An influx of immigration to rural and small-town America is finding congregations ill-prepared to minister to such newcomers, according to the current issue of Visions, a newsletter on religion and demography.
The Census 2000 released in late August found that counties with rapidly growing Spanish-speaking populations were primarily in rural, small-town and outer suburban regions. Most of these newcomers, largely Mexican, are employed in t he food processing industries in agricultural areas. Hispanics in small-town and rural regions encounter churches that are few and small in membership.
Because these immigrants are sometimes transient, they are not “well accommodated by existing churches…which at best look to the new residents either to assimilate them into their English-speaking churches, or to fit them within their self-drawn plans for an ethnic ministry,” writes Anthony E. Healy. Hard-pressed Catholic parishes may fail to offer Spanish masses or accept ethnic religious customs, while rural Protestant churches have many elderly members without the resources or inclination to deal with these newcomers.
This has led some Hispanics to defect to newly established Pentecostal and evangelical congregations. The situation is compounded by many denominations and their judicatories that have become increasingly focused on ethnic ministry to the larger concentrations of people in cities while overlooking the smaller, dispersed populations in rural, small-town and suburban areas.
(Visions, P.O. Box 94144, Atlanta, GA 30377)