The U.S. Assemblies of God has an increasingly Latino flavor, a growing influence that likely will continue in the foreseeable future.
Of the 3.1 million U.S. AG adherents, 700,000 are Hispanic, according to Efraim Espinoza, director of the AG Office of Hispanic Relations. Of the 12,800 U.S. AG congregations, slightly more than 20 percent are considered predominantly Hispanic. The impact has been accelerating in recent years.
"Current trends show that Hispanic growth is not primarily through immigration, but through birth rates," Espinoza says.
The second-generation Hispanics in churches typically are more eager than their parents to assimilate into society. And a Pew Research Center report last year noted that a rising number of Latinos in the United States identify as Pentecostal.
"We need to know how to address a bicultural, bilingual emerging culture where parents still want Spanish, but children want English in a Spanish culture," Espinoza says. "The new demographic thinks Anglo and Hispanic."
No doubt Hispanics are increasingly shaping the U.S. Assemblies of God. Fourteen of the 67 AG districts are designated as Hispanic. More and more, Hispanic youth are participating in events such as Fine Arts Festival, while Church Multiplication Network (CMN) targets a growing number of places with a large Hispanic population for new congregations.
In fact, roughly 100 Hispanic churches -- compared to 345 overall plants -- opened last year.
In 2014, after years of dormancy, CMN resuscitated its Hispanic branch, tapping Jason Exley as team leader. Exley is pastor of Life Church in Midlothian, Texas, a state where 38 percent of the population is Latino. Exley started Life Church in 2006, and it now has an average Sunday morning attendance of more than 600. He credits CMN with keeping him on track when he felt like giving up.
Exley lauds Hispanic leaders such as Wilfredo "Choco" De Jesús of Chicago, Raymond Castro of Nyack, New York, and Eleazar "JR" Rodriguez of Houston for their ongoing role in planting multiple congregations.
"Guys like this are doing a phenomenal job, coast to coast," Exley says.
Exley, as a Caucasian, may seem an unlikely facilitator for Hispanic church plants. Yet he grew up in Argentina as the son of AG missionaries Donald and Melba Exley, and has spoken Spanish since he learned how to talk. In the past year, Exley has overseen four CMN training events for Hispanic pastors.
The AG needs to aggressively continue to plant healthy Hispanic congregations that will continue to reproduce as the Hispanic population rises, Exley says.
"The new Hispanic church plants that are launching are stronger, larger, and healthier than before, missionally focused on the local community," Exley says. "They don't wait for people to show up at their doors. They are engaging the culture, building relationships, and meeting needs in the community."
Whereas a Latino pioneer work in the past frequently involved a solitary visionary who quickly grew frustrated, the norm today is the Parent Affiliated Churches model and teamwork, according to Exley.
Eduardo Cantu planted Centro Cristiano Hispano in Springdale, Arkansas, 20 years ago. From the beginning, missions has been a priority. That first year, the church financially supported three missionaries; now it's up to 70. Centro Cristiano Hispano has giant AG World Missions posters and flags of every country in the sanctuary.
Last year, Centro Cristiano Hispano, which has around 300 attendees, gave $113,000 to missions. Cantu says the church is 99.5 percent Hispanic, most of them born outside the U.S., including many from Mexico and El Salvador.
In several cities in the nation, an Hispanic church is the largest AG presence in the community. That is the case with New Hope Greeley in Colorado, which has about 1,000 attendees each week, 80 percent of whom are Hispanic.
Pastor Rigo Magaña is fluent in both Spanish and English. Two of the three identical services are in English, as the church is reaching Hispanics spanning four generations. Magaña, who has been pastor for two decades, says New Hope adherents are from across Latin America. His parents moved to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 12.
"Latin American services are livelier than what many are accustomed to in this country," Magaña says. "The number of Hispanics will continue to grow. It's part of what God is doing to energize the American church."