Reaching Hispanic Youth and Young Adults Means Embracing a "One Size Does NOT Fit All" Mentality

by UBA Guest Editor, Karen Campbell  

/files/Photos/PagesStorageBin/Front Page News/2011/Flags-Latin-America.jpgWhile UBA now has 133 Hispanic congregations -- more than 1/6th the total number of churches in the association -- reaching the "Hispanic" culture is impossible. Simply because there is no "Hispanic" culture. What does exist are first generation Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians and natives from every other Latin country as well as those born in the U.S. Children and youth born into these settings reflect a combination of their parents' teaching and what they learn from television, radio, the Internet, and friends. All of which leads to generational complications when ... 

  • Second generation Latinos are becoming educated 
  • Third and fourth generation Latinos are now one of the sought after demographic segments to populate nonprofit boards and agencies as they seek to reach the "young professionals" of the Houston area.

On the one hand, the expectation might be to "minister to" these young Hispanic leaders. On the other hand, they anticipate that they will be "ministering with."

These geographical and generational characteristics means -- like most churches -- "una talla no sirve para todos" - one size does not fit all. 

/files/Photos/PagesStorageBin/Front Page News/2011/Escobar s-profile.jpgAt 25 years of age and with six years in the ministry, Eduardo "Eddie" Escobar understands completely the need to customize. He's experienced youth ministry as a life-altering opportunity and he's led youth groups to embrace a radical Christianity. 

Currently the associate pastor at Centro Cristiano las Buenas Nuevas, he leads No Limits Youth Church, which has been in existence since 2005. 

Eddie says his family had Christian values when he was young but they didn't attend church. When he became a Christian at age 15, his entire family started attending. 

"The way we are trying to reach this new generation is a completely new way than when I was a teen. We were sadly behind the times and now we are using media in a huge way," Eddie explains. "Facebook, music videos, social networks, the worship style -- advancements in technology have allowed us to catch up." 

His six-year-old congregation comprised of youth and young adults sees worship experiences draw 50-60 every other week. The week after worship is devoted to group studies in homes and other locales. One group in Stafford reached 40 young people in one night. 

While the groups offer a more intimate setting to ask questions and explore the Bible, the worship services reflect what Eddie understands the young generation wants -- volume, interactive experiences like rap contests and then exploring the Word. 

/files/Photos/PagesStorageBin/Front Page News/2011/Escobar-s-worshipYouth.jpgThough Eddie plans worship services to be energetic, he's quick to underscore that ministering to young people is not event planning or babysitting. "You have to disciple people. You got to be radical with your teaching," he says.  

Though the congregation reflects a generational bias in its worship, the focus on reaching second, third and fourth generational youth doesn't ignore its cultural heritage. 

"Our culture likes to party," Eddie acknowledges. "We are loud and we like to have fun. The hug, the kiss ... it's a cultural thing. We are very passionate people so our services are passionate as well."

While Eddie has no problem with adapting worship styles to fit and attract a new generation, he's adamant that worship be substantive. "Young people need to be led. We have lost leaders who will rise up for this generation and say enough is enough. We need leaders that are on fire for God. 

"And 'enough' is not a reference to what the world is doing, it's what the church is doing. We've had enough lukewarm, watered down Christianity. If we give students and young people radical Christianity, they would take it to their schools and revival would break out." 

Through it all, Eddie has learned that while taking care of others, ministers must also care for themselves. Recently returned from a sabbatical where he slept for the first two days, Eddie has embraced learning that he wants to pass on.

"One of the things youth pastors have to understand is that while we love young people, we cannot take youth ministry so personally," he said. "When they don't come they aren't trying to hurt you or the youth ministry. We make ministry hard when it's an easy process if we are connected to our source of life - Jesus Christ. We have to have a support group -- family and leaders -- and we have to be connected to our spiritual pastors. Youth ministers need spiritual fathers to guide us."

/files/Photos/PagesStorageBin/Front Page News/2011/Children-at-Risk.jpgIn a study published by Children at Risk on its website (view), readers are told that the Latino community is now the largest ethnic group in Harris County, having surpassed the Anglo population in the past decade. Based on 2008 population estimates, Latinos accounted for 39.3% of the population of Harris County, while the proportion of Anglos was 35.9%. 

Other facts from the study reveal: 

  • Latinos account for 48.8% of Harris County residents younger than 18 years versus 26.3% for Anglos. The report reminds us that it is "vital to be aware of the unique issues facing this population to ensure that future resource allocation and policy change adequately reflect its needs."
  • The Latino population is the youngest of all ethnic groups in Houston; 35.9% are under age 17, and 83% are under age 45. 
  • Growth of the Latino population is driven by immigration and high fertility rates. One in four persons (24.8%) in Harris County was born outside of the United States, and 73.6% of these were born in Latin America. 
  • In Harris County, Latina women have a fertility rate (births per 1000 women) of 91 compared to a rate of 48 among Anglo women.
  • Latinos lag behind other ethnic groups in Harris County in terms of educational attainment. Of Latinos over age 25, 52.6% have achieved a level of education equal to or higher than a high school diploma, compared to 84.8% of African Americans and 84.2% of Anglos. Additionally, only 10.2% of Latinos hold a bachelor's, graduate, or professional degree, compared to 19% of African Americans and 42.4% of Anglos. 
  • Harris County Latinos have a lower per capita income than other groups.
  • Approximately one-third or 33.2% of households in Harris County report speaking Spanish at home, and 18.3% of households in Harris County report speaking English less than "very well." 

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Reaching Hispanic Youth and Young Adults