community. These services are often offered through the local church, but in the cases of the Disciples of Christ, American Baptists, and Salvation Army, there are separate social service centers to provide health, family, social programs, and other services.  Many, if not all, of these churches have mixed programs that vary from church to church.  Nearly every church surveyed had some form of informal or formal program and had some type of evangelistic mission--whether it was directed through a person witnessing, through literature distribution, or through social mission itself.

Finally, there are some churches that operate almost entirely from informal networks: Assemblies of God, Foursquare, Vineyard, Christian & Missionary Alliance, and others rely on an informal, but extensive network of volunteers to help congregants with ESL, food and clothing distribution, after-school help, childcare, employment networks, and immigration help. These churches also have very active personal evangelism outreaches and often credit that effort to their church growth.

There appears to be room for experimentation within these three models.  Churches that focus on evangelism and do not offer formal programs are often in the position of reacting to problems as they arise, whereas if they had formal programs, they might be better able to meet the needs of the Latino community consistently.  Latinos are seeking alternate ways to find after-school care, childcare, intervention for at-risk youth, employment, health care, food and clothing assistance--incorporating a more systematic way of approaching the practical needs of their congregations would only bolster the reputation of the church and make the church a part of the larger social network of the communities and neighborhoods where they minister.

For decades, the evangelical churches were criticized for focusing too heavily on personal evangelism, often at the expense of practical needs. Though this critique is not always valid, there are plenty of cases of unsystematic and irregular social missions among them that simply do not consider the social location of many Latinos, especially immigrants.

Formalizing programs does not mean retreating from evangelism, and as this study suggests, churches that incorporate both have a much better chance at meeting practical and spiritual needs. Conversely, some churches have retreated from personal evangelism and have become, as many informants reveal, little more than social service centers.  Those churches that fail to recognize the spiritual nature of Latinos--why they go to church, why they worship as they do, and why they choose certain churches over others-ignore personal evangelism at their own peril.

Conclusion

Latinos are joining some of the largest denominations in the U.S. at such a rate that they are largely responsible for church growth in denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, and others.   Latinos are among the most sought after ethnic group because of their sheer numbers and the projected increase in population.

Latinos will join churches and support their work if they are made to feel welcome, if they find spiritual solace, if their practical needs are met, and if they are viewed as equal partners.  Churches that succeed in welcoming large numbers of Latinos, especially first-generation immigrants, are rare today, but there is a growing consensus among churches that working toward ethnic diversity is a good thing. Part of this impetus has come from emerging church leadership.   Young people have grown up, gone to school with, and worshiped with people who are different from them all their lives. To them, diversity is a reality.  Another impetus for diversity in the church has come from the sheer weight of the demographic shift.  Once strong Anglo churches that held sway in neighborhoods for decades, have--over the last 30 years--found their numbers decline only to be repopulated by the new residents in neighborhoods such as Baldwin Park, Azusa, South Gate, Huntington Park, South Central Los Angeles, and soon, anywhere in Los Angeles and the desert communities, valleys, and sea-side of Southern California.  Churches in urban areas are now overwhelmingly Latino or Asian.  How Anglo churches and leaders of respective denominations cope with this shift says much about their willingness to accept diversity.

Latinos, though, must be treated neither as a "mission field" nor as a monolithic group.  They are newly arrived immigrants, U.S.-born, English and Spanish-speaking--from dozens of Latin American and Caribbean countries.   The paradigm that Latinos are a mission field must be changed along with the lingering concept that Latinos require special care due to some deficiency.  These outmoded ideas have marked too many past encounters with the Protestant church.  As the second and third generations have and continue to begin to take power in the churches, care should be taken that the denominations do not commit the same errors of the past-relegating immigrant Latinos to second-class status.  This unfortunate trend has occurred in some churches, where Spanish-speaking immigrants are not place in decision-making positions, their Spanish services are relegated to and off hour, on an off day, their buildings are sold, and they are never made to feel welcome.

First-generation immigrant Latino churches also need to welcome the diversity that their second-generation, bicultural, bilingual youth bring to the mix.  Unfortunately, many are losing their English-speaking youth because they view themselves as maintainers of culture, rather than as promoters of their first cause. By the second generation, 75% of Latinos become English-only; by then, they will also tend to abandon their home church for an Anglo church, or no church at all.  Youth want to come to church and be accepted as they are.  They also want to reach their generation with the cultural tools that prove to be effective.

Diversity in the church requires accommodation to demographic and generational changes.  Latinos are young, becoming more socially mobile, and will form the largest voting blocks, consumer base, and church constituency within the next few generations.  It would be a shame if traditionally Anglo denominations did not wake up and take stock of their changing circumstances.  Latino Protestants also must realize that they have the cultural capital to affect their own communities and the resources to affect the whole of American Christendom.