Small Groups in a Bilingual Church

Small Groups in a Bilingual Church

How one multiethnic church structures small groups to reach their community
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That creates this multigenerational challenge within the same family. Because in one house you have people that don't speak English, you have people that are bilingual, and then you have some people that don't speak Spanish. How do you reach out to them? That's what started to lead us to pray and brainstorm: How can we do ministry that can address that?

And that is one of the biggest challenges that most Hispanic churches are facing but they don't want to address. They're Spanish-speaking churches, and young people are leaving church. They don't speak Spanish or they don't want to speak Spanish. It's not their preference anymore, and so they don't come to church. Some stick around because of their parents, but if they're not connected or engaged they leave. If we do Spanish only, that would only reach the first generation. What's going to happen is that the kids growing up second or third generation eventually won't want to come because they won't understand. We can't blame them.

That's when we started thinking bilingual. That creates a very multiethnic environment where anybody can come, whether they speak Spanish or English. So the language is never an issue.

Tell me a little about your small groups. How do small groups work in your church?

Our small groups take a break during the summer, but this fall we'll have three Spanish groups and four English groups.

The biggest "aha" moment for us in our first three years was that bilingual small groups are not effective. We tried it. We thought, We are a bilingual church. Let's do bilingual small groups. It did not work. One reason is because not everybody can translate themselves, and not every small-group leader can translate either. Two, if it's in a moment in small groups where somebody's sharing something, it's awkward to say: "Hold on a minute. Let me translate what you just said." And if it's emotional, if somebody's crying their heart out, how do you translate that?

So we took a step back from that model, and all groups are now either English or Spanish. We have two small groups that are Spanglish. They have young adults or young families that are fully bilingual. They go back and forth between English and Spanish, but they're comfortable with the back and forth. But we specifically say those groups are not bilingual because when we say "bilingual" people get the idea of what we do on Sundays where everything is going to be translated. It's two different things: bilingual and Spanglish.

How are you helping the next generation embrace small groups?

The structure of StuCo [the student ministry] is small groups, so when they come, they get in small group and they talk and that's just how it is. They don't see it as something they can't do. For them it's something they're learning as they go, and it's not an issue. And the language barrier is not an issue. It's all in English. Even if they're first generation, they're already learning English.

And I've heard stories where pastors say "We are not going to do English." They feel like they're going to lose the culture. They feel like our kids are going to lose the culture. One of the things that I say if I'm talking to them one-on-one is that we are not called as a church to guard the culture. That's not our call. Our calling, our goal, is to expand the kingdom of God, the gospel. It's to help people find their way back to God. We are not supposed to protect our culture. We do ministry in Spanish so we can reach people in the culture, not to protect the culture.

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