From 1990 to 2000, Hispanics grew from 21 percent of Dallas's population to 35.6 percent, according to the U.S. census. With a continual current of Latin American immigrants flowing across the Dallas-Fort Worth landscape, Spanish-speaking evangelical churches have mushroomed. And with churches like the 900-member Iglesia Evangélica Bethania (Bethany Evangelical Church) in Farmers Branch and Mundo de Fe (World of Faith), a 1,600-member charismatic congregation in Carrollton, you can expect the boom to continue.
Developing leadership for Hispanic churches in this region known for its large, distinguished seminaries is tricky business. Institutional behemoths such as Dallas Theological Seminary are not designed for self-taught ministers of low education and few financial resources. These seminaries do reach some immigrant pastors with Spanish-language field education classes, but mostly they train Hispanics already assimilated into mainstream culture, says Jimmy Garcia, director of Hispanic work for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
The bilingual/bicultural churches these Hispanic seminarians are preparing to serve are older and, with few exceptions, not growing, Garcia says. "It's the immigrant churches here that are growing."
While exact figures are not available, Spanish-speaking charismatic, Pentecostal, and nondenominational churches, and to a lesser extent Baptist congregations, have multiplied in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the past 10 years, Garcia says. In 1990 there were 38 Hispanic Baptist congregations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. By 2000 there were 97, he says. Some Spanish-speaking charismatic Catholic congregations have also formed.
Seminary education for Latino ministers becomes indispensable, says Rudy Sanchez, pastor of the 610-member, bilingual First Mexican Baptist Church of Dallas. "When the second- and third-generation Hispanics come along, the issues and challenges of pastoring require a level of sophistication that seminary training provides."
The percentage of Hispanics at Dallas Seminary and other area seminaries is about 2 percent, school officials say. That puts Hispanic enrollment at Dallas seminaries on par with the national average, says Albert Reyes, president of Hispanic Baptist Theological School in San Antonio.
"But beyond numbers, I think a more critical question is 'What kind of theological education are seminary students at Dallas seminaries receiving?'" Reyes says. "How is their experience in theological education, where the majority of the faculty is Euro-American, preparing them for ministry in a predominantly Hispanic context or multicultural context?"
Teachers with cross-cultural perspectives are confined to missions departments in most seminaries, Reyes says. And while one need not be Hispanic to equip Hispanics, more Latino faculty and administrators would provide a helpful point of connection for Latinos, he says.
Jeff M. Sellers is an associate editor of CT.
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Also appearing on our site today:
Tex-Mex OrthodoxyA former Southern Baptist, Dmiri Royster is now a maverick of the Orthodox Church.
Other stories in our May issue's Dallas cover package include:
The New Capital of EvangelicalismMove over, Wheaton and Colorado Springs—Dallas, Texas, has more megachurches, megaseminaries and mega-Christian activity than any other American city. (May 10, 2002)
Big City, Big MinistryHow did a top-25 list of ministries become a cover story on Dallas? (May 10, 2002)
Southwestern's PredicamentCan the biggest protestant seminary in the world be both Southern Baptist and broadly evangelical? (May 14, 2002)
Parachurch PassionA Dallas food pantry was transformed when it turned the tables on who should do ministry. (May 15, 2002)
Sunday ColorsDallas churches continue to challenge the racial divide. (May 15, 2002)
The Hispanic Churches in American Public Life (HCAPL) research project is a three-year study funded by a $1.3 million grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The project seeks to examine the impact of religion on political and civic engagement in the Latino community.
According to Crosswalk.com, of the more than 27 million Hispanics in the United States, 6.2 million are Protestant.
Related Christianity Today articles include:
Catching Up with HispanicsNew census data on the Latinos in our midst presents a reality check for cross-cultural outreach. (Nov. 12, 2001)
Wanted: Young, Dedicated LeadersHispanic Ministry Center and Latino Leadership Network provide informal training to equip emerging Latino youth-work leaders. (Oct. 4, 1999(
Reaching Out to LatinosChurch networks are cooperating to launch congregations in unlikely U.S. locations. (Sept. 6, 1999)
Breaking the Black/White StalemateJesse Miranda and William Pannell discuss the next step in racial reconciliation. (March 2, 1998)
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