The Latin American Church

It is fairly common for Americans to believe that the West is the major exporter of new ideas and trends around the world. For instance, Mark Noll believes that “understanding American patterns provides insight for what has been happening elsewhere in the world.”[1] Although he does not believe this is due to direct causation, he does believe it is a correlative effect. However, this way of thinking ignores that what has mostly been a one-way street of ideas, missionaries, and movements coming to Latin America is actually a stream which flows both ways.[2] Because of this we must understand how Latin American emigration is changing the shape of Christianity in the United States.

According to Philip Jenkins “by 2050 Latinos will make up about a quarter of the national population,” with the vast majority of these Latinos coming from a Christian background.[3] Currently in the United States there are 37.5 million Latinos (not including undocumented immigrants and Puerto Ricans).[4] If we begin to study immigration trends we see that immigration to the U.S. has been predominantly Christian[5] with many of these immigrants coming from the “new centers of faith”: Africa and Latin America[6]. These immigrants are impacting how American Christians understand their faith. For instance we might look at the American Catholic Church which is currently importing priests from Latin America and Spain due to shortages in priests.[7] This has led to the Virgin Mary, which was seldom seen in the North American Catholic church up until the 1980’s, to be venerated throughout the United States.[8] If we look at the Protestant church we see the difference Latinos have made as well. In many places throughout the U.S. it was fairly common to see abandoned American churches, however now those churches have been put to use again by Latino Christians who have moved into the area. In addition to this many American churches are seeing church growth due to growth in their Hispanic congregations.[9]

If Christianity from Latin America is becoming influential in the United States we need to understand the major theological themes that the Latin American church is dealing with at home. These two issues are 1-poverty and oppression and 2-charismatic Christianity.


[1] Mark A. Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 189.

[2] Odina E. González and Justo González, Christianity in Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 302.

[3] Philip Jenkins, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 284.

[4] González and González, Christianity in Latin America, 304.

[5] Jenkins, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis, 284.

[6] Jehu Hanciles, “God’s Mission through Migration: African Initiatives in Globalizing Mission,” in Evangelical, Ecumenical, and Anabaptist Missiologies in Conversation, ed James Krabill, Walter Sawatsky, and Charles Van Engen (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2006), 59.

[7] González and González, Christianity in Latin America, 305.

[8] González and González, Christianity in Latin America, 304-5.

[9] González and González, Christianity in Latin America, 307.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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