Month: April 2024

Going to multiple services? It’s about timing and trust

As I sat down with a young pastor in our region recently, he shared with me the latest challenge at his church.

It was growing.

I believe growing people grow a church, so I was elated when he shared this news with me. But that wasn’t exactly how this brother was feeling. He was distraught.

Being in his first pastorate, this pastor was happy his church was growing. But he loved the feel and experience of being in one service, and he knew growth in corporate worship would cause his elders to consider adding an additional worship service. He was concerned how adding a second service would affect the unity of the church, as well as the impact multiple worship services would have on recruiting volunteers.

I reminded my pastor friend that unity is driven by consistently declaring the gospel, clarity of vision, and a trust in the Holy Spirit—and not necessarily by having everyone in one room together—and that offering an additional service would not only provide more opportunities for others to serve, but no longer force them to choose between attending the worship service or volunteering.

As we sat there and I considered what this brother was sharing with me, I asked him this: “Do you care more about your preferences for the church or the mission of the church?” My point was that if he wanted to continue to reach more people, he was going to have to create space for more people, and one of the ways to do that was with multiple worship services.

Here are two things to think about when implementing multiple worship services:

Timing matters

Consider when it would be best to add a new worship service. I would suggest choosing a natural break in the church calendar, like the beginning of a school year or the new year. Typically, these are the seasons average attendance increases, which might help you gain momentum to grow each service.

When thinking about the schedule of your services, there are several options to consider. One option is to have two services on Sunday morning with Sunday school or groups meeting during both hours. If your Sunday school program is strong, it might be good to adopt this model so that as your groups grow, you have the appropriate space to accommodate everyone.

Another option is to have two services with Sunday school or groups meeting during the hour in-between. If you have families with young children and want to ensure church members are “seeing” each other, this is wonderful. The constraint will depend upon your facilities, which will over time become an issue, Lord willing!

A third option is to add a second service on a Saturday night or Sunday evening, or at an alternative venue at the same location. This can be a good option if your church is full of commuters or people in need of a variety of options, but it may not work in most settings.

Whatever you choose, don’t forget to consider what is most optimal for guests and what kind of programs need to be offered during each time slot. If you have a strong children’s ministry program, for example, consider scheduling your services when families are most likely to attend. Timing matters, so choose wisely.

Trust the process

When you are making the decision to move to multiple services, go in knowing there will be a significant amount of work, including coordinating with staff, volunteers, stakeholders within the church, and ensuring those outside the church know of the changes. You’ll need to think through all the logistics: times of service, worship service format (different styles, lighting, arrangement), parking, greeters, ushers—the list of things to consider feels endless.

But you need to trust the process. This will be a significant stressor and strain on your resources, staff, volunteers, and even your people. You’ll hear positive and negative about the switch. Therefore, it’s important to have a plan to address these concerns and help each person feel heard. The church must ensure others feel heard so you can maintain unity.

Trusting the process will allow you to absorb the common objection and fear of not knowing everyone anymore. But the reality is, when a church grows beyond 120 people, it is difficult for anyone to know everyone. By trusting the process, you can help church members remember that the mission is the Great Commission—sharing the gospel and making disciples—not keeping the church a small, close-knit community.

Moving from one service to two is a major decision for any church regardless of size. Nobody has it down perfect. It is indeed an exciting time of transition and a great opportunity to reach more people who are far from God to become followers of Jesus.

SBTC DR offers update on April flood response in Southeast Texas

KIRBYVILLE—As soon as the April 10 torrential storms ceased after inundating Kirbyville with nearly 18 inches of rain, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief teams deployed to the area with other Southern Baptist DR crews and first responders to assist survivors. An incident management team based at First Baptist Church in Kirbyville became operational almost immediately, SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice said. By April 11, an SBTC DR feeding team supporting volunteers set up and began preparing and serving meals. Shower and laundry crews also established support operations, as did a communications team. SBTC DR volunteers began cleanup efforts at Kirbyville on April 15. Only five residential cleanup requests remained as of April 29, Stice said. To date, SBTC DR volunteers have contributed the following in Southeast Texas in response to April flooding:
  • 12 professions of faith reported by volunteers;
  • Nearly 1,200 meals prepared and served in Kirbyville and in support of a Red Cross shelter in Port Arthur;
  • 136 loads of laundry done for DR volunteers in Kirbyville;
  • 2 recovery units deployed to clean up flooded homes;
  • 80 communications fielded; and
  • 3,870 SBTC DR volunteer hours performed in Kirbyville and Port Arthur.
“We praise God for the 12 professions of faith reported by our volunteers,” Stice said. “Pray with me and ask the Lord of the harvest for more workers in His field.”

