Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hispanic Dynamism

A topic much discussed in conservative circles a few years back was the dynamism of the Evangelical church in Latin America. Back then National Review had cover artwork showing Billy Graham in a sombrero. (Discerning Evangelicals knew that the Latin American Billy Graham was Luis Palau.)

Here is a link to an example of that dynamism coming to the United States:

Spreading the Word--Fast
A new system makes church membership grow exponentially.

Friday, July 28, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

At one of his recent Sunday services at the Heavenly Vision Center in the Bronx, N.Y., the Rev. Salvador Sabino asked all the "leaders" in the room to rise. He was shocked to see an elderly woman named Sonia among those who stood up. She was one of the quietest people he had ever known--he had once even wondered whether she was mute. Mr. Sabino then asked: "Will all the heads of a cell rise?" The woman remained standing. He later found out that, despite her withdrawn personality, Sonia had at least 48 people under her guidance. Beneath that shy exterior was a true passion for leadership.

For the other 1,400 (mostly Hispanic) attendees at the Heavenly Vision Christian Center, a nondenominational evangelical church, leadership has become a key concept in their lives. Not only are the congregants expected to mentor 12 disciples--newcomers to the church--but they must also encourage the disciples themselves to become leaders. This cascading structure, called G-12--or Government of Twelve--has proved to be a good way of gaining members while keeping the old ones engaged. The idea is to imitate the delegated leadership of Jesus' 12 disciples. In North America, more than 380 churches have registered to use the G-12 system.

The Wharton business school couldn't have designed a better growth strategy. According to the imperatives of G-12, leaders have to follow four steps--win new adherents, strengthen the adherents' Christian beliefs, take them on as disciples and send them off to replicate the process--to complete the nine-month program called "The Ladder of Success." Each leader meets with his "cell" (often in his home) apart from larger Sunday services. Disciples learn fundamental Christian doctrines as well as techniques for problem-solving, teamwork and leadership.

I find two things interesting about this strategy: First, it didn't originate in the United States:

The system was first imported from Colombia five years ago. It was created by the Rev. Cesar Castellanos in the early 1990s, after a trip he took to South Korea (where Christians account for more that a fourth of the population). In Seoul, Mr. Castellanos met David Yonggi Cho, founder of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, the largest congregation in the world, now with more than 800,000 members, meeting in a number of satellite locations.

Second, it is affecting Latin America far beyond the church's doors:

In Colombia, Mr. Castellanos's wife, Claudia, who is also a pastor, has expanded her influence beyond the church. She thinks that the G-12 model should change not only lives but nations as well. In 1991, Ms. Castellanos became the first Christian senator in her country, and she has been a staunch opponent of abortion and euthanasia in Colombia ever since. Pastors from G-12 churches in Peru, Argentina, Mexico and Canada are already following her footsteps by taking on active careers in politics. Ms. Castellanos is also promoting an entrepreneurial network, under G-12 principles, to foster small-business creation.

While I will forgive Ms Tunarosa her faux pas (I believe that Ms Castellanos was the first Evangelical senator elected, and that the Catholic Church are still Christians), this is very big. As was pointed out a few years back, this is the biggest shift in Latin American culture since the Conquistadores arrived back in the 15th century.

And this may also point out whay so many Republicans are anxious (even to their short-term detriment) to cultivate the Hispanic vote. Latin American immigrants may be the most socially significant cultural group in the US in the next couple of decades.

Given the vitality of this this group, the question may not be, "How can we assimilate Hispanic immigrants into our culture?" But rather, "How can we adopt and assimilate the cultural vigor of Hispanic immigrants?"

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