For a country founded on religious freedom, mainline Christian denominations face the harsh reality of declining attendance. “Do not attend church or identify with any organized religion” are trending upward among most populations, according to statistics published by The Pew Center.
That is the case except for churches welcoming multi-generational Latino families and immigrants.
National Public Radio interviewed Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who confirmed this loud and clear. “This is the fastest-growing element of American Christianity, across the board,” he said. “[Whether in] Catholicism, evangelicalism, mainline denominations, if you’re a follower of Christ, you want to embrace the immigrants.”
A Google search confirms the growing importance of Latinos to the U.S. Christian faith. Searches for peliculas christianas (Christian films) were up more than 4,600% in 2017 while searches for musica christiana were up nearly 2,000% the same year.
I’ve worked for the past 20 years with the National Episcopal Church and seen first-hand the transformation of “dying parishes” with elderly Anglo populations and dwindling numbers. They embrace young, up-and-coming Latino populations to transform into growing, vibrant parishes.
Many of these churches offer Spanish-speaking services and combined bilingual Sunday morning family service. They have also expanded the types of outreach services they offer to appeal to more recently arrived Latino congregations including income tax preparation, immigration legal guidance, and career closets. In this way, they’ve been able to revitalize once-shrinking congregations.
But the current administration’s immigration policy makes sustained growth difficult. The NPR story continued with, “Mass deportation of current immigrants would do nothing less than cripple American Christianity for generations to come,” said Rodriguez, who prayed at President Trump’s inauguration. “If you deport the immigrants, you are deporting the future of Christianity.”
With mid-term elections in full swing, it will be interesting to see what the Christian vote does, and what many churches will look like in the next few years. The largest Latino growth has been in evangelical churches, which also happen to be a very powerful voting bloc.