Month: September 2007

New website gives platform to share faith story with strangers, friends

You’re walking out of a Starbuck’s one day and you strike up a conversation with a fellow customer. As it happens, the conversation turns spiritual; maybe the lady who orders the Quad Grande Americano every morning just lost her aunt.

Suddenly, God grants you an opportunity to share your conversion experience. But alas, the barista calls out her drink, she grabs it, and heads for her eight o’clock. You manage to get in a short, “I’ll pray for you,” before she goes.

“Only if I had more time,” runs through your mind.

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has launched a new website to help Christians share their stories with the world, This website offers non-Christians an opportunity to read the testimonies of many believers’ journeys to salvation.

“A lost person finds a testimony a more personal reason to become a Christian,” said Jack Harris, SBTC senior associate for personal and event evangelism. “It is not just us giving them the facts of salvation.” was inspired by a website that the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma created several years ago.

“We were talking about how we could expand the number of people whom we influence,” Harris said, “and someone mentioned that the Oklahoma state convention had done a website. We liked the idea of a global audience” that a website could reach.

“These days everyone is Internet savvy. This website is not just an opportunity for someone surfing the Internet.” Harris said. “It is a tool that Christians can use in order to share the gospel easier.” opens at a general page that presents a video of several people’s personal stories. The video explains how one can become a Christian. But this site offers more than this one story; it gives Christians an opportunity to create their own personal story page.

Any Christian can log in and create his own page, telling his own personal story. provides cards to be downloaded and printed off with the personal testimony link. These cards can be handed out to people and they can access one’s personal story. also offers web banners that anyone can download onto a website. These banners offer Christians a way to share their faith on their websites.

When that woman at Starbucks grabs her coffee and is headed on her way out the door, instead of feeling rushed and losing an opportunity to share, just hand her a card, Harris said. She will be able to look up a testimony and see how God can work his power in a person’s life.

Texas population shifting to major urban centers

SAN ANTONIO?Like it or not, Texas, you have an urban future.

Fueled by steady immigration and a rural population drain, Texas’ major city centers have seen explosive growth in the past decade. Urbanization is rapidly transforming Texas’ rural landscape into a state of globally interconnected cities filled with people of diverse culture and languages. As the majority of the state shifts to cities, Southern Baptists will be faced with unique challenges for missions, church structure, and even theology in the next decade.

As a worldwide phenomenon, urbanization is not isolated to the Lone Star state.

The 2005 UN World Urbanization Prospects Report said the 20th century is witnessing the rapid urbanization of the world. The world’s urban populations grew from 13 percent (220 million) in 1900, to 29 percent (732 million) in 1950, to 49 percent (3.2 billion) in 2005. By 2030, the UN predicts 60 percent of the earth’s population (4.9 billion) will live in major cities.

Mirroring global population trends, Texas gained 4 million people to 21.7 million residents between 1992-2002, according to a recent article in the San Antonio Business Journal. In 2002, it was estimated that about two-thirds of all Texans lived in the state’s six largest metro areas (Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio). As the U.S. Census Bureau estimates Texas’ current population at 24 million and growing, the urbanization of Texas’ major city centers is likely to continue in the next decade.

Responding to urbanization must become a priority for Southern Baptist churches, says Fred Hewett of the North American Mission Board’s church planting division.

“You cannot adequately address the need for reaching and planting churches among the urban populations,” he said, calling on all Baptists to consider the needs of their city. “[We] must recognize that most of the lost live in the heart of our cities.”

Yet statistics indicate Texas churches are not keeping up with the state’s population growth. NAMB’s Center for Missional Research (CMI) and the American Church Project reported that urbanization has only widened the gulf between Baptist churches and Texas residents. The report, conducted between 1990-2000, showed only 19 percent of all Texans attended Sunday worship services.

In the Dallas-Fort-Worth area, only 18.9 percent of the area’s total population attended church. Despite 384 new church plants in the metro area, the report estimated 711 more churches were needed to keep up with population growth.

In Austin, population growth outpaced growth among all major denominations. Only 8 percent of Austin residents attended worship services, leaving 83 percent of the population without a church home. Overall, Austin saw a 14 percent decline in attendance at evangelical churches. Although 77 new churches were planted, the area needed 415 new churches to balance out the city’s new growth.

In Houston, the Roman Catholic church grew rapidly over the last decade, in part from Hispanic migration, which grew from 21 to 30 percent of the total population. Montgomery and Fort Bend counties saw the most growth in Catholic attendance with 105.4 percent and 60.2 percent, respectively.
Despite the planting of 239 evangelical churches, 817 churches were still needed to equalize the population to church ratio.

In San Antonio, however, attendance at evangelical worship services increased in four counties: Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe, and Wilson. Although 40 percent of the city attended a Catholic church and 17 percent attended a Baptist church, the report indicated a 12 percent increase in attendance at evangelical worship services. Yet San Antonio still needed 211 churches to keep up with population growth.

Urbanization is touching every region in Texas. Along with major metropolitan areas, rural residents are also feeling the impact of this societal phenomenon. In a separate report titled “Twelve Important Changes in the American Church,” the CMI noted churches are declining faster in rural and small towns than in suburban and urban areas.

Robby Partain, director of missions for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said mission strategies should consider the exit of a younger demographic from rural Texas.

“The cities are where the young people are, because that’s where the economic opportunity is,” Partain said. “The farther down (younger) you go into the generational strata, the less people attend church or even have a favorable view of organized religion.”

Partain said a good North American missions strategy will seek to influence the lost among young populations in metropolitan areas.

“If you’re a church in an urban context, urban missions should be on your front burner,” he said.
“The worst methodology is usually ‘build it and they will come’ because lost people are not looking for a cool church to attend,” Partain said. “You have to rediscover your missionary calling as a church and then go to the lost in your community. Figure out how to connect with them, bless them and share Jesus with them.”

But for churches looking to create a strategy to respond to urbanization, there are some unique challenges to consider.

