EGC data show that Boston has spawned more than 100 Hispanic evangelical churches in the past 40 years, up from just a handful in the 1970s. EGC's census also found 65 Haitian churches in greater Boston, including at least one with more than 500 members.
"A storefront church might not look that big, but they have 100 to 200 people coming each week," says Rudy Mitchell, a senior researcher at EGC. "A big old church might only have 50 people attending even though they have a big building."
Where growth is happening inside traditional denominations, such as at León de Judá, immigrant connections often play a central role. Half of the Southern Baptists' 325 churches in New England are non-English speaking. They worship instead in Spanish, Portuguese, or Haitian Creole.
What's more, internationally minded denominations are benefitting from having built churches, schools, and hospitals abroad for decades. Seventh-day Adventists operate more than 7,800 schools around the world. Thus, Brazilians who immigrate to Massachusetts often plug into a local Seventh-day Adventist church led by an immigrant pastor who knows their homeland and speaks their native language, according to Edwin Hernandez of the Center for the Study of Latino Religion at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind.
Immigrant vitality is driving growth in other more secular regions as well. Steve Lewis, academic dean at Bangor Theological Seminary, spent most of his career in Oregon, the sixth least religious state.
"The growth in churches in areas that are generally in decline are coming from ethnic congregations," says Mr. Lewis. "In Portland, Ore., there are churches with Romanians, Ukrainians, Eastern Europeans, and thousands of people go to them. You have churches in decline in that region, but these [ethnic] churches are buying warehouses and remodeling them."