Despite financial and immigration hurdles, ministries led by first-generation pastors are more effective than the average church plant, according to a new LifeWay study.

First-generation immigrants are leading the Latino evangelical expansion in the US—drawing in more unchurched believers and new converts than the average church plant, despite having smaller congregations, less funding, and tensions surrounding US immigration policy.

The study—sponsored by the Send Institute at Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center, funded by 12 denominations, and fielded by LifeWay Research—surveyed 218 Hispanic church plants along with “new ministry expressions” such as added campuses or church mergers. It found that 80 percent of their founding or lead pastors were born outside the US, as were two-thirds of their members on average.

The research was presented to 120 church planters and ministry leaders—half Hispanics—from 65 denominations at a summit at Wheaton College on Tuesday. It comes as the increasing flow of Latino immigrants to the US has sparked heated policy debate. (Note: In this article, Hispanic refers to the churches surveyed by LifeWay, while Latino refers people of Latin American descent, including from Brazil and Haiti.)

The Latino population is growing, especially in the South, where 59 percent of the 218 new congregations surveyed are located (half are Southern Baptist). And the evangelical faith is growing with it.

New Hispanic ministries saw an average of 53 first-time professions of faith over their first four years, according to the survey. Though they are typically smaller than the average church plant, they have about the same number of new converts per year, making them “evangelistically more effective per capita,” said LifeWay Research executive director Scott McConnell.

A quarter of attendees in new Hispanic congregations …

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