For many years, thousands of churches in America have sent cross-cultural missionaries to the Spanish speaking countries of the world attempting to reach the un-reached. A cross-cultural missionary is one who, in order to reach people from another culture, tries to learn the language and understand that culture.
The American churches have done a great job doing that overseas, but when that culture is no longer overseas, but here, in your living room, it gets uncomfortable.
Just in case you are out of the loop:
• There are 50.5 Million Hispanics in the US
• 1 out of every 6 Americans is Hispanic
• The size of the US Hispanic population worldwide ranked 2nd as of 2010, only second to Mexico.
Hispanic people are here in America. They are not going to go anywhere.
The reason cross-cultural missionaries can succeed overseas is because they are not trying to culturize people. They are not trying to convert people to their own culture, but convert them to Jesus. I think this is the biggest challenge churches in America have to navigate if they venture to reach the Hispanics in their own community.
I love the phrase attributed to Peter Drucker and popularized in 2006 by Mark Fields, president of Ford Motor Company, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. We can plan all we want but if we do not pay attention to the culture, we will not succeed in reaching out to them.
Some of the biggest cultural differences I notice:
The Language Barrier
As you know, the Hispanics primary language is Spanish. Even after moving to the United States, they are finding no need to have to speak English. Instead, they are able to visit Spanish speaking super markets, watch Spanish speaking TV shows, or news. Even our government issued documents are translated into Spanish.
The Concept of Time
Being late is not an issue for Hispanics. It is normal to get to any social gathering at least 15 minutes late, including the church service. Nobody is offended and it is actually expected. This is the norm for social settings. Only when it comes to work does time become a factor.
The Message Context
The Hispanic population in the States deals with a different reality than other Americans. Immigration is an everyday issue. First generation of Hispanics in the states are trying to understand the culture and trying to fit into society.
They Do Not Follow Instructions Intuitively
They are coming from different backgrounds. They are not used to the American way of giving instructions. You have to find ways to make the instructions as clear as possible.
Staying Late After Service
Church is not just part of their religion, it is part of the social life. It is where they find friends and family.
First generation of Hispanics in the States do not get the best paying jobs since they are trying to fit into the culture. That does not mean they are not educated. If you are an Engineer or an MD in Mexico, and then come to the States, you find yourself having to take almost all the same classes again to work in your chosen field.
If the American church wants to reach the unreached neighbor, they have to pay attention to these cultural differences. They have to accept and embrace them as part of the Hispanic culture. Trying to change the culture in order to preach the gospel would be an error. As I already mentioned, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
God did not call us to change the cultures of the world. He called us to preach Jesus. Let us reach the Hispanic Community who desperately needs Jesus.
Spanish Speaking Pastor
Central Christian Church
Las Vegas, NV