Hispanic Centennial Approaches
Hispanic districts and churches in the U.S. Assemblies of God will commemorate the centennial of its organizational convention Aug. 1-3 in Houston.
In January 1918 in Kingsville, Texas, seven ministers representing six churches gathered to formally initiate a Latin convention, which later became the Latin American District Council in the United States. Henry C. Ball led the Latin district for its first 20 years.
Today, Hispanic ministry has multiplied into 14 districts across the nation, serving the fastest-growing constituency in the Fellowship. Hispanics now comprise over 22 percent of AG adherents in the U.S. The overall Latino population in the nation is 58 million, representing 18 percent of inhabitants, making Hispanics the largest ethnic minority.
The latest statistics show that Hispanic adherents in the U.S. AG total 720,000. Immigration has been driving the growth of Hispanic churches since the mid-1970s.
“Latin American immigrants have had a major impact especially upon the Assemblies of God,” says Dennis Rivera, director of the Office of Hispanic Relations. “With the largest group coming from Mexico, and many from Central and South America, the Assemblies of God continues to grow because of immigration and the growth of ethnic churches.”
At the opening night of the Houston celebration, AG Executive Presbyter Wilfredo “Choco” De Jesús, pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago, will reflect on the legacy of the past. The Aug. 2 morning meeting will feature Iglesia el Calvario Pastor Saturnino “Nino” González of Orlando, Florida, leading a commemoration of the current AG Hispanic church. An Aug. 2 lunch will include AG U.S. Missions Executive Director Malcolm P. Burleigh and AG World Missions Executive Director Greg Mundis. The Aug. 2 bilingual youth service could attract 10,000 young people. AG Pastor Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, will give an address.
General Superintendent Doug Clay and Executive Presbyter Melissa J. Alfaro will talk at the concluding consecration service Aug. 3. In addition, all 14 Hispanic district superintendents will review goals for the next decade.
In 1972, four new Hispanic districts with four newly elected superintendents formed. But the Hispanic Assemblies of God has experienced its most explosive growth since 1977, when only 36,000 adherents attended AG churches. Now, there are nearly eight times that many congregants worshipping in 2,872 Hispanic churches in 14 districts. Four of those districts are partially or entirely in Texas.
“Hispanic immigrants have responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and especially to the Pentecostal message,” Rivera says. “Because they have crossed the border with their families, the local church has become extremely important to them. Because they have come looking for work, they are a mobile people, and therefore have moved to all 50 states.”
Hispanics are now at the table in AG governance, mission, and vision. Currently there are three Hispanic Executive Presbyters — De Jesús, Alfaro, and Daniel de León of Templo Calvario in Santa Ana, California — plus 46 Hispanic general presbyters.
National ministry departments are seeking new ways to produce more resources for the Spanish-speaking constituency. A Church Multiplication Network task force has been created to plant 100 Hispanic churches in 2018.
“Hispanics are reaching the lost in our communities, planting churches, going as missionaries, and together along with our greater AG Fellowship, by the empowerment of the Spirit, we aspire to be the greatest evangelism the world has ever seen!” Rivera says.