Missiological Challenge
In his book “Theology as Big as the City,” pastor and urbanization guru Ray Bakke identifies some of the major challenges of an urban reality. First, Bakke believes the urban challenge is missological as the frontier of international missions has shifted to inside the borders of the United States.

“From now on nearly all ministry will be cross-cultural amid the urban pluralism caused by the greatest migration in human history from Southern hemispheres to the North, from East to West and, above all, from rural to urban,” said Bakke, who has pastored and served in inner-city churches for nearly 30 years.

In Texas, urbanization is introducing a host of new cultures and languages. Between 2000-2004, 34 percent of the state’s new population growth stemmed from immigrants. Census statistics indicate 31.2 percent of Texas currently speaks another language other than (or in addition to) English at home. And currently, the U.S. English Foundation estimates there are more than 145 languages spoken in Texas.

“The majority of the world’s non-Christians will not be geographically distant peoples,” Bakke said. Rather, they will be “culturally distant peoples who often reside together within the shadows of urban spires in the metro areas of [almost] every continent.”

Ecclesiastical Challenge
Second, urbanization presents an ecclesiastical challenge as churches consider what ministries to offer urban populations.

“The needs of the urban population are greater than ever,” said Bakke, citing the crack-cocaine epidemic, violence, homelessness, and HIV-AIDS.

And while churches may keep the same foundational functions (worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, and service,) Bakke believes the church must learn to appropriately contextualize the gospel message to an urban audience.

“Most Christians still read the Bible through rural lenses. Furthermore, the evangelical church seems to be retreating even further from seeing our God as one who engages external-world reality to seeing one who meets our personal needs and solves our personal problems,” he said, noting the tension between evangelism and social aid.

“Yet the Bible clearly describes a God who is completely interested and involved in both the structures and the individuals that compose society,” said Bakke, arguing that the most effective urban strategies balance for both spiritually transforming people and socially transforming places.

Theological Challenge

Bluebonnet Association church plants reaching out to new Texas populations

SAN ANTONIO?The absence of a major metropolitan center makes the Bluebonnet Baptist Association an unlikely illustration of urbanization and its effects on the Texas mission field. But located along the I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio, its 70 churches reach into the suburbs that are edging out from their metropolitan neighbors.

In Texas, urbanization is introducing Baptists to a host of missiological challenges including overwhelming population growth and the arrival of new ethnic groups. And from his central Texas vantage point, Bluebonnet Director of Missions J.K. Minton sees urbanization as one of the most significant issues facing the modern American church.

“For the most part, existing churches do not recognize the reality of urbanization,” Minton said. “We are prone to view ourselves through pre-1960 eyes and think our church prospects are still primarily a white, middle-class, conservative, Ozzie and Harriet demography. Because we do not recognize the change in our culture and have limited our evangelistic vision and efforts, most of our existing churches [have] plateaued, struggling to maintain their numbers.”

As Southern Baptists find themselves unexpectedly tied to the social and theological implications of urbanization, Minton said many existing churches lack the resources to address the new population shifts.

“This reality has caused Bluebonnet Association to give significant priority to church planting targeting specific people groups,” he said, citing church plants as the most effective evangelism strategy for urbanization.

The Connection, Kyle
The town of Kyle is a clear example of how urbanization is bringing the city outward to smaller towns. A typical small town, Kyle registered 2,093 residents in 1980. Today, it has grown to 28,000 thanks to the migration of populations from San Antonio and Austin. In the next three years, its population is expected to double again (See for more details.).

The unprecedented population growth is what attracted church planter Cole Phillips to Kyle.
“Austin is moving this direction, and Kyle has seen a 300 percent increase over the past five years in population,” he said. “There is nothing but rooftops.”

In September 2004, Phillips led 145 people in the plant’s first worship service. Last week, The Connection celebrated its third birthday and averages 450 on Sunday mornings. In the last three years, the plant has baptized 100 people.

Although there are more people in the area, Phillips said their church battles the lack of community.
“Even though we are around more and more people, we are still isolated and feel more alone,” he explained, using the term “crowded loneliness.”

“Everybody has their garages. They push their garage door-opener and drive into the garage, and they don’t have to interact with their neighbors,” he said. “You can really go through life without interacting and meeting your neighbors. So even though there is nothing but rooftops, we still find that people don’t know how to connect.”

Phillips’ sees The Connection as a conduit for neighborhood evangelism.

“At The Connection Church we want to provide opportunities and environments to develop real, authentic relationships that are really impacting their lives,” he said. “The local church is a great place to lead our people to be intentional about getting out into the neighborhoods and to meet their neighbors.”

The push for living an intentional life comes from the church’s small groups that meet weekly in church members’ homes rather than at the church.
“There is a great mission field out there, and the best way that we’ve found to reach people is through relationships,” Phillips said.

Yet Phillips acknowledged that it is often difficult to motivate believers to engage their neighbors, especially when they are from a different culture or speak a different language.

“The population is only going to continue to change, and you’ve got to keep up with what’s going on,” he said. “To keep our finger on the pulse of the demographic, we try to make sure we include people in leadership who reflect those changes.”

Reflecting the diversity of its community, The Connection is 40 percent Hispanic, with a mix of Caucasian, African-American, and Asian faces. Because of the different ethnic groups that comprise the congregation, Phillips said he focuses on the universal needs of people.

“We teach on the kinds of teaching Jesus did?when he talked about marriage and money and things that everybody struggles with,” he said. “When you focus on basic needs that are relevant to any culture, when you have a place where you are loved and cared about, people are drawn to that. People want to be a part of a place that is making a difference in lives.”

For existing churches that are watching the face of their neighborhoods change, Phillips gave a few suggestions.

“Visit some other churches that are setting the standard and effectively reaching out [to a different] culture,” he said. “Don’t hide in your office. Get out where the people are and be relational. The pastor sets the personality, pulse, and passion of the church.”

