(RNS) — Hispanic Protestant churches are growing in the United States, and many of these congregations are relatively new, identify as evangelical and largely include people who are new to the country, according to a recently released survey.
The study, conducted by evangelical research firm Lifeway, found that less than 9% of Hispanic congregations trace their history prior to 1950, with most (54%) having been established since 2000, including 32% founded in 2010 or later. Half of the churches (50%) are in a large metropolitan area with a population of 100,000 or more, and in the average Hispanic Protestant church, 35% of the congregation is under the age of 30, the survey found.
The people from the surveyed congregations are also fairly new to the U.S., with the majority (58%) reported to be first-generation Americans who were born outside of the country. As a result, a majority (53%) conduct their services only in Spanish, while 22% are bilingual.
“We see more and more English-speaking churches either planting a Hispanic church or adding a service in Spanish to their current congregation,” said Giancarlo Montemayor, director of global publishing for the research firm’s Hispanic division, Lifeway Recursos.
The study, which surveyed 692 pastors of Hispanic congregations, was sponsored by Lifeway Recursos, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse. Only congregations that were at least 50% Hispanic were included, according to the report. The survey was conducted in 2022 from Sept. 6 to Nov. 1.
Surveyed pastors were from American Baptist Churches USA, Assemblies of God, United Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventist, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Concilio Evangélico Internacional, Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church and other groups, including non-denominational churches.
Most of the pastors (79%) self-identified as evangelical, with 16% who said they were mainline.
Jonathan Calvillo, an assistant professor of Latinx studies at Emory’s Candler School of Theology, was intrigued to see that most Latino Protestant churches were not connected to an English-speaking or white church.
While some of the congregations were started by white churches, the survey found that only 14% of the Hispanic congregations in this study conducted services within a church that was predominantly non-Hispanic, said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.
“That’s an interesting insight, because I’ve come across an assumption that Latino Protestants are directly tied to white churches and white leaders,” said Calvillo, whose research has focused on how religious affiliation influences ethnic identities among Latinos. “This shows otherwise.”
To Montemayor, a former pastor in Austin, Texas, the study’s findings highlight the importance of Latinos having “something in their own language with their own culture.”
It goes beyond translated content, Montemayor said, and that includes “resources in their own preaching style and music.”
“They want their own roots in the congregation,” Montemayor added.
The survey also found that COVID-19 was still impacting many of these congregations.
Fear of the pandemic, along with long work hours, extended family gatherings and personal hardship, were the primary hindrances Hispanic Protestant churchgoers cited as keeping them from participating more regularly, according to the study.
Within U.S. Hispanic Protestant churches, the survey found that the average worship attendance was 115. Prior to the pandemic, in January 2020, average attendance was 136.
Interestingly enough, those at churches with average attendance of 0-49 (28%) and 50-99 (28%) were more likely to say fear of the pandemic affected their church participation than those at churches with attendance of 100-249 (16%), according to the report.