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Evangelization Across Cultures in the United States:
What to Do With the World Come to Us?

by David F. D'Amico


The results of the 1990 U.S. census were published widely by magazines, journals, and newspapers. A Washington Post release interpreted the data as an eye-opener for the white population. The white population continues to decline in the U.S. as Asians and Hispanics increased and moved to almost every region of the country. The white population fell from 83 percent in 1980 to about 80 percent in 1990.

Overall, the census showed a population gain of nearly 108 percent among Asians and Pacific Islanders, whose numbers grew from about 3.5 million in 1980 to 7.3 million [in 1990] or 2.9 percent up from 1.5 percent. Hispanics increased from 14.6 million to 22.4 million accounting for 9 percent of the population up from 6.4 percent a decade before, while blacks grew from 26.5 million to just under 30 million. 1

There are estimates that 6 million legal and 2 million undocumented immigrants came to the U.S. during the 1980's. The displacement of Europeans as a major immigrant group to the U.S. by Asian and Hispanics was a marked phenomenon of the decade of the 1980s. "The number of Asians, which doubled in the last decade to 7.3 million, will double again in 20 years' time, and will triple, to 21.5 million, by 2020." 2

Asian Americans

The Asian-American population in the United States has increased nearly 108 percent during the decade of the 1980's. The five largest Asian groups living in the U.S. are: Chinese, 1.6 million or 23%; Filipino, 1.4 million or 19%; Japanese, 847,000 or 11%; Korean, 798,000 or 11%; and Indian, 815,000 or 11%.3

Many choose to reside in urban centers of the U.S. An analysis of the 1990 census indicates that 46 percent of Asian-Americans live in central cities, 47.8 percent in suburbs, and 6.2 percent in rural areas. During the decade of the 1980s the traditional bastions of Asian-American population--Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York--experienced increases of 138%, 104%, and 136% respectively, while Washington D.C. and Houston experienced 144% and 149% increases respectively. The largest Asian-American population in the U.S. is found in Los Angeles with 2.5 million.4

The socio-economic status of Asians will affect strategies for cross-cultural evangelization in the U.S. Since 1965 Asian immigrants have been professionals. In the 1980s the median income of Japanese, Filipino, and Asian Indian was higher than the median income for whites. "Today, about 40 percent of the immigrants come from the Asian Pacific nations. Asians have been singled out as the `most successful' group among contemporary immigrants to the United States." 5

On account of the abilities of Asian-Americans to succeed educationally and economically, many of them have experienced discrimination by neighboring minorities. A case in point was the urban riots in Los Angeles in April 1992 where Korean-American merchants were victims of destruction by their African-American and Hispanic neighbors.6

A recurrent theme highlighted by the media is the high achievement level in education attained by Asian-Americans. There are people in both extremes of the spectrum. Three times more Asians than whites are likely not to complete elementary education, and the percentage of Asian college graduates doubles that of whites. The highest proportion of Asians with college degrees are Asian Indians with 52 percent, Filipino with 37 percent, and Chinese with 36.6 percent. 7

The use of language in Asian-American households displays interesting characteristics. Sixty percent of Asians prefer to speak their native language at home, while 30.4 percent use American English at home, although only 59.8 percent speak it well. 8

Raymond Bakke declared: " . . . the earth is rapidly moving toward urbanization and Asianization. The power shifts are from Atlantic to Pacific; from rural to urban." The gospel about an Asian-born refugee baby Jesus must be proclaimed with new appreciation "in a world of massive migration where Chinese, Japanese, Indians and other Asians in urban diaspora on six continents have become the twenty-first century equivalents of first century Jews." 9


According to the U.S. Census Bureau the Hispanic population in the United States is divided as follows: 52 percent or approximately 13.5 million are of Mexican descent; 24 percent or approximately 6.2 million are of Puerto Rican descent (both in the island and in the mainland); 20 percent or approximately 5 million are "Other Hispanics"; and 4 percent or approximately 1 million are of Cuban descent.10 During the decade of the 1980s the Hispanic population grew 53 percent. The Hispanic population has spread to all fifty states. Only seven states experienced decrease in Hispanic population, while forty three states experienced considerable growth, including the states where Hispanic population is greater (California, 69 percent; Texas, 45 percent; Florida, 83 percent; and New York, 33 percent). Two-thirds of the Hispanic population in the U. S. live in three states: California (7.6 million), Texas (4.3 million), and New York (2.2 million).

