BY RUDY CARRASCO
Christian leaders burdened with ministry to Hispanic youth must solve the riddle of Hispanic Generation X. By Hispanic Generation X, I refer to Hispanics living in the United States born between 1961 and 1981. I realize that Gen. X is not just about an age, but rather it’s really about an attitude, but for my purposes I will refer to this group by this title. Effective ministry to this group of Hispanics is more than an evangelization issue. It could hold the key to increasing the labor pool of Hispanic ministers.
Without a doubt, there is a great need for evangelization of Hispanics. A 1995 report by the Hispanic Association of Bilingual Bicultural Ministries (HABBM) shows that only three out of ten Latinos attend a church service on Sundays. This is a disheartening figure for Hispanic Generation X. I
believe the figure is closer to 2 out of 10, as church growth surveys show adults with children are more likely than childless singles to attend church.
However, when I think of the Gen X Latinos I personally know, it seems more like one out of ten. Many Gen X Latinos profess a belief in God or “spirituality,” but what they want is to understand how the Church-and attending church-is relevant today. Right now, they don’t see it as relevant.
The Catholic Church, while ingrained in most Latinos sub-cultures, seems distant. For many Protestant Latinos, the churches are dominated with the culture of an immigrant generation and the exclusive use of Spanish, whereas most would prefer a worship expression that incorporates their dual cultural and linguistic ties.
A ministry that reaches out to Gen X Latinos must speak to their culture. And what is their culture? You will have to go live among them to find that out. I can offer some suggestions from my own experiences, but the differences between varying Latino groups and regions is so great that what works in one place might not work in another.
Fundamentally, we as ministers must address the psyche of US born Latinos. Who are we? Where are we from and where are we going? These are root questions that we as ministers must address, even if we have no answers. The Bible is full of stories and verses that address the issue of cultural identity. The Israelites before the Judges were
strangers in a strange land. After David and Solomon the nation went back into exile. When Jesus appears, the Israelites are a minority.
Culture is an important door into the hearts and minds of Gen X Latinos. But let me be clear here: Fundamental relational evangelism is what will touch a Gen X Hispanic the most-not just church as we’ve always done it. We are human, and we have human needs. But we can’t lose the basics of discipleship because we are responding to culture. Right alongside your increased use of audio/visual media, the Internet, new worship music styles (rap, reggae, banda, salsa) keep the words and teachings of Jesus in the forefront. Gen Xers need to see how the radical teachings of Jesus are still relevant to their culture today.
A NEW GENERATION OF LATINO YOUTH MINISTERS
For many years, I have traveled the nation researching and writing on Hispanic youth ministry. Everywhere there is a shortage of youth workers who are themselves Hispanic. Outreach to Hispanic Gen X will be critical to meeting this demand.
Perhaps the most critical thing is to keep the junior high schoolers and high schoolers in the church after they graduate. In my research, I have come across many churches where Gen X Latinos feel neglected or even pushed out. They feel as if the church doesn’t value their gifts and unique qualities. Worse, some feel like they are a threat to existing leadership. So they leave. Where do they go? Many drift from church to church, not staying long enough to get trained as ministers, nor developing the necessary connections and history with an institution to merit a position of authority.
We should take some cues from Nike. They understand this generation that wants to “Just Do It.” This generation wants to do something-so let’s give them something significant to do! Church, let’s challenge and value them! I believe our communities are full of Gen X Hispanics who believe in God but are not members of any church. I know many of them personally, and I know their gifts are sorely needed in our churches and ministries.
Think about those high schoolers, the ones who make you feel old and out of it, even though you are only in your 30’s. What is it going to take for them to stay in your church? What about the young adults in your community? You can talk to them one-on-one about God, but would they feel comfortable in your church?
It’s an age-old question, and a serious one. I’m not playing. Go after Hispanic Gen Xers. We need God. And we have a lot to offer, maybe even the very thing you are looking for.
Rudy Carrasco is associate director of Harambee
Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, Calif. and a columnist
for the San Gabriel Valley, Calif. Newspaper Group.