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  • Writer's pictureFirst Christian Church of Chicago

Hispanic Outreach Vision

Hispanic Outreach Vision
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I am thankful that we had an opportunity to hear a message from an FCCC Timothy on Sunday during our Hispanic Heritage Sunday service. It was an encouragement to have Tony Escobar ask questions that served as a kind of confirmation for the process the Elders have undertaken in exploring the opportunity to engage in ministry to the Hispanic community in our area.

I know that some of you may have more questions than answers about a Hispanic ministry at FCCC following Sunday’s service. You’ve been unaware of the conversation and planning the Elders have been engaged in over a number of years, so I would like to use the questions that Tony raised as a template to let you know more about the process the Elders have been engaged in concerning a Hispanic ministry. My hope is that this conversation will bring you up to speed, and gird your confidence in a vision to reach our Hispanic neighbors.

First, Tony gave us three questions to address in building a process for reaching a given community. Even in the way Tony broached this group of questions began with an assumption that God has placed a burden on some people to see that group introduced to Jesus.

Yet, his first question doesn’t take burden for granted. He said we should ask, “Why do we want to reach this group?” And, “Why us?” There is both a theological and a practical answer to those questions.

The theological answer is that God desires that all will be saved and come to eternal life. As Pentecost served as an example of God reaching across language and cultural barriers to present the message of the gospel to groups of people from numerous locales in the street language of their particular area, God desires to see people brought to him regardless of language and culture. Reaching out to this particular population engages us in God’s plan of seeing all come to him.

But, what is the practical answer? The practical answer, also, answers more specifically the “Why us?” Forty percent of the Ashburn community is of Hispanic descent. That percentage is higher as we go into neighborhoods just to the north, and is increasing dramatically to the south and the west as well.

The Hispanic community is actually the growing population within our community. Remaining whites, currently about 15% of the neighborhood, are largely empty nesters. African-American families, down from 60% to 40% of the community, are seeing their children growing older as a whole. The long-term for Ashburn is projected to be increasingly Latino.

In some ways, the opportunity FCCC is looking at is similar to 30 years ago when the Ashburn community made a huge transition from 95% white to 60% African-American. As the white population decreased dramatically FCCC could have intentionally sought to remain “a white church.” However, we understood that Biblical Christianity included reaching the nations, those who were not like us in skin color, so the kingdom could advance. Now, FCCC is a predominantly African-American congregation. Have we made that transition flawlessly or completely? No, we are still learning how to be a multi-ethnic community. But, if we hadn’t begun the journey, FCCC might have died out before many of you became part of the family.

Today, FCCC faces an opportunity to adjust our ministry to reach those unlike us due to both a different language and culture, but the principle is still the same … how can we be used by God to reach the nations with which God has surrounded us?

Sadly, we can already list a number of Hispanic families that have been members of FCCC for a period of time, some who were engaged in significant ministry and leadership, who have left because culturally something was missing. Some spoke specifically about language being the disconnect.

Without an effort to reach the Hispanic community the long-term viability of FCCC reduces with each passing year. If FCCC will continue to be a kingdom presence in the Southwest side of Chicago part of the process will be because we have reached the population around us.

Someone might suggest a kingdom view by asking, “Aren’t these families Roman Catholic?” Let me assure you, FCCC isn’t interested in sheep stealing. However, this objection needs to be assessed. A good many Roman Catholics, like many other professing Christians, often fall into a category of generational believers. They profess a certain faith because that is what has been passed down through their family. Their faith is at best marginal. Many don’t have a real and living commitment with the Jesus who came to save. Why would we not want to help them discover, and stir up their growth in faith.

So, let’s consider question two: What is our objective? Or What does a successful reach to the Hispanic community look like?

As I expressed on Sunday, the Elders do not foresee a bilingual service, similar that held last Sunday, which will replace our English service as our objective. It is our conviction that converting our current service to a fully bilingual environment would be equally dissatisfying for both English speakers and Spanish speakers.

The objective that the Elders foresee is a CHURCH PLANT, a church within a church. It will be part of the larger FCCC body, but it will also have some distinctives that allow it to fulfill its given mission of reaching Hispanics and the Spanish speaking community. Let’s call it Iglesia de Cristiana de Chicago for now.