To aid other churches in engaging their communities, Phillips began a church planting website called Launching Churches. The website,, acts as a coaching network for pastors with ideas for ministry, marketing helps, and other downloadable resources.

Ethnic church plants, like most, thrive on relationships, community building

SAN ANTONIO?Relational evangelism is center stage at Fellowship Community Church, a church plant located on the south side of San Antonio, where the population is 90 percent Hispanic. Founded in 2005, Fellowship Community Church was planted by Josh Tapia to reach San Antonio’s growing English-speaking Hispanic population. Tapia began the church after noticing that many of its residents
were traveling to the city’s north side for Sunday worship services.

“Our target was to get them into Sunday School and to reach the lost,” Tapia said. Today, the church has a strong core of 65 people and holds worship services in a well-known community center.

Depending on the weather, new believers are baptized in the Frio River at Garner State Park or in a large trough in the gym of the community center.

The advantage of operating out of a community center has been two-fold. First, costs are kept to a minimum. Second, the church is planted in the midst of the people. Every Tuesday evening, church members distribute bottled water in the nearby parks.

“We get there at 7 or 8 and we’ll pass out 100 bottles of water in 45 minutes,” Tapia said.
The group hands out cards with the church’s information on it to hundreds of people who gather to play basketball, take their children to the playground, and walk the grounds.

“This is where most churches miss it,” Tapia said. “We are connecting with them outside of the building. A lot of churches set up a great building, but we are engaging them where they are. And the fruit of that will be well worth it.”

But after spending time in the parks and the surrounding neighborhoods, Tapia said he began to notice Fellowship was failing to reach out to the city’s newest demographic.

“With urbanization there is one need we cannot ignore?the Spanish-speaking immigrants who are flooding the south side,” he said. “As much as I’ve tried to stay focused on English-speaking
Hispanics, I cannot ignore any longer the need to reach these Spanish-speakers.”

After realizing that the church’s numerous outreach efforts in the parks were doing little to entice Spanish-speakers to worship services, the church began to pray about offering a Sunday morning service in Spanish. Tapia said the new service will launch at the end of September.

“Our prayer is that God will provide what we will need to do it,” he said, “We want to reach people for the King. We are in a perfect situation to begin.”

Although many on the church staff are bilingual, Tapia knows that language can be a powerful barrier to ministry. “Language is key,” he said, explaining that people like to spend time with people who are similar to them.

“Normally when you go and find a Spanish-speaking family, you’ll also find a bunch of Spanish-speaking families surrounding them. They have a sense of community which is very interesting, because the church is about being a community. If we can become part of their community and introduce Christ, that would be a great thing.”

For churches looking to minister cross-culturally but do not possess language skills, Tapia suggested ministering to children first. “The children of immigrants are going to school and picking up English pretty quickly,” he said. “If you get the kids, you’ll get the parents.”

Tapia also suggested that churches near inner cities seek out parks or apartment complexes with pools for servant evangelism activities.

“You can go every week and take sno-cones for the kids, and as you are there you build relationships. Language is not necessary for that. Soon, the kid will become the mediator between his parent and the servant evangelist.”

Asian Mission
Christian Fellowship
Beyond Spanish-speakers, San Antonio’s Asian population is also on the rise. Accounting for only 2 percent of the current population, the figures have doubled in the past 10 years, according to 2005 U.S. Census information. In an effort to engage San Antonio’s growing Laotian and Thai populations, Asian Mission Christian Fellowship was planted on the city’s east side in 2003 by Sisavath Ketsatha.

Ketsatha was a member of Alamo City Christian Fellowship when God burdened his heart for his fellow Laotian and Thai residents in San Antonio, who were separated from Texas churches by language and culture.

“My church is a mixed population,” Ketsatha explained. “We have Lao, Thai, Cambodian, Philippine, and some others.” The church averages 40 to 50 members, and Sunday services are held in two languages.

Desiring to share the gospel in his people’s heart language, Ketsatha preaches in two languages. “I preach five minutes in Lao and five minutes in Thai,” he said, adding that he tries to finish the sermon in 40 minutes even though he is alternating between two languages.

The church also offers new member classes in Thai and English and other classes held in Lao. Making sure that all members have their own Bibles, Kethsatha hopes to emphasize a life of witnessing and evangelism to new community members. Most of the Asian Mission members come from transfer growth, immigrating to the U.S. by way of California. But when they finally arrive in Texas, Ketsatha is ready with open arms.

“If I know a family [has moved here], I go visit them,” he said, getting excited at the prospect. “I love that! I tell them about my church.”

In sharing with Asian people groups, Ketsatha often contends with Buddhism, a task he doesn’t view as very difficult with the strength of the gospel on his side. “I use the Bible to make disciples,” he said, choosing to keep his methods uncomplicated. “I just share the gospel.”

Jim O’Neal, associate pastor at Alamo City Christian Fellowship, encouraged Ketsatha when he first committed to plant the Asian Mission. “A church should look and smell and taste like where it’s planted,” he said. “Jesus is the only constant.”

O’Neal has watched Ketsatha grow from a mission-minded church member to a passionate church planter.

“Those people are his ethnos, and he is an example of just being faithful to where you’re called,” O’Neal said.

In the decades to come, successfully fulfilling the Great Commission in Texas will prove difficult if churches do not reach out to some of the state’s new people groups.

“We are tied to the homogeneity principle of church growth,” Bluebonnet Association’s J.K. Minton said. “We are focused on reaching our own kind. Our existing churches generally have neither the priority nor the resources to significantly address the cross-cultural challenges presented by urbanization.”

Minton noted a second challenge of urbanization?attitudes in the church regarding immigration.
“We often exhibit a rather condescending attitude toward other ethnicities, particularly those who are non-professionals,” he said. “These attitudes are obvious and demonstrate that ‘these people’ are not welcome in our congregation.”

Additionally, ethnic groups place greater value on community over an individualistic lifestyle, Minton said.

