During an Evangelism and Church Growth Plenary session at the third annual Big Tent event in Louisville, Ky., Aug. 2, the formation of such communities was a topic of discussion, focusing on reaching Hispanic/Latino and African-American peoples.
The Rev. Hector Rodriguez, PCUSA associate for Hispanic/Latino-a Congregational Support, noted that many people of Hispanic descent attend churches but may not belong to them. In many cases, that may be because they are in the minority and may feel unwelcomed.
“They want to be accepted,” Rodriguez said. “They are there (in the church), they tithe, they participate and some preach. They have a commitment to Jesus Christ.”
Rodriguez said language barriers sometimes can create issues for Hispanic people to effectively worship in the traditional church setting and there may be hesitancy to attend for that reason. He said sometimes a church without walls may be more inviting.
He gave an example of a church in Alabama that offered an opportunity for members of its Hispanic community to come play soccer. The church later added food, and many more Hispanics began to show up to join in the activities. That led to worship services that allowed them to have their spiritual needs met in a style more their own rather than conforming to something that may have been uncomfortable or uninviting.
“That gives us an opportunity to be who we are,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve got to find ways to meet their spiritual needs. These people were able to worship in their style. If you want to reach Latinos, you have to forget about the traditional (Presbyterian) style.”
Marissa Galvan-Valle, associate for Hispanic Resources and Relationships, spoke of the traditional aspect of evangelism in Puerto Rico and Presbytery of San Juan.
“It’s tradition there. You find a location, buy a building and try to find a preacher to come in,” she said. “Even though we’ve done things the same way, there’s still a challenge. We need to open ourselves up to new possibilities.”
The Rev. Lonnie Oliver, associate for African-American Congregational Support, acknowledged that all people need Christ in their lives, and reaching those who don’t usually is a matter of showing them compassion.
“We need to have compassion for people, be concerned about them and show them what Jesus can mean to them,” Oliver said. “People need Christ, and that’s the only way to have the peace of mind we are proclaiming.”
Oliver said the communities of faith being formed among African-Americans are meant to celebrate, worship and focus on discipleship, meeting the needs of the people they are trying to reach. To do that, more help is needed.
“God is already paving the way,” Oliver said. “We have to believe the harvest is plentiful. But the laborers are few. Talk to your presbytery about ways to develop these laborers and spread the word about starting these new communities.
“We expect God to do mighty things in the African-American community.”
Rodriguez said the establishment of such worshiping communities is not necessarily about forming them as Presbyterian churches as much as it is simply leading them to Jesus and sharing His love and promise to them.
“Most (people of race not in a church) are looking for a place they can find meaning,” Rodriguez said. “We need to teach them how to know Jesus, how they can understand the grace of the Lord. After that we can share Presbyterianism.
“We’re looking for disciples of Christ in the Presbyterian Church. It’s God’s work we’re doing. It’s His church.”