Small Groups in a Bilingual Church

Small Groups in a Bilingual Church

How one multiethnic church structures small groups to reach their community

Obe Arellano leads a multiethnic church on the east side of Aurora, the second largest city in Illinois. Three years after planting the church with his wife, the East Aurora campus of Community Christian Church has 150 regular attenders—about 70 percent Latino, 25 percent white, and 5 percent African-American, a good representation of the surrounding community.

More than just being multiethnic, though, Arellano's church is truly bilingual. All but one staff member are bilingual, and Arellano actually preaches in both English and Spanish—in the same service. A first-generation Mexican-American, Arellano is passionate about ministering to the Hispanic community of East Aurora, and it shows: most of the people added to his campus are first-time Christ-followers.

I sat down with Arellano to learn about his church and how they do small groups in his unique setting.

What are some of the challenges you face with small groups?

Arellano: For the traditional Christian Latino, small-group ministry is really nonexistent. There are various reasons why. What ends up taking the place of small-group ministry is a Bible study where you go to church, there's a Bible study teacher, you are taught a Bible class, and you go home. For the Hispanic Christian, that's what they know.

On the other side, if they weren't brought up Christian, they were brought up Catholic. The challenge for them is that small groups are off their radar because they are taught not to gather outside of church to study the Bible. So if a Catholic comes to church and they find their way back to God, and then we say, "Hey, join a small group," they're like, "I can't do that." Not that they can't, but it's so ingrained in them that they cannot gather in a home to read the Bible.

It's easier to get non-Christians, people new to Christianity, to get involved with small groups than the other way around. I actually love the fact that at East Aurora campus, most of the growth that we've had has been from new Christ-followers.

In general, there is a lack of vision for small groups in the Hispanic community, and there's a lack of leadership development for them. In the Hispanic community, the pastor usually does everything, but the pastor can't run six small groups. And some pastors are afraid to give other people authority to lead. It's a whole church culture that needs to change. There's a wave of new churches and younger pastors who are willing to make that change.

Another thing is that Hispanics are less connected. It's ironic that culturally, Hispanic families are proud, saying we're so united, we're so family-oriented. Why doesn't that translate to small groups? I can't figure it out. First-generation Latinos are so family-oriented, so connected, but if you mention that we're going to talk about the Bible, even though it's an informal setting, they don't want to. It's weird. We do have a few, of course, that have grown to do that.

How do the culture differences of first-generation, second-generation, and third-generation Hispanics play out in your context?

We focus on the Latino community, but we have to think first, second, and third generation, and even beyond that. Because there is a large number of first generation families, a large number of second generation families, and large number of third generation. We can't just say, If we do a Spanish church, we're going to reach the Latinos. Because that's not true. The whole first, second, and third generation starts to separate families within the same household, which is crazy. East Aurora has a lot of households with three generations living in the same household.

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