“They tend to have a much greater regard for what other members of their community [or] family think or do,” Minton said. “They are very hesitant to change their family religion or heritage. Therefore, our evangelistic efforts to target the individual, rather than the group, have been fairly ineffective.”

To address some of these social and cultural obstacles, the Bluebonnet Association seeks to empower church planters of different ethnicities “who are sensitive and equipped to reaching their own kind.”

“The focus and intention of strategic church plants is to develop multicultural and multi-ethnic members,” Minton said, noting that the association has two additional elements to help churches deal with urbanization.

Look past urban myths to love your city, urban minister says in book

“Three things are true about our cities. They are growing at an amazing rate; they are fragmenting as fast as they are growing; and they will touch every human being living today in increasingly profound ways,” wrote Randy White, urban projects director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, in his book “Journey to the Center of the City.”

Despite the inescapable grasp of urbanization, White said few churches are addressing the needs of urban centers. With cities now boasting dozens of ethnic groups, the cultural and economic divide between new suburban communities and urban communities are rife with myths and misconceptions. In short, urban ministry makes many believers uncomfortable.

Burdened with the spiritual and physical results of urban growth, White and his family moved from a stable California suburb to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the heart of Fresno, Calif. Chronicling their transition to urban life, “Journey to the Center of the City” shares the story of the White family as they sought to make a difference for Christ in their own city.

In reviewing his own urban ministry, White purposed his book to serve as “a testimony to God’s love and provision for those who venture out of their comfort zones to practice a lifestyle of love in neighborhoods of need.”

Myth 1: The city is ugly
Shortly after moving his family to a low-income, neglected community and finding himself far removed from his white, middle-class perspective, White said he was forced to face several myths of inner-city ministry. To reach new demographics with the gospel, believers must face the unpleasant realities of the city and move past them, he said.

“The most obvious myth to emerge from [my] experience was my unspoken assumption that this part of town was incapable of beauty. After all, didn’t the bars on windows, cyclone fences, deteriorating paint, lack of landscaping, and graffiti prove that the residents there didn’t care about taking care of things? The place was so ugly,” White said.

But it wasn’t until White began to spend time with his new neighbors that his perspective changed.

“The beauty that exists in the core of the city began to dawn like a hazy sun in my eyes. It was the life of those neighbors that silently taught me to examine with different eyes what I assumed,” he said.
“They have the same appreciation for life and beauty, the same human aspirations, fears and desires for their family that we all know to be universal.”

“As commuters race to get out this neighborhood, they will miss the visual cues that exist just out of view, testifying to the beauty that is resident here ? Because most of those cues are inside the home. To see them one would have to stop and spend time there.”

Because believers are “well tutored by culture” to associate external realities with beauty, White said the first step in urban ministry is to “to retrain our eyes not only to expect beauty in unlikely places ? That means I need to learn the discipline of anchoring my sense of visual appreciation in people rather than in aesthetics alone.”

Myth 2: God dwells in the mountains
There is a second myth that prevents believers from ministering to urban dwellers: dirty, dangerous cities are the last place you’d go to find the presence of God. For example, White noted that most devotional guides have wilderness images on their covers?like a waterfall or mountain?sending the message that “it’s the hills, not the streets, that are alive with the sound of music.”

Conceding there is biblical precedent for going to the wilderness to seek God, White added that the journey of believers to the “calm of cabin retreats” has turned into an evacuation from urban centers.
As a result, the church is missing out on valuable ministry opportunities in their own cities.

“Some have fled not in search of God, but out of fear over what they see happening in the city.
Unfortunately, all too often the church has joined the mass exodus, removing the very salt and light that is needed.”

Quoting Psalm 121:1-2, White noted it is not the countryside that holds the power to calm fears. “It is the presence of God we are after, not merely escape from what we fear. Psalms, so often the book of the Bible that best helps us process our fears, sets a consistently urban context for God’s work,” with 49 of the 150 psalms having an urban focus. “Most deal with Jerusalem, but some deal with other cities. Most are psalms that express God’s creative love for the city.”

White sees the city as central to God’s design for redemption. “Let’s keep going to the mountain. We’ll go there to commune with God, to be renewed and inspired. But let’s go to the city too. There we will observe God at work, carrying out his transforming agenda.”

Love your city
The Great Commission begins with learning to love the city, wrote White, offering two ideas for ministering to urbanities. First, make connections with people. Defining “connections” as “simple chances for paths to cross,” White said even things like buying ice cream at the same time translates into a shared experience. “Then the connections can develop into greater opportunities for involvement with one another.”

The initiative of the Holy Spirit is central to interacting with people, he added.

“For me, the key has been to pray that God will orchestrate and direct this kind of neighbor-love,” White said. “Our journey to the center of our city is ? merely an attempt to cross paths with those who are poor and those who care about the poor, allowing our lives to influence one another, providing new contexts where Jesus Christ can make something happen?something new and redemptive?both in their lives and in ours.”

Second, loving the city means learning to partner with the poor. But, White added, that partnership must be conducted in a manner “that recognizes and maintains their dignity.” White suggests gathering a coalition of people from the neighborhood and from other Christian agencies to paint houses, install alley lights, read to children, and pick up trash. Working side-by-side with people from the neighborhood opens doors to share the gospel, he said.

For more specific ideas on how believers and churches can learn to love their cities, White included a list of 21 practical tips on beginning an inner-city ministry. He offers ideas such as taking a drive through a poor section of town.

“See if you can keep track of a few things and compare them to your neighborhood (for example, the number of boarded up houses, ratio of check-cashing stores to banks, and note the condition of the streets, amount of graffiti, etc).

Other ideas on White’s list include:
?Asking an inner-city church to sponsor an urban tour for some of your church members to learn about the needs of that part of the city.

?Attend an inner-city church that is ethnically different from your own church. Stay after the service to meet people and eat lunch together.

?Sponsor a joint youth group service project like Habitat for Humanity to connect a suburban and inner-city church.

