In Dallas, a Spanish-Speaking Congregation Offers Lessons for Reaching the Gowing Hispanic Population

Preachers, leaders and spouses pray during a 2014 national meeting of Spanish-speaking church leaders hosted by the Northside Church of Christ in Benton, Ark. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Preachers, leaders and spouses pray during a 2014 national meeting of Spanish-speaking church leaders hosted by the Northside Church of Christ in Benton, Ark. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)

In the heart of Dallas-Fort Worth, a growing Hispanic congregation celebrated two more baptisms on a recent Sunday.

Members sang the Spanish version of “This is the Day” as the Arlington Iglesia de Cristo (Church of Christ) welcomed a newly converted couple.

“Definitely, God is working,” said Jesús Rodriguez, a native Puerto Rican who moved from Arizona to Texas with his wife, Carmen, to help plant the church. “This is a great opportunity to explain the Gospel to many, many people.”

Two-and-a-half years after the congregation’s launch, weekly attendance tops 100.

Leaders of Texas-based Great Cities Missions — best known for recruiting and training missionaries for Latin America — see the Arlington church plant as a model for reaching Spanish speakers in the U.S.

“We want to see more churches planted by Hispanic teams in predominantly Hispanic communities in major U.S. urban centers,” said Scott Emery, a former missionary to Chile who is Great Cities Missions’ director of U.S. teams. “We are in need of good candidates for such teams and in need of partnering churches willing to support them.”

Nationwide, the fast-growing Latino population has hit 54 million, up from 22 million a quarter-century ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Arlington, the number of Hispanic residents exceeds 100,000 — over a quarter of the city’s total population of 380,000, census data shows.

For years, the North Davis Church of Christ — a 600-member congregation in the shadow of the home stadiums for the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers — felt a need to connect with Arlington’s burgeoning Latino population, former minister Doug Peters said.

“We lovingly supported a small group of Spanish-speaking members to ‘do their own thing’ off to the side, sharing small parts of our facility as an appendage to the body,” Peters, now a Bible professor teaching preaching and ministry at Oklahoma Christian University, wrote in a report.

“Predictably, these efforts stagnated and never gained traction,” he added. “We needed an effective strategy.”

That strategy came in 2011 as Great Cities Missions and three Arlington Churches of Christ — Hillcrest, Woodland West and North Davis — partnered to develop the Hispanic church plant.

Great Cities Missions trained a missionary team that included Jesús and Carmen Rodriguez, supported by North Davis, and Omar and Cesia Corpus, supported by Woodland West.

Hillcrest offered the use of its facilities, seeing the new flock as an answer to prayers.

“When I moved into this neighborhood, it was 98 percent Anglo,” said Vicky Pierce, a member since 1969. Now, most residents in the east Arlington neighborhood are Hispanic.

Sunday attendance at the Hillcrest church — which formed in 1957 and reached 400 members — has fallen below 100.

Many longtime members who once lived in the neighborhood now commute.

“The congregation here has put this building up for sale prayerfully multiple times and never gotten what they felt like was an answer from the Lord,” Pierce said. “So we just kept saying, ‘God’s got a plan.’”

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SOURCE: Christian Chronicle
Bobby Ross Jr.

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