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New Church Planting —
The Cutting-Edge Ministry In Ethnic/Language Group

New Church Planting The Cutting-Edge Ministry In Ethnic/Language Group

By Efraim Espinoza

We can count all of the churches in the United States, but only God can reveal all of the potential churches in the pockets of unreached people in America…especially among our growing multicultural population.

It may be called an outreach, a home Bible study, cell group, branch Sunday school, a mission (una misión o campo blanco), or other similar terms. In most cases where it involves an ethnic group, it signals a potential new church plant. Church planting, while not a new concept, is making a difference in the American church scene, with ethnic church planting leading the way.

The Church cannot afford to ignore the realities of cultural diversity.

—George Barna

During the Decade of Harvest, the Assemblies of God opened 2,940 new churches. The language districts opened 908, or 30.88 percent of the total number. Net gain of new churches in the 1990—99 Decade of Harvest was 863; 452 came from our language districts. Among other major church groups–United Methodist, Southern Baptist, and Church of the Nazarene–a major part of their new church openings have been among the ethnic minorities.

The Coloring of America

Aubrey Malphurs, in his book, Vision America, calls the changing complexion of our nation the "coloring of America." He quotes from an article written by Laurie Wilson, in the December 4, 1992, Dallas Morning News. Wilson’s article, "Bureau Predicts Population Surge," cited the following Census Bureau predictions:

By the year 2050, 47+ percent of the U.S. population will be ethnic or racial minority.1

George Barna, in, The Second Coming of the Church, describes the double-digit population growth among African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics as "America’s escalating ethnic diversity." He highlights this fact by stating that "more than 35 million people in America do not speak English."2 The minority population growth is attributed to two factors: increased immigration and the fact minority populations have a greater number of children per family. Barna states that "the Church cannot afford to ignore the realities of cultural diversity."3

Church Planting Among the Hispanics

Leading the way in ethnic-church planting has been the Hispanic churches. Iglesia Cristiana Misericordia, a church that began in 1994, is an example of a self-started church-planting endeavor under the leadership of Pastor Gilberto Velez.

Gilberto and Velma Velez, who were originally from Puerto Rico, were serving as associate pastors at El Sendero de la Cruz A/G in San Antonio, Texas, while practicing their medical professions. They moved to Laredo to join the staff at a hospital in that border town. The challenge of the 300-mile round-trip to San Antonio on Wednesdays and weekends to serve at El Sendero led them to begin a home Bible study in Laredo with a handful of people in March 1995.

Little did Velez dream that this midweek Bible study would blossom into a Hispanic church-planting project. After several years of bivocational ministry in the church, Velez and his wife left their medical careers to become full-time pastors. God honored their step of faith and a fellow medical doctor paid their support for 3 months. At the end of the 3 months, the income of the church was sufficient to meet the needs of the pastors and the ministries of the church. In January 2000, the Iglesia Cristiana Misericordia averaged over 500 on Sunday. They purchased facilities from a private school. Their expanded sanctuary, completed in April 2000, seats 800.

Ethnic Church Planting in Califorina

James Braddy, assistant superintendent for the Northern California-Nevada District, reports that "ethnic church planting has to be a priority if the church is going to reach the unchurched in our nation." Braddy states that the district’s congregations are ministering to people from 84 language groups. Some groups have numerous churches and have organized into fellowships. They include the Fijian, Samoan, Hispanic, Tongan, and African fellowships.

New Life is new church planting

Bill Sullivan, director of Evangelism and Church Growth for the Church of the Nazarene, writes that new-church planting must address the growing multicultural population in America today. Among the values of new-church planting that Sullivan gives are the following:

Ethnic-church planting in the Assemblies of God can be a Hispanic-church planting in Iowa, Arkansas, Florida, or Mississippi. Some new church planters are self-starters with little or no financial support, while others are sponsored by a language or geographic district. Others are cosponsored by the language and geographic districts, locally sponsored by a larger geographic or language church, or a combination of the above. It may be a German District church in Michigan planting a Hispanic church, or it may be a California church sponsoring a Vietnamese or Samoan congregation. It may be a Memphis church allowing a Hmong group and a Hispanic group to begin a new church in its facilities. Ethnic-church planting in Alaska includes churches for native Alaskans and a flourishing Hispanic church in Anchorage. It is God’s church fulfilling the Great Commission. It is birthing new life through new-church plantings to reach all people groups.

David Moore, director of Intercultural Ministries for the Assemblies of God, has described the United States as "the most incredible patchwork of peoples and cultures–one nation with 125 distinct cultural communities." In The American Mosaic, Moore issues the challenge: "If we do not know how to bridge the cultural and language gap, it is time to learn. The church must minister the good news to all kinds of people. When the world’s largest Christian church is in Korea and the world’s largest Buddhist temple is in Los Angeles, we must reconsider our missionary priorities."5

In Kingdom building, the ethnic challenge in America has become the missions priority. In his article, "Reaching Out to Latinos," in Christianity Today, Rodolpho Carrasco wrote, "Church networks are cooperating to launch congregations in unlikely U.S. locations."6

The lyrics of a song declare, "You can count all the seeds in the apple, but you can’t count all the apples in a seed." We can count all of the churches in the United States, but only God can reveal all of the potential churches in the pockets of unreached people in America…especially among our growing multicultural population.


Efraim Espinoza is special projects coordinator for 2000 Celebration and editor for the Spanish edition of the Pentecostal Evangel.

ENDNOTES

1. Audrey Malphurs, Vision America (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 62.

2. George Barna, The Second Coming of the Church (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), 2—4.

3. Ibid., 52,53.

4. Bill Sullivan, The NewStart Strategy: A Statistical Analysis (Kansas City: Nazarene International Headquarters, 1998), 4—13.

5. David Moore, The American Mosaic (Springfield, Mo.: Intercultural Ministries, Assemblies of God Division of Home Missions, 1997).

6. Rodolpho Carrasco, "Reaching Out to Latinos," Christianity Today, 6 September, 1999, 32.

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