One of the things that stands out the most about South Florida is its rich cultural diversity. And although this diversity includes many ethnicities, Hispanics represent a large part of it. Population data released by the U.S. Census bureau in 2016 shows that the state grew by 1.46 million people from 2010 to 2015. Hispanics represent 51 percent of the growth. In five years, Florida’s Hispanic population grew 18 percent overall – six times more than non-Hispanic whites and more than twice as fast as blacks.
As would be expected, this growing demographic of Hispanics in the South Florida community is also represented in the church body. Throughout the years, the number of Hispanic churches in Broward and Dade counties has also increased. When my parents made a decision to follow Jesus in the early 1980’s, there weren’t many Hispanic Christian churches to choose from in South Florida. But as the years have progressed, there have been increasing numbers of Hispanic Christian churches opening their doors to the South Florida community.
Many of us South Floridians are part of this diversity. For example, I was born and raised in Broward County and still reside in South Florida to this day. I was the first of my family to be born in the United States. My parents came from Colombia, South America, in the late 1970’s.
I’ve had a front row seat to some of this growth in the increase of Hispanic Churches. I was the first in my family to be born in the United States and have been immersed in the Hispanic Christian environment in South Florida for over 25 years.
After eight years of leading a small group Bible study in our home, my parents jumped out in faith to open the doors of our church “Buenas Noticias De Fe” (Good News of Faith) in 1994 in Davie. With little experience, limited resources, and few models to follow, my parents ventured to do everything possible in order to reach the Hispanic community in South Florida with the life changing message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And just like ours, as the years went on, more Hispanic churches began to rise up in South Florida. Needless to say, there are more Hispanic churches in Miami Dade County. However, with a growing population of Hispanics throughout the years, the number of Hispanic churches in Broward have also increased.
I grew up in a Hispanic church in South Florida. I made my way through children’s ministry, then through youth ministry in my teenage years, and eventually ended up in vocational ministry serving alongside my parents. I also founded an international music ministry called “Contagious” with which we’ve traveled throughout South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and the U.S. over the last 18 years spreading the good news of the gospel through our music and testimonies.
Speaking the language
So many lives and families have been impacted by the Hispanic churches in South Florida. This will continue to be the case as the Hispanic demographic continues to increase year after year. Although there have always been great American churches in South Florida, there exists a language barrier for many Hispanics who either don’t understand English or truly retain Spanish better when it comes to hearing a preaching or teaching.
In most Hispanic circles there are also tendencies towards wanting to preserve and maintain the language and cultural roots, so they can be passed on to the next generation. For this reason, even those who understand English well may prefer to attend a Hispanic church with their families. Although it may vary depending on country or continent of origin, Hispanic culture, in general, tends to be very family oriented, expressive and committed. These factors can often overcome other limitations such as financial limitations, space limitations or even location distance.
Due to the fact that Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic in the country and in our state, I believe that the Hispanic Christian churches in our community have a great role to play. It should not surprise us to see a rise in the number of Hispanic churches. There are so many families and individuals looking for answers. And it is a great blessing that they can connect with churches in their own language.
We have seen the influence of Hispanic churches first hand. After re-launching Vertical Church (a.k.a. Iglesia Vertical) in February 2015 in Sunrise, the Lord has done some exciting things in our community. We currently hold four services on Sundays; three in Spanish and one in English. We minister to and serve over 700 people every Sunday. It’s incredible to see so many Hispanic people attending our life-giving weekend services, connecting to our small groups, and getting involved by joining our team of volunteers and serving our church community.
I believe that God has called us to reach out to everyone in our communities and make a difference. I believe that as the demographics shift and our Hispanic population grows, we must be strategic and prayerful, asking that God would guide us, and that more life-giving Hispanic Christian churches would be planted and supported in South Florida. God’s people are diverse. The Lord’s church is diverse. So we will continue to pray, “Lord Jesus, your kingdom come, your will be done, in South Florida as it is in heaven.”
Virgil Sierra is the Lead Pastor at Vertical Church/Iglesia Vertical in Sunrise, which participate in Church United. To learn more about their church, visit www.churchvertical.com/vertical. For information on Church United, visit churchunited.city.