The challenge of cross-cultural evangelization in major urban centers of the U. S. is dramatized by the fact that the Hispanic population increased during the 1980s in twenty metropolitan areas. A sampling of some major cities revealed the following increases in "traditionally" Hispanic centers, all of them with growth above seventy percent: Dallas-Fort Worth: 109 percent; San Diego: 86 percent; Los Angeles: 73 percent; Houston: 72 percent; and Miami: 71 percent.11

From among the many characteristics of the Hispanic population three are mentioned here for their relationship to evangelization: age, educational attainment, and family income. The Hispanic population is younger than the non-Hispanic population. The median age of the Hispanic origin population in 1991 was 26.2 years, in comparison with 33.8 of the non-Hispanic population. Cubans are the oldest while Mexicans are the youngest--at 24.3 years.12

Regarding educational attainments, Hispanics made modest gains in the 1980's.

The proportion of Hispanics who had completed 4 years of high school or more was about 46 percent in 1983 and about 51 percent in 1991. In 1983, 8 percent of Hispanics had completed 4 or more years of college compared to about 10 percent in 1991.13

Other significant elements that impact one's view of cross-cultural evangelization among Hispanics in the United States are the educational level of Hispanic youth, the rate of school dropouts, and the proportion of those who complete a level of schooling commensurate with the population at large. Only four of ten Hispanic teens live in families headed by a parent with a high school diploma. In 1988 there were six dropouts for every ten high school graduates, and half of the Hispanics dropouts who are 16 to 24 years old have not completed ninth grade.14

The family income of Hispanics is considerably lower than that of the general population. Median income among Hispanics is higher among Cubans ($31,400) than Puerto Ricans ($18,000). The median income of non-Hispanic families in the U. S. is $36,300.15

Cultural Enclaves

In major urban centers of the U. S. there exist what I shall call cultural or ethnic "enclaves": "territorial or culturally distinct units enclosed within foreign territory."16 These units have developed on account of economic circumstances such as housing, jobs availability, cultural common interests, and family networks. City planners and urbanologists consider these enclaves almost exclusively from the perspective of economics and politics.17 World evangelization strategists perceive them as a reality in which they must seek to plant new congregations.

Enclaves among foreign born evangelicals in urban centers are more than geographical configurations. They are part and parcel of a community that is built by persons of common language, concerns, and ideals. In general terms ethnic congregations develop their networks through their pastors or through the influence that a beginning or founding congregation of that culture group has had on the others. Cross-cultural evangelization strategists must become familiar and work effectively with these informal/formal networks.

Depending on one's background and life history, one will be better prepared to understand cultural enclaves. Cultural consciousness becomes a significant component in understanding cultural enclaves. In world evangelization Christian workers ministering across cultures are forced, by the type of setting, to become culturally conscious by means of orientation and language studies. Others, especially those serving in urban centers, learn by confrontation.18

The issue is not whether but when one should relate to a cultural enclave. In many churches in the United States cultural enclaves are all grouped together and given some notoriety in a world mission setting. The standard fare is a periodic meeting including (1) a parade of flags, (2) reading of the Bible by someone in his or her native language, (3) displaying persons dressed in their national attire, (4) having people prepare ethnic food and having a good fellowship. I am convinced this approach is out of date. Another process utilized in dealing with cultural enclaves is designating geographical zones in which they may be included. Churches of cultural enclaves network on the bases of persons, families, common needs, traditions, and shared commitments rather than on geography.

Cross-cultural evangelism strategists alert to work for productive kingdom building should in the near future visit with leaders, learning from them about their customs and patterns; seek a common vehicle to meet needs surfaced by them; develop programs according to their schedules; and rely on insiders who can evaluate honestly. The theological and anthropological dilemmas faced by many relate to one's view of culture and how it ought to be changed by the principles of the gospel. H. Richard Niebuhr developed a classic treatment of Christ "against," "in," and "above" culture in his book, Christ and Culture.19 Charles Kraft amplifies that discussion and provides illuminating insights into the areas of the transmission of Christianity including the principle of "equivalence translation." 20 Ministry to persons of other cultures always includes the realm of caring and counseling, especially as displaced and refugee persons move to our cities and become desperate. Without proper guidance sincere ministers can limit missionary opportunities.21

Marvin K. Mayers discusses a significant number of anthropological principles that are pertinent to understand cultural enclaves. In cross-cultural evangelization persons will face culture shock, practice ethnocentrism, deal with cultural absolutism or relativism, and seek to enforce the norm.22

Some basic elements of research can be helpful in discovering, understanding, and relating to cultural enclaves. The first one is demographic studies. Census data, marketing analysis, population shifts that are apparent every time one visits certain neighborhoods, and related items, need to be considered seriously. Dialogue with urban resource persons in government, the school systems, and the media can assist one to acquire considerable data to deal with cultural enclaves. Socio-economic and educational studies are available in communities with ethnic diversity.