?Prayerwalk through a neglected neighborhood with residents of the area every week for one month.
For more urban ministry ideas or to read excerpts from “Journey to the Center of the City” (ISBN: 0-8308-1129-X), visit

Ministry varies from urban to rural setting

Draw a circle around every place in Texas with a zip code that begins with 797 and you find a good contrast in urban and rural life.

Stretched along Interstate 20 between Coahoma on the east side and the intersection with I-10 on the west, the urban areas of Midland and Odessa offer skyscrapers rising out of the vast Permian Basin region, each city with populations of near 100,000.

At a fourth that size, Big Spring weighs in at more than 25,000 residents, making it a big city by Texas standards, while surrounding towns like Andrews, Monahans, Pecos, and Fort Stockton each have fewer than 10,000. Spaced many miles apart are even smaller towns like Fort Davis, Gail, Iraan, McCamey, and Sheffield. And yet every one of them has a church affiliated with Southern Baptists of Texas.

While it stands to reason that most of the lost people live in the heart of the huge cities–a reminder that the North American Mission Board offers when making the case for an urban strategy for evangelism, there are over a thousand towns in Texas with less than 50,000 people. About a third of those measure their population in the hundreds. None of the six largest metropolitan areas in which two-thirds of all Texans live fall within this zip code boundary.

So while Texas is growing by leaps and bounds, there’s a whole lot of Texas that remains small. It’s not hard to find committed pastors serving in those towns and cities that begin with a 797 zip code. Many of them make a strong case for the advantages of long-tenured ministry to the same flock of people, even when the prospects of an area’s growth are less hopeful.

When Bill Melton received a call from Calvary Baptist in Andrews, he got out a map and found the location just 40 miles inside the Texas border near New Mexico. “I saw where it was and didn’t consider it any more,” he told the TEXAN. Eight months later the discipleship pastor called again.
“The more I talked with him, the more it seemed to be a real fit methodologically.”

The population of Andrews is one small town likely to see some growth as a result of the recent upsurge in oil production. Still, it was quite a change from Northwest Arkansas where Melton pastored a planned community aptly named Holiday Island. “The kids were entering junior high and I figured it was time to stay or go.” He’s glad he gave it a shot. Through small group meetings every other week,
Melton said, “Relationships continue to build greater connectedness beyond Sunday morning service. This has been a great fit for what I thought a church should be.”

Far to the western edge of the mapped region is Pecos where Ron Garcia pastors Calvary Baptist Church in a strongly Catholic area. He finds his members are committed to studying God’s Word, but recognizes that churches in the area have plateaued with no new move-ins. “People move into a big city. People move out of a small town,” Garcia explained.

Like most smaller towns, the senior age group provides the strength of the church, though Garcia has seen some success in reaching young couples where future growth lies. As a bivocational minister, the time he can give to ministry is limited, but he’s convinced God called him to serve Pecos.

“We have rebuilt, refurnished and remodeled all of the church–debt free,” Garcia added, seeing that as a testimony that his church will not “surrender to the world,” but continue to offer a witness in this West Texas town.

There are plenty of SBTC churches are in the Midland-Odessa area where a quarter of a million people live. The economy is healthy and pastors like Ivy Shelton at Sherwood Baptist are seeing new families move in and participate in the life of the church. For the past seven years, Sherwood has utilized the FAITH evangelism strategy to offer the gospel message to the neighborhoods surrounding the church.

And yet the lack of assimilation and discipleship of new members has been frustrating to Shelton and other area pastors. This fall Sherwood is launching a year-long new member’s class, hoping to overcome any discouragement felt by the committed evangelistic teams.

Compared to the church he pastored in a smaller nearby town, Shelton sees opportunities in an urban setting that rural churches usually doesn’t attempt, such as ministering to prisoners and halfway house residents, and addiction-related ministries. “However, when I was in a rural setting, I did feel like more of life centered around church life and that the church body was a bit more cohesive.”

In leading the church through various changes, Shelton said they have emphasized agreeing to disagree without ruining the unity of the church body. “When a decision needs to be made and there is disagreement there are times we will table it, pray about it, and come back to it later. Usually, we will then have much more of a consensus.” And when disagreement remains, Shelton said had asked the church to remain unified as he leads decisively. “If you make enough ‘trust deposits’ with your people, they will give you a great deal of room to make ‘hard decision withdrawals’ even if they disagree with you from time to time.”

Another Odessa pastor who has served in both rural and urban settings appreciates the benefit of a strong core group of members. “We have a good overall commitment to unity of purpose based upon doctrine,” stated John Taylor, pastor of Kingston Avenue Baptist.

Compared to pastoring in a small town, Taylor finds, “People have a lot less time in the city and you aren’t given a lot of time to build relationships.” Most of the church’s additions have been by conversion and Taylor is encouraged by seeing “more of God’s activity this year.”

SBTC churches in the area seem eager to help those in more isolated settings, often sending teams out to provide specific ministries. The pastor of First Baptist Church of Ackerly said the willingness to help
each other out is typical of relationships forged by generations of West Texans.

“We have to band our little churches together,” explained Ray McMorris, adding that the association to which he relates has no director of missions. “We have to take care of our own.”

He has little patience for younger ministers who view smaller churches as a stepping stone to something larger. “It takes five years to get to know the congregation, but the average pastor stays only two or three years. What’s the point?” he asked.

“So many pastors want to minister on the I-35 corridor,” added Mike Wright of First Baptist Iraan. Serving in his first church, Wright said he identifies with the West Texas culture. He described life as more laid back than an urban area, noting the importance of building relationships and becoming oriented to the community. “My giftedness is in small church settings. I am a person committed to the long haul.”

Whether in a big city or small town, that kind of patience makes it possible for pastors to lead congregations through needed change, stated Tim Ellis, a speaker at last year’s SBTC SENT Conference in Austin.