SBTC DR volunteer Paul Wood scrapes up soggy linoleum at a clean-up site. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Investing in the generation that could change the world


recently took my youngest son fishing. We make memories I cherish every time we get the opportunity to go. These trips are often filled with laughter, serious discussions about life, and occasionally a few fish. On this particular trip, my son and I were in the boat talking about all kinds of things when it dawned on me how fast he has grown up and how quickly time goes by. 

The same week, I was scheduled to speak at a conference about reaching the next generation. I had been studying Psalm 78 about passing the truths of God to the next generation. A recent poll conducted by North American Mission Board Next Gen Director Shane Pruitt showed that 77% of believers became Christians by age 18. This ignited a passion deep in my heart to reach the next generation. 

Psalm 78 is an incredible chapter full of great instruction. Allow me to share three things we must teach the next generation: 

1. We must teach them of the goodness of God

Psalm 78:2-4 says, “I will declare wise sayings; I will speak mysteries from the past—things we have heard and known and that our ancestors have passed down to us. We will not hide them from their children, but will tell a future generation the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, His might, and the wonderous works He has performed.” We must continually teach the next generation how good God has been to us. He is faithful, and we need to pass this on to our children.

2. We must point them to the hope God brings

Verses 5-7 say, “He established a testimony in Jacob and set up a law in Israel which He commanded our ancestors to teach their children so that a future generation—children yet to be born—might know. They were to rise and tell their children so that they might put their confidence in God and not forget God’s works, but keep His commands.” The enemy is after the minds and hearts of the next generation. As individuals, families, and churches, we must point them to the hope Jesus gives us. We must be intentional about sharing the gospel every chance we get. They must know the only hope for peace and eternal life is found in Jesus.

3. We must teach them to know and love the Word of God

Verse 7 tells us we do these things so they would not forget the works of God and so they would keep His commands. We must teach the next generation that the Word of God must be their roadmap for life. It must be what they stake their entire lives upon. It is the inerrant and infallible Word breathed out by God! One of my mentors used to say, “It’s not enough to get in the Word; you have to get the Word inside of you.” Let’s be intentional to teach the Bible to the next generation.

The enemy is like a lion that wants to destroy the next generation. He will do whatever he can to grab their hearts and minds. Let’s rise up and be committed to share the gospel, make disciples, and teach them the Word of God. They could be the generation that changes the world. 

K-12 school infuses new life into Arcadia First Baptist Church in South Texas

Afather dropped his daughter off at Arcadia First Baptist Christian School in Santa Fe and walked back to his car. 

“I saw him look back at the office,” Pastor Joshua McDonald said, recounting what he saw watching out the window that day. “He was getting back in his car, and he shook his head and he just walked straight to the office.”

The man had no history of church involvement, but his daughter, an elementary student, had placed her faith in Jesus at the school and had been baptized at Arcadia First Baptist Church about six months earlier. The father sat down with McDonald and poured out his heart.

“She’s been telling us about the gospel, and I believe in Jesus now, and I want to know how I can do this.”

“He was like, ‘Man, I’ve seen a change in my daughter. She’s been reading the Word of God, she got saved, she got baptized. She’s been telling us about the gospel, and I believe in Jesus now, and I want to know how I can do this,’” McDonald said.

The man was baptized and the pastor gave him a Bible with his name on it—the first Bible he has ever owned. 

“Now he’s in my small group and he’s growing by leaps and bounds, studying the Word every day,” McDonald said.

As many as 100 members of Arcadia First Baptist have died during the past five years since McDonald has been pastor, the inevitable reality of an aging congregation. Yet Sunday attendance has grown from about 200 when he arrived to more than 300 now. 

“Probably 50 to 60 of those are kids,” McDonald said.

