A Tool For Cultural Change

Over the last ten years, the Latino culture has changed drastically in the United States – especially in its perspective and involvement in the Church. The majority of people with Hispanic heritage come from a Catholic background. They’ve claimed Catholicism as their religion because it’s what their parents did and it was what they should do. But in the last decade, people have started craving real answers to real problems. They don’t just want to sit through a sermon; they want to be fed with practical wisdom they can apply in their day-to-day lives. They want to be discipled by the Church, rather than just attend on Sundays. They want to know God and live with purpose. As a result, we’ve seen a lot of Latinos move away from churches that hold their traditional, Catholic values and begin opting for Western-style churches. They are moving away from cultural Catholicism and morality and choosing to cultivate a real, live and active faith. We started picking up on this shift in our culture and felt God was giving our little community a great opportunity we didn’t want to miss.

LifeBridge En Español is the Spanish campus of LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont Colorado, which has been serving the city of Longmont for more than 125 years. When our mother church piloted Rooted, they invited us to join them. We launched Rooted within the same time frame and, as a small campus serving a specific community, we learned a lot:

  1. We learned the importance of a pilot. We joined our mother church in their pilot with key leaders from our church and it made all the difference. That time gave us clarity in the steps we would need to take to lead our church through change and integrate Rooted into our culture with intentionality, rather than diving in head first. We were able to work out the obstacles that might have stood in the way of a successful launch and a figure out how to contextualize Rooted for our community.
  2. We learned to be resourceful. As a small community, we didn’t have all the resources our mother church had when they launched Rooted. So, we learned to ask God to provide in our areas of need and be creative in our solutions. In our first session of Rooted, we realized we didn’t have a place to do baptisms. So, we made use of a galvanized tank from a farm and we baptized 15 people in the first two sessions. God moved. And God provided
  3. We learned how to rally our church around something new. Our ten weeks in pilot gave our leadership team time and space to really engage the experience and think strategically about how we would invite our church to participate and inspire them towards action. Our people were ready for something new, so we moved on it quickly. Being a smaller campus allowed us to be flexible, implement at a faster pace and use Rooted as a tool to meet that need. And our church community responded with enthusiasm because they felt heard.

As Latinos, we are very loyal to our tribe. So, though our people were connecting at LifeBridge En Español – it was on a surface level and, as a tribe, we were longing for greater depth in relationship with God and with each other. Rooted has become an essential tool for maintaining that unity we value living in while moving us to grow deeper together. It has been the catalyst for the connection we were all craving. Our numbers showed it. When we launched just over two years ago, more than 60% of the overall congregation participated in the first session. We were amazed at the response and affirmed that Rooted was exactly what our church needed. Half of our community is made up of people who came to know Christ, for the first time, on our campus. Rooted cleared the way for people new to our community and new to faith to connect, share stories and celebrate life events. And, ultimately, these experiences drew them to Christ.

There was a man in our second session who was really shy and didn’t want to open up. On the last day before our celebration, he shared: “I have been to almost every church in this city, and they always talk to me because of my guitar talent. This is the first church that has made me feel welcome as a person – not just because of my musical ability and what I have to offer, but because they actually care about me.”

People who felt ostracized now experience belonging. Those who felt like they were voiceless now have a voice. Not only that, they now have a group that will lean in and will listen as they share vulnerably about what they are going through and help them see God in their stories.

As our community grows, change is inevitable. Rooted has equipped us to take care of people with real-life problems and provide a safe space where they can talk openly. It has completely changed how we do small groups, how we raise up leaders and how we interact with the individuals in our community.

In 1 Chronicles 12, we see the list of tribes and men who joined David at Hebron to turn Saul’s kingdom over to him. Among them were men from the tribe of Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” We feel like we are that tribe and we want to continue seeking to understand the times we are living in, the way culture is changing and influencing our people and we want to seek God and His wisdom in how to move our people in the right direction – closer to Him, closer to each other, and closer to their purpose.

 

Andy Gonzalez is the associate pastor at LifeBridge Christian Church En Español. He also serves as the worship leader and has worked in student ministry for over three years. Most recently, he and his wife have been keeping busy with their newborn, Lea, in Longmont, Colorado.