Latinos in the UCC


Recently, all staff in the United Church of Christ’s national offices participated in a diversity training session. Part of the training included a “Diversity Quiz,” and one of the questions asked for our best guess regarding the percentage of Latinos/Hispanics in the U.S.

The answer, not surprisingly, was 16.9% as of 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2050, the projection for Latinos/Hispanics living in the U.S. will be 29% of the total population. As stated by the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project:

– Between 2000 and 2012, the five states with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations were: Tennessee (up 163%), South Carolina (161%), Alabama (157%), Kentucky (135%) and South
Dakota (132%).
– The five states where Hispanics made up the biggest share of the population in 2012 were: New Mexico (47%), California (38%), Texas (38%), Arizona (30%) and Nevada (27%).

As you can see, Latinos still remain the fastest-growing population in the United States, despite the fact that Hispanic immigration to the U.S. has stalled. So, how do these numbers compare with Latinos/Hispanics in the United Church of Christ?

Overall, congregations that identified predominantly as Hispanic/Latino constituted roughly 0.4% of all UCC churches, according to the Fall 2013 Statistical Profile. This is a 0.5% decline from 2002 when Latino congregations constituted 0.9% of all UCC churches. Translation: Out of the 5,154 total active congregations within the UCC at the end of 2012, only about 20 of them were Latino/Hispanic. In addition, 68 (1.0%) of all active, authorized ministers in the UCC identified as Hispanic in 2012.

The United Church of Christ has a unique opportunity to take a sober look at these figures and to prayerfully/prophetically consider how we might live more faithfully into our core values of extravagant welcome and radical inclusion in this regard. The latest report about U.S. Hispanics/Latinos from the Pew Research Center focused on the shifting religious identities of this population; and the statistics seem promising for denominations such as the United Church of Christ.

– Nearly one-in-four Hispanic adults (24%) are now former Catholics. Catholic Hispanics have declined by 12 percentage points in just the last four years, from 67% to 55%.
– 18% of Latinos are religiously unaffiliated.

The report further articulates, “Hispanics leaving Catholicism have tended to move in two directions. Some have become born-again or evangelical Protestants, a group that exhibits very high levels of religious commitment. On average, Hispanic evangelicals – many of whom also identify as either Pentecostal or charismatic Protestants – not only report higher rates of church attendance than Hispanic Catholics but also tend to be more engaged in other religious activities, including Scripture reading, Bible study groups and sharing their faith. At the same time, other Hispanics have become religiously unaffiliated – that is, they describe themselves as having no particular religion or say they are atheist or agnostic. This group exhibits much lower levels of religious observance and involvement than Hispanic Catholics. In this respect, unaffiliated Hispanics roughly resemble the religiously unaffiliated segment of the general public.”

Where are mainline Protestants represented in this spectrum? Are we passing by an immense opportunity here in not placing significant energies and dollars toward outreach and relationship building with these communities (knowing that there is a great diversity of groups lumped into the “Hispanic/Latino” category)? As larger segments of U.S. Latino population growth are attributed to native-born individuals, will second and third generation Latinos just become a larger share of the religiously unaffiliated, similar to their peers in other racial groups?

As an individual who identifies as a bi-racial Latina (my father was Puerto Rican), as well as having been raised in a part of the U.S. where Latinos were the majority population (Southern Colorado/ Northern New Mexico), I care very deeply about this issue. My own father was raised Catholic, then converted to Pentecostalism/ evangelicalism shortly after I was born (at a Nicky Cruz revival). Pentecostalism provided a way for him to fully express his passion for God and for sharing faith with others, although in many ways, he remained socially and politically liberal. His story is not unlike many other Latinos in the United States, and I wonder whether the social and political progressiveness of the UCC might be a draw for individuals who are leaving the Catholic faith. And, of course, it remains to be seen whether the decline of the Catholic church has actually slowed since Pope Francis arrived at the Vatican.

Only time will tell…but in the meantime, will we stand by or will we act? And, more importantly, are we willing to be transformed in the same ways that our broader culture has been transformed demographically?



3 thoughts on “Latinos in the UCC

  1. Gracias Kristina for commenting an a very important subject near and dear to me. In the MACUCC we are doing exactly as you are requesting…The Hispanic/Latin@ Ministries Working Team is working towards engaging in conversation and action regarding the growing Latin@ population in MA (in the top 10 nationally). Traditionally the counting of Hispanics in our UCC’s meant counting Latin@ identified congregations and not individual Latin@s attending UCC. I know because I have tried to get a number of how many Latin@s attend non Hispanic churches….and turns out UCC is not able track or is able to provide the answer….every time I asked. Are you able to assist in that matter?
    Oh desculpa….introduction….my name is Robert Ochoa, and am the pastor of Lake View Congregational Church in Worcester (a predominately “anglo” congregation) and the President of the UCC Council of Hispanic Ministries in New England. As you know CHM-NE is affiliated with the National CHM which I am now serving as treasurer. (btw my mom is a Manita from Albuquerque).
    The reason I am asking if we have UCC statistics of the Latin@-American experience in the UCC is because I am developing a workshop I’m doing for the MACUCC this fall (and other locations…I’m doing a preview in the Coalition Gathering in Pittsburg, PA in June) entitled: “The Myths and Realities of Latino/Hispanic culture in the United States”. As in your essay…I too am relying on PEW and other statistical studies to measure where we are as Latin@s and Hispanics in the US….and the opportunities possible for the UCC.
    In MACUCC we will being doing a particular outreach to ONA congregations….in heavily populated people of color communities and ask the question…as ONA…are our doors really opened to everyone? This is a personal one for me….for I have found that within the UCC….it is easier to be accepted as a Gay Man than a Latino. Even among our ONA congregations….why is that?
    Again Kristina…thank you for your ministry and writing on this very important topic.
    Que Dios De Bendiga and Cheers en Cristo,


    • Hello Robert! Apologies for taking so long to respond. Thank you for your enthusiastic comments, and it’s wonderful to hear that in the MACUCC you are working on increased conversation and action in this area. Our office tracks congregations and authorized ministers in the UCC with regard to race/ethnicity; but you are correct that we do not track this at the individual level. Unfortunately, there’s not an accurate or easy enough way to collect this type of detail regarding individual members’ self-identifications. It’s difficult enough to obtain congregation-level statistics from many of our churches–because our polity is congregational in nature, many consider reporting in general to be “optional.” Sorry I can’t be helpful in this regard.
      Regardless, I would love to see the presentation you are putting together for the Conference on Latin@s in the U.S. What a resource for that the whole UCC could benefit from! Outreach to ONA congregations sounds like a really smart and strategic method; and I agree that, in many ways, it’s easier to deal with issues of LGBT justice and inclusion than racial/ethnic diversity and inclusion. I have lots of thoughts about that from my years as a diversity educator (they’re not really my ideas, but are ideas from scholars who have written on the subject); but that may be another conversation for another day…in any case, starting with ONA congregations is a great place to begin this work since they already have a foundation for practicing welcome and inclusion with a historically-underrepresented group. In general, this type of work that you’re doing is never easy, as you know.
      In my email to you earlier this week, there were some other resources that I hope will be helpful for your presentation. Please let me know if I can provide further assistance. Nice to know someone who is familiar with the part of the country that I’m from as well! Blessings on your work, and I do hope we can meet in person at some point.
      Paz, Kristina


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