FCCC and Iglesia de Cristiano de Chicago would participate in mutual fellowship events, and service projects. They would share Eldership and staff. But, they would have differing services to address the language and cultural needs of the two different populations.

However, the objective should not be thought of as limited to holding a Spanish-language worship service. That goal is much too restrictive. While it would entail a separate Spanish-language service, the objective is much bigger. The objective is not reached through the establishment of another program or repeating event. The objective is that a self-sustaining, disciple-making fellowship of Hispanic and Spanish-speaking believers grow into a thriving community of faith within the larger FCCC family.

For that reason, it must be understood that the realization of that objective may be some time off. Several benchmarks, such as building a core for such a plant, would need to be completed before plans to even start a different service are entertained. Calling would need to be done. Bible studies would be started. Discipling of a core would be performed. If everything worked perfectly a Spanish language service might be possible in late spring. Yet, it could be two years or more before the trigger is pulled for a Spanish-language service.

The Elders are not in a hurry to launch such a venture. We have patiently been praying and waiting on God to bring about the right people and circumstances to move forward for going on 15 years. It has been over five years since the Elders first expressed to the congregation a vision for reaching our Latino community.

That brings us to the third question concerning the process for reaching a given community … who are we? What is our DNA?

FCCC has a long history of being a church which has two identifying markers. FCCC has been a caring fellowship. FCCC has been a teaching community, strongly committed to understanding Scripture.

Yet, those two traits are not all that define FCCC. Here are a couple of other DNA markers. FCCC cares about family. FCCC is, more particularly, a body that welcomes ethnic and racial diversity, a model of a place that is seeking racial harmony.

DNA wise, I hope the connection to our plans for a Hispanic plant would be obvious, particularly in light of the last marker.

However, we are well aware, FCCC has been much less successful as an evangelistic entity.

At this point someone might be asking, “If we aren’t an evangelistic church, how can we be planning an endeavor which can only be described as evangelistic to the core in starting a new church?”

Again, let me give two answers: First, could it be that the lack of an evangelistic heart and practice in our current ministry shows that, although our church body does some things well, we are in need of an intentional editing of our DNA? Evangelism should be a part of who we are. As we will discuss soon in What On Earth Am I Here For, it is one of the purposes for which God has made us. The Transformation Team conversations are largely centered altering our DNA for engaging us as a church in more outreach.

But, aside from that transformation, the birthing of a new church isn’t a straight transfer of DNA. The new organization will share some genetic traits with the birthing church, but it will also have some differing traits. We understand that an evangelistic heart would need to be found in the leaders who would make up the core for the plant.

At this point, Tony shared that not all churches are for all people. He is right.

He mentioned a phenomenon where people tend to join an organization that is made up of people who are like themselves. That is called the “homogenious principle”. It was discovered by a missionary, Donald McGavern, in the 1960s. However, there is a problem with how that principle was applied by succeeding church growth players. When McGavern stated the principle it was to warn missionaries that reaching a new people group would require more work than simply continuing to reach the same people. Over time church growth experts decided that it was best to take the easy road, and not try to reach people outside of a particular focus group.

Again, it is for that reason that the Elders have prioritized a separate ministry for Spanish-speaking Latinos under the umbrella of FCCC. We know that it would be impossible to weave Spanish speakers into our current worship environment without making the worship less enjoyable to the English speakers. Nor would a fully bilingual worship hold Spanish-speakers over the long-haul.

Again, that is a solid reason to pursue the establishment of a church plant within a church. Different people, with a different language and different culture, would attract a different audience. While English wouldn’t draw Spanish-speaking worshipers, Spanish worship would be more inviting to them.

Of course, that means building a Hispanic core group that can serve as the face of the new church.

Two churches give us a good example of the model I am introducing. One is Uptown Baptist Church. Uptown Baptist is located off Wilson in a highly diverse, multi-ethnic community. The church is made up of 18 different congregations which speak different languages from English to Polish to Thai and Burmese, and a mess of others. All of the churches are a part of the Uptown Baptist umbrella.

The second church is Westbrook Christian Church in Bolingbrook. About a dozen years ago, they launched a Spanish-speaking church within a church called Gente Unida. The staff of both congregations are staff of Westbrook Christian Church. The Elders of both serve together. The Senior Minister at Westbrook, Mont Mitchell, has been one of our consultants in this venture.