One of the ways God has pumped new life into the church is through its Christian school, training about 150 students in kindergarten through 12th grade in addition to a daycare with 200 children. What once was viewed as an opportunity mainly for educating children has grown into a ministry also aimed at reaching parents, McDonald said.

Arcadia First Baptist Church was an aging congregation five years ago, and now 50 to 60 children attend on Sundays. (Photo at right) Pastor Joshua McDonald said Arcadia First Baptist Church in Santa Fe has realized what ministry opportunities are available through the church’s Christian school and daycare.

“People know that we’re in the community because of the school. We’re on the main highway that passes through town, and everybody knows we’re the last school zone before you can just take off on the highway and leave town,” he said, noting Santa Fe is between Houston and Galveston. 

“I think visibility has mattered a lot for revitalization. Anytime there are parents mingling around outside, like for drop-off in the morning or pickup in the afternoon, I go out there and try to meet parents. Our staff is really good about that, too.”

One of the church’s best-attended events is a fall festival in partnership with the school and daycare. 

“The first year we had maybe 1,000 people show up. The fire station came out, the police came out, we had food trucks, the Coast Guard parked a boat out here,” McDonald said. “The second year it doubled, and this last year, we probably had 2,500 to 3,000 people come through.”

Church members individually take an interest in the students, too, the pastor said. 

“One of our church ladies wanted to beautify our garden area around the church where we have bushes and flowers. She said, ‘I’m going to teach the kids to do landscaping,’ so she made a butterfly garden with some of the younger kids. 

“So our kindergartners and first graders go out there and plant flowers and then butterflies land on them. It’s like a little science project for them,” McDonald said.

The growth of Texas is helping the church grow. An infusion of new life has been evident in recent years as families have found a place to belong.

The growth of Texas is helping Arcadia First Baptist grow. When McDonald arrived, it was a rural church, but Houston has expanded toward Santa Fe and developers are buying up land near the coast. Projections indicate 3,000 to 6,000 new homes will be built near the church in the next few years, the pastor said, and church members have been knocking on doors and having gospel conversations. 

One church member, though, realized the church didn’t have to wait until new residents moved in to share the gospel. Many of the workers constructing the homes are Hispanic, so the church member took along the pastor of Arcadia First Baptist’s Spanish language ministry, and as many as 23 of those who heard a gospel presentation placed their faith in Christ, McDonald said.

The Coast Guard set up a boat for people to view up close at a fall festival at Arcadia First Baptist Church in Santa Fe.

“In the last year we’ve had probably over 100 salvations,” he said. 

Other efforts Arcadia First Baptist has made toward revitalization include walking the campus to identify maintenance needs and transforming a seldom-used library of 3,000 books into a coffee shop where church members meet seven days a week for various reasons. 

Said McDonald: “There have been more gospel conversations in the coffee shop than there have been in that room in all the church’s history.”

5 minutes with Tony Sheffield

Tony Sheffield has been leading First Baptist Church in Maypearl for more than a quarter century. After coaching high school basketball for 12 years in Wichita, Kan., he surrendered to the ministry and came to Fort Worth to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1993. During seminary, Tony served as a youth pastor in Fort Worth before accepting the position at FBC Maypearl in 1996. He also serves on the executive board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Tony and his wife, Eileen, raised their two children in Maypearl and have four grandchildren.

What is something you’ve been able to celebrate at FBC Maypearl recently?

Well, most recently, we had six adults and one teenager surrender their lives to Jesus as Lord and Savior on Easter Sunday. We have also just added a new worship/media pastor to our staff, and we are very excited about that. This past January, I celebrated 28 years as pastor of this great church. God has blessed me and my family with an incredible group of people here at FBC.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your ministry lately?

This is a tough question. I feel so blessed. I would say discipleship. I have learned that I cannot make people study. I can’t make them attend. I can’t make them serve.
I am encouraged though. We are experiencing a great hunger for God’s Word among our people. 

What is a lesson you’ve learned to this point in your ministry you know you’ll never forget?

Ministry is all about people. People want to be loved. There are many tasks involved in ministry, but none are more important than the people we minister to. When I came to FBC 28 years ago, I remember telling them I was a basketball coach and I did not know how to pastor, but I loved people and evangelism is my heart and that is where I was going to hang out. I challenged them to fill in around me and they have. I love people and want to see people come to know Jesus.

