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Local church considers adopting Hispanic ministry

The demographics of Russellville continue to change.

Ethnic breakdown of last year's kindergarten class at West Elementary School saw 52 percent of the 213 students classified as Hispanic. Nearly 45 percent of Russellville City Schools' enrollment, as reported by parents and/or guardians, are Hispanic.

Meanwhile, the decline in African-American students continues in Russellville City Schools; with just over four percent of this year's first-grade class classified as African-American, those numbers are at an all-time low.

Growth in the Hispanic community is not merely a trend in Russellville. Instead, it is a reality that smart businessmen and women will embrace and incorporate into their business strategy.

The same is true with churches. And one of Russellville's largest churches may soon move in that direction as officials at First Baptist Church of Russellville are considering creating a Spanish ministry.

“We've been looking at ways to engage the Hispanic community since I've been here,” said FBC pastor Patrick Martin. “I befriended a Hispanic pastor in town, and we've prayed for ways we can better serve the Hispanic community.”

Martin recently held a town hall forum with FBC Russellville members to gauge the congregation's interest in starting the Hispanic ministry.

“There was definitely some interest," Martin said. "We have some questions and things that need to be answered. We're probably a few months away from doing anything, but the interest was there."

Before the idea was presented to the church body, Martin met with his deacons.

“We didn't want to even broach this unless we had deacon support," he said. "I just wanted to get an idea where they were. All the deacons in attendance gave a hundred percent support. There was no division in the church on this.

“When you have a town hall forum and people express concerns, some may say that's division, but that's not true at all. Just because they had some questions or concerns doesn't mean they were against the idea."

Jason Pierce, a First Baptist deacon, said he believes the idea of a Hispanic ministry is something that would be effective.

“We all want to be Christ-like, and this is Christ's church. I think this is a really good thing,” Pierce said. “A church should look like its community.”

Martin said First Baptist's student ministry has been working to build bridges with the Hispanic community the last couple years.

“Students go to a school in a system already nearly half Hispanic," Martin said. "We're looking to try and build some inroads. Our desire is for our church to look like our community. We don't want to be isolated from the community. Obviously, we have a long way to go to get to that point. We've started praying how to best facilitate that.

“God really dropped this in our lap when I got to know a guy who's conservative, evangelical and part of a church looking to join the Southern Baptist Convention. There's not a lot of that in Russellville. So we started praying together. You need some folks already in that community to help foster trust, and this is a natural fit for us."

Martin said no specific details have been worked out, but the ministry would likely involve a Spanish language service similar in message to the English service—one church in two languages.

“I know a lot of our Hispanic friends who come to Russellville looking for work speak very little English. Put them in an English speaking worship service and they won't get a lot out of it,” Martin said. “If this materializes, we would probably start with a Spanish-speaking worship service, with the idea down the road to integrate more. Just because you're worshiping in a second room doesn't make it a separate church.

“We'll look at this as a ministry of our church, meaning they will be a part of our church."

FBC officials will continue work on the best way to proceed with the Spanish ministry, and Martin said it would likely not begin before 2018.

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