Ellis described many small-town Texas churches as family-run going back many generations. “They believe in evangelism, missions, an inerrant Bible and are generally loyal Southern Baptists,” he said, but the pastor is often viewed as a chaplain.

Currently serving as an associational missionary in East Texas, Ellis said small town and rural churches can adjust to change if given enough time, he said. “Pastors who understand this stay and have successful ministries. Those that do not generally struggle and have short stays.”

Compared to his previous experience of ministering to youth in a Lubbock church, Bobby Floyd of College Baptist in Big Spring takes advantage of worthwhile large-scale activities that draw many youth groups together regardless of size.

“Our youth group isn’t really big enough to do its own camp by itself. The cost alone would put us way under,” he said. “It was really good for our church to get to be a part of Centrifuge in Glorieta. They had a chance to meet other youth from all over the country and see how God is working in other places.” Out of that experience, Floyd said the teenagers returned to share what God had shown them throughout the week of camp.

Transition to rural church good move, Ackerly pastor says

ACKERLY?Ray McMorris couldn’t have lived in a better place for his family to benefit from the rapid growth of Texas cities. Van Alstyne is a small Texas town on the verge of a population explosion like that experienced by the towns of Anna and Melissa to the south where the number of residents is four or five times larger than recorded in the 2000 census.

Most towns within an hour’s drive of the large metropolitan areas of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and Fort Worth are starting to look more alike as chain stores move in and suburbia takes hold.

With two-thirds of Texans living in the state’s six largest cities, what would attract a middle-aged man to head for a town one-tenth the size of Van Alstyne with little prospect of growth? The answer is obvious to many rural church pastors who know what it means to watch an entire generation grow up under their ministries.

“I know everyone in town by name,” explained McMorris, who pastors a church in Ackerly that “runs 40 on a good Sunday,” halfway between Big Spring and Lamesa in West Texas. “You eat with them. You worship with them. You’re around them all the time,” he said.

He’s well aware that the future isn’t all that bright for tiny West Texas towns. “Young folks move away and the old folks pass on.”

Once a part of the massive Slaughter Ranch before it was sold and broken up into family tracts in 1923, the population peaked at 500 in 1948 but began declining as farming became a less stable source of income.

Now the city limits sign reflects a population that has remained flat at 245, though the town looked forward to welcoming two new residents?twin boys recently born into the pastor’s family.

“It’ll be good bringing them home,” he shared in early August after a week of commuting 90 miles north to a Lubbock hospital.

Surprisingly, the small church can support a full-time pastor.

“A man could live on it,” McMorris said, “but a man with five kids can’t.”

So he also works for an irrigation well service run by a church member. It’s a trade he already knew from his years of maintenance work for an energy contractor in North Texas.

The second job can require traveling long distances to service wells on the spread-out farms, but McMorris said he enjoys being separated from a big-city atmosphere. “You can see where you’re going out here,” he said in describing the wide-open spaces with little more than windmills and oil derricks in view.

Coming from an area on the outskirts of huge cities, McMorris worried how his kids would handle the transition. Instead, he found them embracing the small town. “They went from being one in a crowd to their own somebody.”

Now in a small school system of only 200 students they get plenty of personal attention. While the new additions to his family were a bit of a surprise, McMorris knew he could handle it if he stayed put.

“I kinda made a bargain with God,” he explained, recalling when he learned his wife would be having twins at a time when the youngest of his three kids is 10 years old. “I told him, ‘If you want us to stay here, let me stay ’til the kids graduate?that’s 18 more years.'”

That kind of commitment makes a difference in small town church where members trust each other and expect everyone to carry his own weight.

“Once somebody’s a Christian, they get after it,” he said, whether teaching Sunday School or serving on a committee. “It’s a huge advantage,” he added.

“If you want to find out how church is run, how it should run, come to a small little church. If I’m gone, they keep going. They don’t have to worry about who’s on what committee. That surprised me coming from the Dallas area. The church runs without you. You can lead ’em, but they’ll keep on going without you.”

The Ackerly pastor sees no shortage of prospects.

“We’ve got 245 of them?now it’s 247. I’ve baptized 18 so that’s 4 to 5 percent of the population. You don’t get those numbers in big areas,” he observed. “You’ve got a certain number of prospects and that’s it. You can’t look at it as closed in. Get out and minister to people that surround you and you’ll be surprised at how many people are there. You have to look for them.”

Besides, ministering in a small town has its advantages when trying to attract young people.

“Kids don’t have anything else to do in this town, so they come to church,” he stated. Plus, he said he plans to be their pastor at various stages of life.

He learned how to pastor from older, godly ministers through the years when he filled in preaching at other churches as needed, he said. The examples he looked to were men who preached the Scripture in churches that appreciated that priority.

With the move to First Baptist Church of Ackerly, McMorris has found a congregation of people who love each other and reach out to the community around them. “I haven’t had one regret.”

Evangelism Conference to focus on ‘That Day’

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over him. So it is to be. Amen. (Revelation 1:7)

“When Time is No More” will be the theme of the 2008 SBTC Empower Evangelism Conference scheduled Feb. 4-6 at First Baptist Church in Euless. The theme verse, Revelation 1:7, speaks of Jesus Christ’s glorious return to Earth and the consummation of history.

“I chose Revelation 1:7 because it proclaims the second coming of Jesus clearly and definitely,” Don Cass, director of evangelism, told the SBTC missions magazine, Crossroads. “And that’s why I named the conference ‘When Time is No More.’ We want to reinforce the urgency of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

This year’s conference will include a lineup of speakers from pastors to evangelists to seminary professors preaching on topics related to the time that Christ returns for his church.

The Spanish-language session will begin with the Monday morning session (Feb. 4) at The West Campus of FBC Euless. A women’s conference will begin at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4, as well as the Conference of Texas Baptist Evangelists. Women’s speakers will include June Hunt of the “Hope for the Heart” radio program.