What is one thing you’d like to see God do specifically at FBC Maypearl this year?

We have never experienced 50 baptisms in a single year, and I want to see that happen. We are also very close to paying off our building and I’m praying that will
happen this year.

How can other churches of the SBTC be praying for you?

Please pray we can reach Maypearl with the gospel. Our community is growing rapidly, and we want to reach these people God is sending our way. 

No greater love

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” — John 15:12-13

Words cannot adequately describe the gratefulness in my heart to Jesus for His sacrificial death on the cross for my sins. If you are a Christian, you know what I am saying. The Lord is worthy of all praise and worship, for He alone went to the cross and laid down His life so we can live in freedom from the power of sin. Because He died and arose from the dead, we too will rise to eternal life with Him—all because of what Jesus has done for us!

Biblical and secular history are replete with examples of heroic, sacrificial love where one individual pays the ultimate price and gives his or her life in order to save others. Every time I read of someone willingly laying down their lives, it inspires me and points me again to what Jesus did for us on the cross. 

John R. Fox was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1915 during World War I. He was 26 years old when he joined the military with the rank of second lieutenant. When World War II started, he was commissioned and joined the 92nd Infantry Division. He was ordered to stay behind in a small village in Tuscany, Italy. His job in 1944 was to keep an eye on the advancing German soldiers attempting to take over the village.  

“Praise Jesus for His sacrifice for you on the cross. He died for all so everyone who trusts in Him as Lord and Savior will live eternally in heaven.”

From his position on the second floor of a building, he saw how quickly the Germans were marching toward him. He sent the coordinates of his location to his fellow soldiers asking them to bomb the site. They asked if he was sure he wanted to do that because it meant certain death for him. He simply said, “Fire it.” Missiles pummeled the location and hundreds of Nazi soldiers and one American died in the attack. The one soldier was African American John R. Fox, a true American hero. Because of his sacrifice, the American soldiers were able to retreat and then return to overtake the village. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for paying the highest price, his very life.

As Jesus died to make us holy, so many soldiers in the military died to make us free. For the latter, I give my gratitude and honor, but for the former, regarding what Jesus did at Calvary, I give Him my worship and total allegiance. Will you take a moment and thank God again for the freedom you enjoy living here in America? That freedom came at a high price as hundreds of thousands of soldiers have sacrificed so you could enjoy all you have today.  

Praise Jesus for His sacrifice for you on the cross. He died for all so everyone who trusts in Him as Lord and Savior will live eternally in heaven. Praise the Lord!

A personal word to all our Southern Baptists of Texas Convention family: I am praying for you and honored to serve as your president. The Lord is working mightily in and through our convention of churches. May He bless every church and continue to use us to make disciples until Jesus comes again.

Sometimes the Lord is all you have, and He is enough

Editor’s note: The Lancaster family—Dane and his parents, Diran and Kellie—recently shared the story of how Jesus has worked miraculously through a tragic event that impacted each of their lives. They are members of First Baptist Church in Bowie. 

Dane Lancaster: My passion in life is calf roping. When I gave my heart to the Lord when I was 8 years old, I prayed He would give me ways to honor Him through what I loved. I really thought that someday I would be a world champion calf roper. I’d say as they interviewed me on TV, “First I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for blessing me with this world championship.” But God had a different purpose in mind. 

When I was 11 years old [in May 2014] at a junior calf roping in Shawnee, Okla., I suffered a traumatic brain injury. A part of the barrier rope swung back and tripped my horse so that he flipped over and crushed me. I had multiple brain bleeds and a dissected carotid artery. I broke every bone in my face, fractured the base of my skull, and crushed the small bones of my right ear. Ninety percent of people who’ve had this injury don’t live.

I had to learn how to walk, talk, and eat all over again. My parents were told that speaking would be the hardest thing for me to overcome and that it was probable that I would never speak. The day they told my parents this news, my dad stayed awake praying over me all night long. The very next day in therapy, the therapist asked me, “Dane, what color is your horse?” I answered her saying, “Brown.” My speech came back like a flood after that.

