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FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- The Southern Baptist Convention's Hispanic Consortium met at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Oct. 11-13 to explore strategies, especially through education, for reaching the nation's rapidly growing Hispanic population.
In 2010, 50.3 million Hispanics lived in the United States, with their numbers continuing to grow rapidly even in areas where Hispanics have not traditionally lived, said Daniel Sanchez, chairman of the consortium and professor of missions at Southwestern. Since 1980, the Hispanic population has tripled.
Sanchez, who also serves as director of Southwestern's Scarborough Institute for Church Growth, said Southern Baptists should regard the nation's Hispanic growth as an opportunity. Only 20 percent of the Hispanic population identify themselves as evangelicals or Protestants yet they "are more responsive and receptive to the Gospel than ever before," he said.
"The message then to Southern Baptists," Sanchez said, "is that we need to enter into the field that the Lord has opened for us. The fields are ripe unto harvest."
The Hispanic Consortium brought together leaders of Hispanic ministries within various SBC entities, including the North American Mission Board, International Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, GuideStone Financial Resources, WMU, state conventions and Southern Baptist seminaries. The consortium was created in 2005 by a task force for NAMB, and it has met annually since that time.
This year the consortium focused on educational needs and opportunities within the Hispanic context.
"Hispanics are now the largest minority group on college campuses," Sanchez said, noting that college enrollment among Hispanics increased by 250,000 between 2005 and 2010. These numbers will continue to rise, he added, since nearly a quarter of the children attending elementary and high schools throughout the nation come from the Hispanic population, with 52 percent in California and 48 percent in Texas.
Sanchez said the consortium considered ways that Southern Baptist entities and churches can encourage more Hispanics to stay in school and pursue college degrees. Some churches already take an offering to begin a college fund for babies who are dedicated at the church. Other churches have adopted "no dropout zones" around their churches, working with schools and communities to ensure that children and college students continue their educations.
If Southern Baptists pursue such endeavors, Sanchez added, more Hispanics may begin to enroll at Southern Baptist seminaries, since more of them will be qualified to train at the master's degree level. In the end, these students can impact the Hispanic population through much-needed evangelism efforts and church planting.
Sanchez expressed his gratitude to Southwestern Seminary for hosting the consortium and to Southwestern President Paige Patterson and his wife Dorothy for participating in the sessions at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus. Other Southwestern participants included Lee Williams, associate dean of the College at Southwestern, and Mark Leeds, registrar and associate vice president of institutional research and assessment.
In recent years, Southwestern has taken measures to train ministers to work in Hispanic communities and churches. In the master of divinity, master of arts in Christian education and master's in missiology programs, the seminary offers a bilingual concentration in Hispanic studies. This concentration includes courses in Latin American theology as well as in evangelism, missions, church planting, family ministry, educational ministry, worship ministry and church administration within the Hispanic context.
To learn more about this program, visit www.swbts.edu/hispanicstudies.
Benjamin Hawkins is senior newswriter for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).