Why don’t they come? This is a struggle in all of ministry, but can be even more common in Hispanic Ministry. We start a Spanish mass, or we invite Hispanic families to faith formation classes or we have a retreat and few, if anyone actually come. There is no quick fix, but there is a solution.
Show Them That You Care
I remember feeling this frustration when I was first getting started as the Diocesan Director of Hispanic Ministry. I was admittedly inexperienced and had to grow into my role. I would email my colleagues in Hispanic Ministry and try to create diocesan programs that would get little if any participation. I quickly came to realize that for Hispanics in particular a job title or position does not automatically create interest in what you have to say. For those of us who live in rural settings we are familiar with this dynamic, because it is also prevalent in rural cultures. In the prevailing culture in the U.S., it is more common for colleagues to interact professionally whether or not there is a personal relationship – in Hispanic Ministry this just doesn’t work! Theodore Roosevelt’s quote, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care,” is exponentially true in working with Hispanic cultures.
When did the dynamic begin to change? When we started having regular meetings, face-to-face. At these meetings there was always a good half an hour of visiting over coffee and snacks and talking about our families, health, and ministries. The meetings were full of jokes and giving each other a hard time and we always shared a meal. Our meetings had an agenda, but often the real work that was done was breaking down barriers and silos as we started to know, like and trust each other. Slowly, over time there was more buy-in for diocesan projects and more collaboration between parishes.
Relationships are the key ingredient to make any Hispanic Ministry successful.
It’s a Cultural Thing
The reason that relationships are so important is that Hispanic cultures have more of a collective mindset and focus more on lived experience. While the prevailing culture in the U.S. has more of an individualistic mindset and focuses more on the abstract. For more information about the dimensions of Hispanic culture sign up to receive my upcoming eBook 5 Cultural Differences You Need to Know to Succeed in Hispanic Ministry. This means that for someone raised in a Hispanic culture, upholding traditions and social obligations and maintaining harmony are much more important than completing tasks, planning for the future or moving through an agenda. I learned this when I was living in Ecuador as a volunteer. I was part of the young adult group at the local church and we would be having a meeting and this cultural difference always struck me. In the prevailing U.S. culture, meetings start at the agreed upon time no matter who is there and if you come into a meeting late you sort of creep in, make a hand gesture to apologize and try to figure out where the group is on the agenda. In Ecuador, the meetings never started on time and people would trickle in. Eventually when a good percentage of the group was there the meeting would begin. But every single time a new person arrived, everyone would stop talking, the person would make their way around the entire room saying hi to everyone individually (with a kiss on the cheek) and the meeting would start again. This happened over and over as people continued to trickle in. Although this dynamic is less pronounced when Hispanics live in the U.S., it is still very much present. To effectively minister among Hispanics, especially as someone who was raised in the prevailing culture, I need to be keenly aware of building and maintaining relationships in my ministry.
Meet Them Where They Are
A common problem in Hispanic Ministry is how to engage Hispanic families in the faith formation program for children. I will write a post about whether or not a separate or modified program is better at a later date. But for today, let’s consider how to get more families to participate. Often in the prevailing culture we offer a sign-up table at the back of church at the end of each mass and that’s the extent of our outreach. Since relationships are key in Hispanic cultures, consider adding an approach that builds relationships. Something that really helped me is visiting the homes of families that had not registered their children. I would take all the forms with me and go see them. Often times the barriers that were keeping people from coming were immediately apparent. Some examples were: lack of transportation since the father was working night shifts and mom didn’t drive, a low level of literacy and the parents couldn’t fill out the forms and a chaotic family life where nothing happens at a certain time. Sometimes the more urgent needs that became apparent had nothing to do with religion. I can’t tell you how many times during these visits people would say, “while you’re here, can you help me….” And they would proceed to bring out a big stack of medical bills they couldn’t decipher or the latest Medicaid mailing they didn’t understand about their kid’s medical card or a paper from school that needed to be filled out. By showing that I cared about what they cared about, I built relationships.
For more information on how to build community by taking advantage of cultural traditions during December see this blog post.
The Solution Takes Time
By focusing on relationships, we create trust and credibility. By taking the time to maintain harmony in an individual or group relationship, we are able to work together much more effectively. It’s not a quick fix, but over time those relationships lead to incredible levels of participation, belonging and ownership. In our parish today, we have a large group of committed parishioners who are quick to lend a hand or participate in whatever program or event is planned. But it was built over time, with countless home visits and personal interactions. Building relationships is the key ingredient for long-term success.