That brings us nicely to the first of the three bridging tools we were introduced to by Tony.

Tool #1: Develop a point person(s). This has been a specific area of prayer for over a dozen years. We understand that we will need to develop a core who are already a bridge to the Latino community. The absence of such a bridge has cost us some very important members over the years.

Two avenues are being utilized to address this need. We have inquired through different networks about the availability of someone who would be willing to work as a part-time staff member as the lead for the plant. They would be responsible for leading in calling, networking, and beginning to disciple the core. Ignite Church-planting has shown some interest in helping to fund such a position for a period of time.

However, the task can’t just be left to a hired hand. For that reason, discipling will be part of the process. We will begin, as part of the What On Earth Am I Here For?, a bilingual Bible study environment in which we will disciple our current group of Hispanic people. All of them immediately responded positively to the invitation to be part of a group that will include Spanish, with some asking about inviting others to attend.

Tool #2: Discover the pain points. The Elders do need to do more research on discovering the pain point of the near Hispanic community. Some of the issues which may serve as the bridge are language and literacy, jobs, youth engagement, and citizenship qualification.

A critical pain point for the first two generations is their language. It may be hard for us to understand why they don’t “just learn English.” What we don’t understand is that it isn’t just a matter of changing words one uses. It is a matter of changing the way a person thinks. Someone who grew up speaking one language must go through a difficult process of mentally translating every work they speak, as well as every word they hear. That can be exhausting. That is why Spanish-speakers tend to stay with their own.

The point people will be integral in helping us to identify further pain points, and how we can effectively utilize them as a bridge to the Hispanic community.

Tool #3: Discover the passion points. Some of the passion points are much easier to identify for first generation immigrants. The Hispanic community is all about family. More recent immigrants are much more interested in a love for soccer than basketball. Latinos enjoy tacos, however, they wouldn’t classify the American stuff found at Taco Bell as a taco. They enjoy music, particularly the older Mexican community enjoys mariachi, which admittedly is a struggle for me enjoy. However, I’m willing to try to like it if it can serve as a bridge to the community. Younger Latinos are more akin to Hip Hop.

A critical passion is family, so the Elders are exploring how to engage the Latino family as a unit. We haven’t worked out what bridging to that passion will look like. However, family is something that connects with who we are as a church.

Let me take a moment again to express our appreciation for Joann Montes, the Worship leader on Sunday. She has been an invaluable resource to the Elders as she has begun to help us answers the questions Tony posed for us on Sunday. We look forward to continuing to work with her as she is able for seeing vibrant Hispanic churches birthed and grown in her passion.

Beginning a Spanish-speaking ministry is a huge undertaking, and the Elders share the congregations concern that we don’t throw a program together to say we did something, or to fail to diligently plan the birth of a Hispanic ministry. The Elders will continue to cautiously work through how this will happen, seeking wisdom from others who can help us understand the best way to reach this spiritually under-served community.

On the day that the church was birthed at Pentecost, God’s first act was to remove the barrier of language and culture. People gathered from around the world had the opportunity to hear the message of Jesus, not in Hebrew, or Greek, but in the peculiar regional dialects of each person through the power of the Holy Spirit.

God doesn’t always act so miraculously to accomplish His purpose, however, His purpose remains the same … to see everyone regardless of ethnicity and language have an opportunity to come to faith. Today, God often leaves the work of figuring out how that will be done to His people.

By FCCC engaging in the planting of a Hispanic church plant, we are continuing God’s divine purpose. We are refusing to be like Israel of old, and keep a sacred relationship with God to ourselves, when God desires for us to be a light to the Gentiles or the Latinos.

Now, I know that all of you can’t participate in a Spanish-speaking ministry. The Elders are not necessarily asking you to. Some of you, particularly those of Hispanic heritage might, because you have a passion to see your family and friends have a place where they can reconnect with God on a personal level.

However, there is a level of involvement that all of you can participate in to support the ministry. Pray! Pray for the Elders as they consult, and strategize, and plan. Pray for your Latino or Spanish-speaking neighbors to be receptive to our outreach. Pray that God would provide the people serve as the core for a Hispanic ministry. And pray for funding to support such an effort.

Welcome into that conversation.

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