The 6:30 Monday night session will feature Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va., and a former Muslim; Memphis, Tenn., pastor Bob Pitman; and Interstate Batteries CEO Norm Miller.

Musicians will include longtime music leader and SBTC evangelism consultant John McKay, Texas-based Shiloh; the Annie Moses Band of Nashville, and musicians from Glenview and Travis Avenue Baptist churches in Fort Worth, The Church on Rush Creek in Arlington; Colonial Hills and Friendly Baptist Churches, both located in Tyler; and Chuck Sullivan, music evangelist from Grayson, Ga.

Tuesday morning’s 8:30 session will feature Sagemont Church of Houston pastor John Morgan, New Orleans Seminary professor Preston Nix and Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Tuesday afternoon’s session will include longtime Amarillo pastor Stan Coffey, John Meador, pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, and Len Turner, a vocational evangelist from Woodstock, Ga., and a former pastor of Greenwood Baptist Church, Weatherford.

The conference continues Tuesday evening with Claude Cone, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, and Herb Reavis Jr., pastor of North Jacksonville Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla.

Wednesday morning’s session begins at 8:45 and features Bailey Stone of Allen, a retired evangelism director of the BGCT; Keller-based evangelist Michael Gott; evangelist David Ring of Franklin, Tenn.; John Moldovan, associate dean for doctoral programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Sermon topics throughout the conference will include “God’s Last Invitation,” “A Portrait of Jesus.” “The Marriage Supper of the Lamb,” and “The New Heaven and a New Earth.”

The senior adult choir of Travis Avenue Baptist Church will sing Wednesday morning, along with Sullivan and Shiloh.

The annual Cooperative Program Luncheon Feb. 5 will be held between sessions on the West Campus. Keynote speaker will be former Florida pastor and SBC president Bobby Welch, now the SBC’s Strategist for Global Evangelical Relations. Registration must be made in advance for tickets to the luncheon, which is usually a sell-out.

A Senior Adult luncheon on Wednesday afternoon will include the Annie Moses Band and keynote speaker Charles Lowery, a humorist and president and CEO of Lowery Institute for Excellence.

Tickets for the CP Luncheon and the Senior Adult Luncheon are available by visiting or calling 817-552-2500.

“It is my prayer that God will use this conference to create urgency and brokenness in all our lives, and that those attending will return to their cities, towns and rural communities determined to let God use them in their neighborhoods, telling families and friends about Jesus,” Cass said.

“I want every person to believe the gospel is good news?but only if you hear it in time. Jesus is coming again and it may be soon.”

Engage teams spark revival in Texas churches

During the inaugural summer of the SBTC’s Engage student-led revival ministry, some 170 decisions were made as two student teams traveled to nine churches to lead revival services, evangelism training and outreach.

“Since the revival our attendance and spirit have been more positive. Our youth have been more dedicated to church and to the Lord. We needed this revival,” David Brumbelow said.

Brumbelow serves as pastor at Northside Baptist Church in Highlands, a small church with an average Sunday morning attendance of 50 people. Northside Baptist Church has held revival services before, but prior to the Engage team coming the church had not had a youth-led revival.

Long before Brumbelow heard about Engage, he had thought the church needed to bring in a young preacher to lead a youth-led revival. He began to pray and during the first part of the year he received the mail-out describing the student-led revival teams that would be available to serve in churches across Texas in the summer.

“I’m a big believer in local church revivals, and the Lord confirmed in my heart that this is what we needed and had been looking for,” Brumbelow said.

In the weeks leading up to the revival services Brumbelow publicized the event to the community and to the church. A special time of prayer was held for the revival and a mail-out detailing the events was sent to members and visitors.

“This revival is the most important thing in your life ? and for the entire family [not just the] youth,” he told his congregation. Although students were leading the revival, Brumbelow wanted the entire congregation to participate and be involved?especially in the evangelism efforts in the community.

With as many as 60 people in attendance during the evening revival services, two decisions to receive Christ were made, and two more made decisions to be baptized the Sunday following the revival.

Visitors who came to the revival have continued to attend the church, and decisions for Christ continue to occur in the church?many can be linked back to the heart-stir they received at the revival.

“An army is rising to truly reach Texas and beyond ? I have talked to pastors following their revival who continue to tell me of others who have accepted Christ following the revival,” said Matt Hubbard, the SBTC’s Engage coordinator.

In addition to leading evening revival services the Engage team taught the youth how to share the gospel, and then took them into their community to do it.

“We trained [the youth] how to share the gospel, and how to follow up, [then we] took them to the mall, laundromats, door to door, or wherever they saw a need,” Kody Wetzold said. Wetzold, a Criswell College student, served as the youth and children’s leader on an Engage team.

Using the “One-Verse Evangelism” technique from Romans 6:23, Southwestern Seminary student Chris Teer said he watched the youth transition from having never shared their faith to becoming bold witnesses in their communities.

“They realized how easy it is to share their faith ? and through the experience their relationship with Christ has grown deeper,” he said.

Sharing the renewed passion for evangelism and sharing their faith, “Adults are saying, ‘I’ve never done this before, but now I’m going to,” Hubbard said.

Marcos Ramos, pastor of First Baptist of Galena Park, said the church decided to hold the Engage revival when the church would normally hold VBS. Services were translated into Spanish, allowing the entire congregation to attend. The youth continue to share their faith in the community and eight people have expressed their desire to be baptized, he said.

After the great response to the revival, “People are excited about sharing their faith ? we have applied to have an Engage team come again, next year,” Ramos said.

Ramos gladly shares with other area pastors how Engage impacted his church and encourages them to consider hosting a team next year.

Brumbelow said he also is excited about the potential of Engage: “I would recommend the SBTC Engage revival team to any church. We certainly plan on having another Engage revival in the future,” he said.

Rix Tillman, pastor of Exciting Immanuel Baptist Church in El Paso, said the evangelism training the church received connected well with the existing evangelism strategy in the church. “[Engage] is a great idea. I want to applaud the SBTC and [encourage them to] keep it up,” Tillman said.

