As North Carolina’s demographics change, many churches in rural parts of the state are seeing an increased number of Latino families in their pews. Language and cultural differences can enrich the vitality of a congregation, but they can also present challenges.
Since 1999, The Duke Endowment has awarded multiple grants to support congregational, district and conference-wide Latino outreach.
New census data shows that North Carolina’s Hispanic population has more than doubled over the last decade. The growth has far outpaced increases in the state’s white and African American population.
At last census, there were 845,420 Latinos in North Carolina, which represents nearly 9 percent of the state’s population. The Pew Hispanic Center says that every county reports Hispanics/Latinos as part of the total population. In 18 counties, Latinos have at least 11,000 people as part of the total population.
The Hispanic population in North Carolina is young, with a median age of nearly 25. Given the combined impacts of net migration and natural increase, the state’s Hispanic population will likely increase beyond 1 million by 2020, according to the UNC Carolina Population Center.
Latinos come from diverse religious backgrounds, and many are looking for an inclusive congregation. Rural United Methodist churches are searching for meaningful ways to engage these newcomers.
The Duke Endowment has been involved with Hispanic and Latino ministries since the early 1990s. Applying lessons learned from this work, along with research and conversations with key leaders, the Endowment’s Rural Church program area launched the Thriving Hispanic/Latino Communities Initiative in 2008.
Funded with a $1.3 million grant, the initiative was designed to develop effective leadership for Hispanic/Latino ministry, using the resources of the Hispanic House of Studies at Duke Divinity School and partnerships with the North Carolina Conference and the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
The seven-year effort adopted strategies to develop ministries that focused on forming leaders and creating effective and replicable ministry models.
In 2014, based on positive findings from an evaluation of the Thriving Hispanic/Latino Communities Initiative, the Endowment approved a second phase of funding totaling nearly $1.5 million. This second phase supports the Hispanic House of Studies and programs for students, appointed clergy, and laity.
The programs include:
- Caminantes, to help students and clergy improve their Spanish and learn about Latino worship traditions.
- Encuentro, for clergy and laity to travel to the United States-Mexico border for facilitated conversations with experts on immigration issues.
- Apprenticeships, for third-year divinity school students to provide leadership in Hispanic House programming.
Participating Sites in North Carolina
- North Carolina Conference, United Methodist Church, Raleigh
- Western North Carolina Conference, United Methodist Church, Charlotte
- Duke Divinity School, Durham