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Multilingual Hope

Hispanic congregation expands beyond Spanish-speaking services to reach a broader audience.

Casa del Alfarero — the Potter’s House — became the first Hispanic Assemblies of God church in the metro Washington, D.C. area 45 years ago. Although Casa del Alfarero started as a Spanish-speaking congregation, in recent years church leaders resolved to make every resource, from the sermon to brochures, accessible in both English and Spanish.

The decision to be bilingual stemmed in large part from a desire to reach second- and third-generation Latinos.

“Our young people would reach high school or college and never come back, so I started calling them to ask why they left,” says Pastor Jose Arce Jr. “They said they loved it and still considered it their church, but they couldn’t bring their friends because they only spoke English.”

And those friends don’t necessarily originate from the same places as their peers.

“John 3:16 doesn’t say, ‘For God so loved the Hispanics,’” Arce says. “It says He loved the world. We can’t just think about Hispanics and Latinos. Our vision is to be a multicultural, multilingual, and multigenerational church.”

Language can be a barrier for recently arrived immigrants. English soon becomes the primary language for most children and youth, yet many of their parents and grandparents converse in Spanish.

Jose Arce Jr. was installed as senior pastor in January, after serving under his father, Jose Arce Sr., for 30 years. When Jose Arce Sr. arrived in 1974, the church had 15 people worshipping on a weekly basis. Now 600 people attend regularly. Jose Arce Sr. continues to serve as pastor emeritus. 

The church serves a large migrant population, which is challenging due to adherents returning to their home countries or moving elsewhere in the U.S. for work. However, in the past five years, Casa del Alfarero has established systems and structures to support and maintain growth.

“Church leaders have never been satisfied with what they had,” says Manny Alvarez, superintendent of the AG Spanish Eastern District. “They always attend district events and regional conferences, and implement what they learned in order to grow.”

Three years ago, Arce Jr. sensed God calling him to discover the keys to Silver Spring, Maryland, the city where the church is located. He studied what others had done, prayed, and assessed the culture of Casa del Alfarero. This led to a focus on small groups.

“You don’t have to imitate what other churches are doing, but you can learn from them by finding common denominators,” he says.

Arce Jr. used the skills he learned as a certified coach to train other leaders in the church and to create an infrastructure to support small groups. He worked with 26 ministry leaders to establish goals for a three-month period.

“Everything is targeted to support small groups,” he says. “We need collaboration between ministries to reach more souls for Christ in different ways. Growth is about souls for the Kingdom, not numbers.”

Rebecca Burtram

Rebecca Burtram is an Assemblies of God pastor in Charlottesville, Virginia, a pastor's wife, mother to three, and an English teacher. She is the author of Our Broken Hallelujahs, and she blogs at rebeccaburtram.com.