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Hispanic growth challenges Texas Baptists

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To understand the rapid growth of Texas today, imagine moving the entire population of Delaware to Texas.

That would be a start, because those people would represent only the growth in Texas’ Anglo population over the last decade.

Next, add the population of Wyoming, and that would represent the growth of African-Americans in Texas over the last 10 years.

Then add the population of Arkansas to represent the growth of Hispanics in Texas.

Clay Price, director of research for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, used these illustrations to explain the across-the-board population growth in Texas to a meeting of Baptist leaders Jan. 18. He spoke at the Baptist Standard’s office building to a group of Hispanic Baptist leaders, Baptist Standard staff members and board members.

While all segments of the Texas population are growing, the unprecedented growth of Hispanics presents the most far-reaching implications, Price reported.

Texas’ Hispanic population grew by 2.5 million people in the last decade alone, he noted. And that growth is predicted to continue.

While Anglos still constitute a majority of the Texas population, the Hispanic population is growing at more than eight times the rate of the Anglo population.

That means by 2010, Texas no longer will have a majority ethnic group. And somewhere between 2026 and 2035, Hispanics will constitute a majority for the first time, Price said.

Understanding the makeup of this emerging Hispanic majority population will be essential for Baptist ministry in Texas in the future, according to Price and an array of Hispanic Baptist leaders attending the meeting.

Hispanic leaders at the event affirmed that what Price demonstrated from data analysis reflects what they are seeing first-hand. And at times, they offered insight into how undocumented segments of the Hispanic population may eventually make the statistics even more dramatic.

For example, one participant noted that if a one-time immigration amnesty were offered to Mexican nationals now living in the United States, the reported Hispanic population of Texas could increase by an additional several million.

Using a series of maps and charts, Price demonstrated how the wave of increasing Hispanic population is sweeping from South Texas northward, so that by 2010 only a few Texas counties will have less than a 10 percent Hispanic population.

While the emerging Hispanic population impacts virtually all the state, South Texas and the major urban areas are feeling the change faster and stronger than elsewhere, Price said.

More than half the state’s Hispanic residents live in five counties: Harris, Bexar, Dallas, El Paso and Hidalgo. Each of those counties is home to more than 500,000 Hispanics; Harris County is home to more than 1 million.

As the Hispanic growth wave moves northward, it will produce some surprising results, Price said. For example, “by 2010, Dallas will have a largerHispanic population than San Antonio,” he said.

Texas Baptists have made some significant progress in reaching Hispanics with the gospel, Price acknowledged. But he insisted Texas Baptists are quickly being left behind in the population growth curve.

Only 2 percent of the state’s 6.7 million Hispanics are Baptists, he said. That compares to about 22 percent of the state’s Anglo population who are Baptists.

That means today, Texas Baptists are 10 times more effective in reaching Anglo residents than in reaching Hispanic residents.

The BGCT currently has one Hispanic church for every 5,900 Hispanic residents of the state, Price said. That compares to one Anglo BGCT church for every 3,000 Anglos in the general population and one BGCT church of any kind for every 3,650 people in the general population.

Ironically, the places where the church-to-population ratio is poorest for Hispanics are counties where the Hispanic population is growing fastest, he noted. For example, El Paso County has only one Hispanic church for every 21,000 Hispanic people.

Another major difference between the state’s Anglo and Hispanic populations that impacts church life is average age, he said. Texas Baptists as a group tend to be older Anglos, while the emerging Hispanic population in Texas is young.

Nearly 50 percent of the state’s Hispanics are under the age of 25, and more than 35 percent are younger than 18, Price said. That compares to 32 percent of the Anglo population under age 25 and about 43 percent of the black population under 25.

Both Price and the meeting’s Hispanic participants reported diverse challenges in addressing the language needs of the state’s Hispanics. Several participants talked about their observations that first- and second-generation Hispanics in Texas tend to speak mainly Spanish, while third-, fourth- and fifth-generation Hispanics have assimilated into English-language usage.

In the 2000 U.S. Census, 28 percent of all Texans over the age of 5 reported that Spanish is their primary language, compared to 68 percent for whom English is the primary language and 4 percent who speak another language.

Eight percent of Texans said they speak English “not well” or “not at all,” Price said. That represents 1.5 million people among the state’s 18.7 million who are age 5 and over.

Mark Wingfield is managing editor of the Baptist Standard.