As North Carolina becomes increasingly diverse, churches across the state are learning how to respond and serve in a multicultural context. Read below as Pastor Dimas Castillo shares his experience and advice about multicultural ministry.

As is the case in many portions of the United States, North Carolina is becoming increasingly diverse. 

According to recent census data, North Carolina’s Hispanic population has grown over the last decade from 8.4% to 10.7%, and the Asian population has gone from 2.2% to 3.3%. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s white population has dropped to 60.5%, down 5% since 2010. Recent projections have shown that North Carolina’s minority population will continue to grow, to the point that in 2050, nearly half the population will come from a minority race or ethnic group. 

What should ministry look like in our increasingly multicultural context? To answer that question, N.C. Baptists sat down with Dimas Castillo, pastor of Living Hope Community Church in Jacksonville, N.C., and chairman of the Communications Committee for the N.C. Baptist board of directors, to gather his perspective on our efforts to reach a diversifying North Carolina population.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background in ministry.

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and I came to the United States in 1984 when I joined the Navy. I didn’t speak any English then — I learned English when I was in the Navy. But I made a career there for 23 years and eventually ended up working as a worship director in South Carolina.

When we came to Jacksonville in 1997, there was no Hispanic work. So, my wife and I started doing Hispanic ministry here. We planted a church in 1998, and I was at that church all the way until 2018, when I became the senior pastor of Living Hope Community Church. I’ve had the opportunity to lead Hispanic work for 20 years as well as do some work at the association leading multicultural evangelism. 

You’ve shared that Living Hope is a diverse church, with a sizable Hispanic and Asian demographic. What role has your Hispanic heritage played in helping you minister at a multicultural church?

Hispanics have one commonality, which is the language, but we may have subcultures within our own culture. I’m from Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rican people have some cultural differences from people from Mexico, people from El Salvador, Honduras, and so on. So, as a Hispanic, I get to learn more about all these cultures.

Understanding other Hispanic cultures has helped me lead this church. It allows me to learn a little bit more about Japanese culture, Filipino culture or other cultures. I’ve learned to sit with them and talk to them. It’s helped me build bridges and develop relationships between people of different cultures and different ethnic backgrounds. 

What have been some blessings and challenges of pastoring a multicultural church?

One of the greatest blessings is being able to see people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds come together and worship God in unity. Being able to walk the building and see members having Sunday school class in Japanese. Being able to listen in Spanish as members do Hispanic ministry. Being able to learn about other people’s cultures. And the food when we have fellowships — man, we have fellowship. It is amazing. But being able to worship together is the greatest blessing.

The challenge for us is building relationships. It’s also a great, great blessing, but the challenges are there. You have to work hard. You have to be intentional to reach other cultures. It does not come naturally, so you have to preach it. You have to model it. You have to continue to tell people, “Hey, you know, we are one church. We are united. We want people in Christ. You know, when you get to heaven, there’s not gonna be a heaven for Hispanics, a heaven for Japanese, a heaven for Southern people, a heaven for Northern people. We’re gonna be in one place.” So trying to be intentional and motivate people to see the kingdom of heaven here on earth — it’s a challenge. 

We’ve seen that North Carolina has become increasingly multicultural and multiethnic over the past several years. What are some things churches can do to meet the needs of diversifying communities?

One of the things that I believe the church should do is intentionally seek the community that lives in their area. If you have Hispanics, go find someone who speaks the language. Maybe there’s a church down the street who has a Hispanic pastor. Maybe there’s a Hispanic congregation close by. How about partnering with that church and bringing someone to help you canvas the community? Leaders need to be intentional to look into resources from the community so that the church can reach them. 

It’s so important to know your community — know who they are. Look at the demographics of your community and see who lives within a mile or two from your church. And whatever the majority demographic turns out to be, reach out to those people, because those people need Jesus just like we do.

What advice would you give to young pastors who are looking to plant a church in a multicultural community?

First of all, pray. You have to pray. 

Second, begin to build relationships with the people in your community. Maybe there is an ethnic store or a convenience store in the area. Get to know the workers there, know the people there. Find out more information about the community, and then you intentionally seek them. 

And be truthful. You’ve got to be sincere. People who live in multicultural communities can sometimes feel suspicious or feel afraid to be close to you. That’s why it may be helpful to bring someone who speaks their language as you reach them. If you live in an area with a major Japanese population, for example, try to find someone who speaks Japanese and have them join you. If you try to go by yourself, sometimes they’ll be skeptical, and you don’t want that. You need to have a good reception from the individuals you’re trying to reach.

What other advice do you have for N.C. Baptists as we pursue multicultural ministry?

Just love them. Preach the gospel, share the gospel, be the gospel of Christ. We all have the same goal: to bring people to a relationship with Christ. Regardless of language, regardless of the status, everyone on earth needs Him.

There are so many people in North Carolina who come from different places around the world. I mean, I came from Puerto Rico, but I was welcomed here. The same thing should be true for everyone. If you find someone, welcome them into your church, and show them the gospel.