More and more churches are discovering that one of the sources for growth is among first-generation (newly arrived) immigrants. The Southern Baptist Convention LifeWay research program recently released a study of Evangelical denominations and parachurch ministries involved in planting churches and starting service ministries in immigrant communities. The 74 denominations and ministries currently have 3,757 missionaries involved in ministry with immigrants. Half of those have 12 or fewer missionaries involved.
Three quarters of these immigrant church planters and social workers are involved with Hispanic immigrants. More than half are involved with immigrants from Mexico. The largest involved with non-Hispanic groups is among Koreans.
But church growth among immigrants seems to be slowing down. Most of these denominations and ministries report that they have about the same number in attendance as last year or a modest increase. Growth is around 10 percent in the last year among immigrants from Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam, Cambodia, Sudan, Taiwan and Mexico. Other immigrant communities have significantly less growth.
Immigrants are often seen to be more receptive to the gospel than native-born Americans. Respondents in this survey report that overall average receptivity among first generation immigrants is 3.4 on a five-point scale, or a little above the midpoint between "not receptive at all" (1) and "very receptive" (5). I am not aware of any comparable data about native-born Americans, so it is difficult to know precisely what this means, but it does appear that those actually involved in church planting and social services among immigrants may not currently experience the same kind of receptive attitudes that has long been reputed.
The highest levels of receptivity were reported among immigrants from Ecuador and Guatemala and the lowest among immigrants from Iran and Iraq. There are also 51 immigrant communities (out of 202 in the U.S.) among which none of these denominations or ministries are making any attempt to work, although 55 percent of the organizations report that they plan to move into new people groups in the next three years.
Denominations in addition to the Southern Baptist Convention who were included among these data are the Assemblies of God, The Wesleyan Church, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Church of the Nazarene, United Methodist Church, Foursquare Gospel Church, and Presbyterian Church in America.