MCALLEN Nearly 500 people made professions of faith in Jesus during 2020 through the multi-site ministries of Baptist Temple in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley.
“We have a commitment to presenting the gospel every week,” Chris DuPree, BT pastor, told the TEXAN. “We do a traditional invitation every week. We baptize as soon as possible, even the same day.” In 2020 BT baptized 139 people in its main campus swimming pool or elsewhere.
DuPree and 14 other ministers lead the congregation that, pre-pandemic, averaged about 2,800 in four physical locations and online. At the start of 2021, about 1,500 attended physically and 1,500 online.
Faithfulness in serving its on-site and online communities led to the church’s more than quadrupling its usual number of professions of faith in Jesus as Lord, the pastor said.
On-site and in the community
“We have favor in our community because we’re involved with the school system and we bless our first responders,” DuPree said. “We just try to be intentional in loving the teachers, administrators and first responders.”
By local ordinance, on-site worship was not permitted at Baptist Temple from March 22 to Sept. 13, except for four weeks starting the third week in May.
“Our area became one of the worst places as far as [COVID] mortality rates,” DuPree said. “We had double-digit deaths each day for eight weeks.”
As the church’s actions revealed its concern for people reeling from the pandemic, God moved in people’s hearts and they responded, the pastor said.
“There was so much uncertainty, so much tension, and so much division stemming from the pandemic we realized that people both near and far were searching for hope,” DuPree explained. “While we continued to focus on reaching and ministering to those around our physical locations, we began to see an outpouring of individuals and families from all over the country connecting with us. Many of those connections resulted in people placing their faith in Jesus.”
Online with renewed purpose
Baptist Temple, expanding its reach beyond its McAllen, Sharyland, Edinburg and Alice campuses, has had an online presence since 2016.
When online numbers jumped from about 350 pre-COVID to 3,000, DuPree added Danny Rangel to the staff as online pastor for the church.
“As our online presence grew, I knew we wanted to provide more than something for people to watch,” DuPree said. “I wanted to provide a platform that people could connect with. Those individuals watching online were still longing for connection and interaction.”
Baptist Temple is Rangel’s home church and DuPree, his “mentor since day one in ministry,” Rangel, 31, told the TEXAN. A former youth pastor, with 11 years in ministry, Rangel also helped plant a church in the New York City borough of Queens.
Rangel’s BT assignment was to create an online campus in which he would serve viewers who did not live close to a physical campus. “COVID helped [grow the online campus.] The things we desire to do are connecting with people digitally so they can grow spiritually,” he said.
BT Online uses Facebook, Instagram, Baptist Temple’s website—bt.church—and podcasts to engage followers.
“This was the direction churches were going to have to go to in a digital world,” Rangel said. “COVID made the churches do it faster. This [the internet] is where people are hanging out. This is the direction we’re going.
“The Great Commission talks about going to the end of the earth, and I believe our going now means going to people in a digital way,” Rangel said. “The beauty of it now is that nations can be reached through computer screens. That’s our vision.”
One challenge of online ministry is making a digital environment personal for people viewing through their computer screens, the online pastor said, adding, “Yes, we’re talking to a camera but we’re also talking to people, and we need to keep that in mind.”
It’s a fact that “people can have church right where they are. They can grow in their faith right where they are and they can serve right where they are,” Rangel said.
People hundreds or thousands of miles away from McAllen, are holding watch parties and inviting friends to their homes for BT Online. Rangel has interacted with several, included a group of 40 in San Antonio. Viewers tune in from Chicago, Missouri, Ontario, Canada, Spokane, Washington, Bangalore, plus Brownsville and Corpus Christi.
“Watch parties are new—‘Invite your neighbors and friends to watch church together’—and a very different paradigm from a lot of churches that use social media to simply promote what they’re doing,” he said.
Baptist Temple uses social media to “provide content people can consume to help them grow spiritually,” Rangel said. He develops Scripture-based Bible study and devotional videos to enhance worship. At the end of the morning’s worship, Rangel, rather than the on-site preacher whose message has been broadcast, gives an invitation.
In January, the church started podcasts on goals, featuring interviews with experts in such fields as marriage, parenting, finances or physical, mental and spiritual health.
“This all ties into what people are currently dealing with,” Rangel said. “Everybody is consuming something digitally. I believe we are discipled by what we consume. My hope with using social media as a platform for ministry is providing content people can consume throughout the week that can help them in their spiritual life.”
In his first year as Baptist Temple’s online pastor, Rangel is learning who is watching and is connecting with them demographically and individually.
“We can see where people are watching from, but not who they are,” Rangel said. “We have to provide ways to gather their info to find out who they are, such as digital connect cards, and if people are watching on Facebook they can contact [us] that way.”
During live broadcasts, watchers can text or message for more information, make professions of faith, request baptism, prayer, or counseling or make other requests, all of which Rangel responds to within the week.
Baptist Temple records the total number of professions of faith and other spiritual decisions from each campus. The entire ministry staff works at follow-up. Those who accept Christ are encouraged to pursue baptism and church membership, join a community group and serve on a ministry team.
The church as a whole is responsible for its 13 church plants in Africa, the five NAMB church planters they support in Texas, the church plant in Queens, three international orphanages, various local and global ministries as well as four or five annual mission trips.
Evangelism is at the heart of each of these ventures. So are the dollars given to missions through the SBC’s Cooperative Program, DuPree said.
“We are seeing a significant outpouring of salvations in our services but I believe we also have a premium on our people sharing their faith through the week,” DuPree said. “Our people are great at bringing people with them. Every week I say, ‘Next week is bring your friend week.’
“We have a culture of celebration,” the pastor continued. “The reason we know we have 454 people who accepted Christ in 2020 is that we celebrate every story.”
Dupree added a caveat: “We try to do our best but leave it to the Holy Spirit to draw people to himself. We encourage personal evangelism but this year has been a challenge. This year has thrown everyone a curveball.
“Church online might not be ideal but God is allowing people to turn to churches we would never have reached before,” DuPree said. “I believe God has … changed the course of our ministry. Our focus now is to pour into our ministry in South Texas and pray for revival, believing that will change the world.”