I. Evangelization Across Cultures in the United States

II. Understanding the Context

III. Selected Data of Cross-Cultural Evangelization

IV. Analysis of Selected Cultural/Ecclesiological Enclaves

V. Envisioning the Future: Theological Issues

VI. Envisioning the Future: Missiological Issues

VII. Envisioning the Future: Ecclesiological Issues


1. "Census Shows Rapid Change in Nation's Ethnic Profile." The Courier

Journal, March 11, 1991, p. A3.

2. Felicity Barringer, "As American as Apple Pie, Dim Sum or Burritos," The New York Times, May 31, 1992, p. 2E. See also, Roberto Suro, "When Minorities Start Becoming Majorities," The New York Times, June 23, 1991, p. B12.

3. "Asian American Demographics," The American Enterprise, Nov-Dec, 1991, p. 87.

4. Commerce News, U. S. Census Bureau, July 5, 1991, p. 14.

5. Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1989), p. 22.

6. Celia W. Dugger, "U. S. Study Says Asian-Americans Face Widespread Discrimination," The New York Times, February 29, 1992, pp. 1, 5. See Civil Rights Issues Facing Asian Americans in the 1990s, (Washington, D. C.: Commission of Civil Rights, U. S. Government Printing Office, 1992).

7. Language Church Extension Division, HMB, SBC, American Asians (Atlanta: Home Mission Board, SBC, 1990), pp. 45-46. See also Fox Butterfield, "Asians Spread across a Land, and Help Change It," The New York Times, February 24, 1991, p. 14.

8. Ibid.

9. Raymond J. Bakke, "A Theology as Big as the City," Urban Mission 6: 5 (May, 1989), 9.

10. Commerce News, U. S. Census Bureau, June 12, 1991, p. 10.

11. Commerce News, U. S. Census Bureau, July 5, 1991, p. 15.

12. U. S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P-20, No. 455, The Hispanic Population in the United States: March 1991 (Washington, D. C.: U. S. Printing Office, 1991), p. 2.

13. Ibid.

14. Luis Duany and Karen Pittman, Latino Youths at Crossroads (Washington, D. C.: Children's Defense Fund, 1990), p. 5.

15. Ibid., p. 7.

16. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 409.

17. Raymond A. Mohl, "The Transformation of Urban America since the Second World War," in Raymond A. Mohl, Robert Fisher, Robert B. Fairbanks, and Zane L. Miller, eds. Essays on Sunbelt Cities and Recent Urban America (College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press, 1990), p. 23, declares that since 1967 thirteen cities have black mayors and since "the mid-1980s Hispanic mayors had been elected in Miami, Tampa, San Antonio, and Denver."

18. Miami has experienced, perhaps among major American cities, one of the most explosive and rapid cultural, economic, and political upheavals leading to unprecedented confusion among Baptist churches and the Miami Baptist Association. For the implications of immigration and politics in Miami, see Raymond A. Mohl, "Ethnic Politics in Miami, 1960-1986," in Randall M. Miller and George E. Pozzetta, eds. Shades of the Sunbelt: Essays on Ethnicity, Race, and the Urban South (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988), pp. 143-60, and Christopher L Warren and John F. Stack, Jr., "Immigration and the Politics of Ethnicity and Class in Metropolitan Miami," in John F. Stack, Jr., ed., The Primordial Challenge: Ethnicity in the Contemporary World (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986), pp. 61-79.

19. H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper, 1951).

20. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity and Culture (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1979), pp. 103-115, and 267-290.

21. See, David W. Augsburger, Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986).

22. Marvin K. Mayers, Christianity Confronts Culture: A Strategy for Cross Cultural Evangelism. Revised and Enlarged edition. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1987), pp. 109-179. Mayers, Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies and World Mission at Biola University, provides significant case studies dealing with the anthropological principles listed.

(c)Review and Expositor, 90 (Winter, 1993): 83-99; Used with permission.

Please send comments, questions, responses to the author at: 103063.3542@Compuserve.com

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