New England, an area well-known for its colonial past, changing autumn foliage and forested mountains is also unfortunately known for spiritual lostness, especially among Hispanics there.
Jose Nater, native of Puerto Rico, is the NAMB Church Planting Catalyst ministering with the BCNE.
According to the American Community Survey, an ongoing survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics make up 8 percent of New England’s population. That’ s equal to more than one million Hispanic individuals spread across Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The major Hispanic groups living in the area are Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Cubans and Cuban Americans, Salvadorans, Colombians and Bolivians.
Unfortunately, there are only about 30 Hispanic Baptist churches to reach them, said Jose Nater, North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planting catalyst ministering with the Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE).
“In some of the states like Maine and Vermont there are no Hispanic Baptist churches and the ones that exist elsewhere are only averaging 50 for Sunday worship”, he said. “It’s interesting to note that this region is where Christianity came to America and now there is a rejection and resistance to the gospel.”
A church planter himself, Nater and his wife Myra moved to New England in 2016 at the urging of David Jackson, Church Planting Director and Strategist for the BCNE, after planting three churches in Maryland.
In the three years since their move, seven new church plants have been started. In Boston there are four new Hispanic plants, two in Connecticut and one in Massachusetts reaching first and second generation Hispanics.
New England church planters meet to discuss progress, challenges and opportunities.
“During our first year here, we traveled a lot and made connections with the pastors of the existing churches. Our second year was all about inspiring churches to go into the unreached communities of Hispanics. In this third year we have been working with seven church planters – which is a 20 percent or more increase in the number of Hispanic churches in the New England area.” There is currently another group of planters going through the NAMB Church Planter Assessment who intend to plant Hispanic churches in New England.
Most of the church planters are local, which Nater says has been helpful. Still, he hopes that Bible Belt states will join in their effort through mission trips, financial support and sending planters.
Part of the challenge of planting in New England, he added, is that “while Hispanics speak Spanish, we have different cultural dialects, different codes in communication, habits, foods, legal status and employment type.”
For a church planter who is reaching an area with a Hispanic cultural mix, these factors have to be kept in mind as well as who the community partners are. “These things seem simple, but they play an important role on whether you will connect with the community and reach them with the gospel,” Nater said.
The outlook for New England Hispanic church planting looks bright, NAMB president Kevin Ezell said during the Southern Baptist Convention 2019 annual meeting in Dallas:
“Southern Baptists, we are gaining ground for the gospel outside the South. We are determined not to lower our standards,” Ezell said. “We are not going to waiver on our desire for excellence.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keila Diaz is the Baptist Press Hispanic Life Correspondent.)