NEW YORK – The United Methodist Church plans for continued growth in their Hispanic demographics by initiating the National Plan for Hispanic Ministries. Eli Rivera, the plan’s new staff coordinator pushes forth the extension of the NPHM to the denomination’s 2004 to 2008 quadrennium, noting the growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S..
"If our church is to grow, it has to grow in those communities," he said in a Dec. 16 interview.
Created in 1992 by the Methodist Church’s top legislative body – the General Conference, the Hispanic Plan established hundreds of new faith communities and the placement of 32 missionaries within annual conferences. There are now 25 conferences with full time coordinators of Hispanic ministry.
Rivera gave the example of the rise of the Hispanic and Latino population in the Southeast, informing the council of the 100 percent increase of the certain demographics in the area. He notes however, that more work needs to be done throughout the United States on a local and regional basis.
According to Rivera, the churches must break out of the old strategies of church development, where a pastor is simply set to a building set on a plot of land. He stated that this approach is not effective with Hispanics and Latinos, nor is it advisable to try it as a means to “outdo” the Roman Catholic parishes or Pentecostal churches already established in the Hispanic neighborhoods.
"Most of them (Hispanics) are unchurched," he explained. "We believe that if we address people at their need level ... these people will respond. We need to offer an alternative."
He suggests letting lay people meet with Hispanics in their homes to develop small faith communities. The plan requires both lay missionary and pastor participation in the congregations. The focus for the plan is the concept of congregational mobilization, where the existing congregation is revitalized. He noted that a step-by-step manual has already been developed and tested in several conferences.
Rivera said discussions have taken place with representatives of the growing Brazilian population in the United States about its own ministry needs. That is one reason why the name of the plan will include both Hispanics and Latinos when presented to the 2004 General Conference for renewal.
By Paulina C.