Engage team preacher and team leader Lance Wendling of Criswell College said this summer not only confirmed in his heart a calling to be an evangelist, it provided the Engage teams with an opportunity to train and equip people to reach their community for Christ. “Engage teams ? through God’s spirit can come ignite the church [to] to be his hands and feet to a lost world,” Wendling said.

“Our goal is to help re-ignite a passion for evangelism in our state ? even after the teams have left, evangelism efforts are continuing at the churches who held the Engage revivals,” Hubbard said. “We would love to have teams come to your church. We are excited to see what God is going to do through the churches [who host an Engage revival].”

In addition to Wendling, Teer and Wetzold, other teams members were Billy Moore of Southwestern Seminary and Garrett McGraw of Cooper High School.

Hubbard said high school students such as McGraw typically will not be eligible to participate, but because of McGraw’s age?he’s 18?and maturity, he was allowed to participate.

Churches interested in holding an Engage revival or students wanting to be a part of next year’s teams may contact Hubbard at or call him toll free at the SBTC office, 877-953-7282.

Mo Churches

My daughter is my cultural consultant. She works so hard to keep me from being clueless, and thus embarrassing to her.

Recently Maggie schooled me on current music styles. Of course, in my childhood home we had both music styles of that era, Country and Western. That has changed and every style has subsets and tribal affiliates. She tells me that rock music today has a subdivision called “Emo” whose followers are a bit melancholy and dress so that no one can miss it. A subset of Emo music is “Screamo” in which the singers whine as loudly as possible?all volume knobs set at 11.

It occurs to me that churches can also be Emo, Screamo, and other kinds of “mo.” I offer these for your amusement, or perhaps to try your patience. Feel free to play along at home.

Emo churches?Like the music style, Emo churches are a bit pale. They give a lot of attention on brokenness and desperation as though everyone in the congregation is coming off a bad breakup or a job crisis.

Screamo churches?Again, a pop music term but Screamo churches are angry. These churches are often divided over something and share their sincerest feelings with one another at a loud volume.

Bemo churches?In a way they are the opposite of Emo churches. In this case the pastor spends too much time telling congregants of his disappointment with them. They should give more, witness more, visit more, show up more?to generally “be” more than they are.

Seemo churches?have neither a dress code nor a modesty rail in the choir loft.

Dreamo churches?are not so much in the present. They have a vision for growth, building, expansion, and fame but are not currently doing anything that might result in growth. They have dreams, lots of dreams. Dreamo might also refer to nostalgic churches in which former pastors were good looking and the numbers were all above average.

Laymo churches?are big into lay leadership and committee structure. “We were here before the current occupant of the parsonage and we’ll be here after he’s gone.”

Promo churches?Laymen do little because the staff is paid and trained to do everything. Sometimes this is the preference of the “professional” staff; other times it is the expectation of exhausted volunteers who formerly led one ministry or another.

Bethmo churches?have a cadre of really hip and biblically literate young women.

Schemo churches?enjoy a lot of whispering in the hall and semi-official home fellowships. This is the larval form of a Screamo church.

Nomo churches?have just become woebegone. They have no money, no people, no memory of why they exist.

HeyMoe churches?have pastors who enjoy very happy relationships with the staff or lay leadership. They share many inside jokes and puzzling jocularity in front of a general audience.

Slowmo churches?Policies, procedures, calendaring, and caution make it the work of a lifetime to stop, start, or continue any ministry. Might also be a Laymo church or a Nomo church, but not necessarily.

Causemo churches?Good deeds and trendy causes (political, benevolent, etc.) force out other work of the church.

Themo churches?So I dub churches where the hobbies and dress of church members indicate a cultural niche. Cowboys (or Western Heritage People if you’re not a real cowboy), bikers, skateboarders, NASCAR fans, and outdoorsmen offer opportunities for ministry with a distinction.

Getmo churches?Members are encouraged by pastoral example, messages, the example of lay leaders or by cultural influence to become materialistic. It is the more subtle Baptist version of the prosperity gospel.

Gomo churches?Young adults in the church go to Mama’s or to the lake more Sundays than not. This phenomenon can work the same way for empty nesters with grandbabies in another state. This middle-age aspect of the tendency might qualify the church as “Airstreamo.”

Demo churches?are too anxious to abandon a challenging community in favor of a rapidly growing
suburb. They demolish their ministries if not their buildings.

Wemo churches?are highly competitive. The benchmark seems to be the “sister” church across town. If they are larger, more compassionate, more conservative, or in other way superior to the competition, life is good enough.

Esteemo churches?are not quite Emo but certainly related. These churches want everyone to feel good about himself to a degree that gives the wrong idea. Esteemos might not like preaching about sin or the notion of Hell (who does?) so they just don’t bring it up. Everyone goes home happy and holding the pastor’s latest book. Everyone shows up next week because the reality of sin starts to creep back into their awareness.

Memo churches?These fellowships “got the memo” and are related to Wemo and Causemo subspecies (perhaps we could create a taxonomic category called “Supremo”). These churches “get it,” though. Most importantly, other congregations around the country don’t, can’t, and won’t ever see things clearly ? unless they become franchisees.

Sunbeamo?Of course, these churches still conduct a lively missions education program for their young children. They’re called Mission Friends these days but Sunbeamo churches still resist the AWANA tsunami.

And finally, I offer “Upstreamo” churches. These hardy fellowships walk uphill against the temptation to become something more comfortable. They recognize the privileges of being ambassadors and aliens in a world that scoffs at things they know to be very important. Sometimes they may relish being counter-cultural more than they should but they are not wrong to seek the harder, narrower path.

I hope you are not tender to the satire or impatient with the attempt at humor, dear reader. We steer a narrow course between the rocks of trendiness and stubborn adherence to a culture that no longer exists. I believe we can smile humbly at the earnest excess that tempts us all at one time or another.