(From left) Pierce, Diran, Kellie, and Dane Lancaster

Kellie Lancaster: The day Dane started speaking we were so overwhelmed because it was a miracle. We kept talking to him and talking to him. It was the evening and he was getting tired, and his dad said, “I know you’re tired, and I’m sorry I keep asking you all these questions. I’ve just missed your voice so much.” He said, “Is there anything I can do for you?” Dane said, just so matter of fact, “Yes sir, go saddle my horse.”

It was the hardest and most blessed time in our lives. It sounds like a paradox, but Natalie Grant sings a song called “Held.” That’s what we were, we were held. It’s a place where the road meets the rubber and you have an opportunity to either trust the Lord in what He says and who He is, or you don’t. For us, it was not an option to do anything else. Not that it was easy.

Diran Lancaster: You learn the importance of your daily walk with the Lord. You learn the importance of your church home and your church fellowship. I don’t know how people walk through something like that without those people, without those prayers, without those meals … you come home and your yard’s mowed. The Lord will often require your words from you. We sit in the safety of our church pew, and we sing songs praising God. We call him “the God who heals.” That’s easy when you’re sitting in a church pew, but sometimes the Lord has you in an ICU with your child requiring that you have faith. It’s all you have. It’s all you have.

Kellie: [The doctors] didn’t want him back on a horse. But for Dane, his motivation to work so hard to overcome unbelievable odds—he was paralyzed on one side—was to get back on a horse and rope. So we convinced the doctors that he could do equine therapy. After two weeks, they said, “Why are you even here? He can do all this.” We went home to our own arena, put him in a helmet, and he started riding. He returned to rodeo about 13 months after his injury. 

Diran: Last year he finished No. 3 in the Ultimate Calf Roping all-world standings.

Dane: It’s humbling to consider that we were told I would never speak, but God now uses my voice to tell others about a miracle-working God. The Lord has allowed me to return to calf roping. I rodeo competitively, train horses, and I teach other people how to rope and ride. I feel God’s calling to ministry, especially in evangelism. I’ll be starting at [Texas Baptist College] this fall. I know God has called me for a purpose, that He saved my life as an answer to my prayer that He would allow me to glorify His name as a calf roper.

Diran: You raise your children in the church knowing they’re going to face uncertain times. When Dane faced uncertain times, he clung to everything he had been taught in the church. He believed everything. Everything he said he believed in Vacation Bible School, when you think the worst thing that’s going to happen is that you have a bad day or something, he just clung to all of it. It was a real testament to him and his faith. Many times, as a dad, I’ve been in awe of Dane’s faith.

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What will it cost your church to invest in my generation?


bout four years ago, I was a student heavily involved in collegiate ministry, growing in my understanding of Scripture, and being discipled by a woman in our church. However, even as I grew and learned more about the church, I remember asking myself, “Where do I fit in to all this?”

This question is one my generation poses often—and one for which the local church can provide a clear answer. 

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the illustration of the body and its many parts to describe a functioning church body. The body does not have only one type of part, but a variety of parts that help the entire unit function as one. This is where college students and young adults can be a tremendous asset to the local church–lending their youthfulness, gifts, Bible fluency, and more to its overall mission. 

So what do young adults look for in a church? Most importantly, they desire a gospel-centered church that keeps Christ at the forefront of fulfilling the Great Commission. But what else is important to my generation as it looks to connect with a body of believers?

Your church doesn’t need to be a trendy, social-media-famous church to attract my generation. What we desire is depth, service, and connection with the diverse body of Christ.

Quality over quantity

Many believe young people only want to be part of a church with a trendy building that offers lots of cool graphics in its presentations and attracts hundreds of other young people. However, the more people I interact with my age, the more I realize how many value quality over quantity when it comes to the local church. One place this is evident is in small group settings, where young adults who have a sincere need for quality relationships can grow deeper with others. If given a choice, I believe many young adults would choose a Bible study with a few people over a massive gathering with hundreds of people.

Service opportunities

When college students and young adults are given a wide range of opportunities to serve, it not only offers them a chance to experience the fulfillment of helping others, but provides them with a training ground to learn more about the gifts God has given them. This is one of the best ways a local church can serve young people—by providing them with a place to serve. Service challenges young people to be selfless, but it also creates an incredible path for assimilation into your local church as they serve their fellow members. 

Multigenerational exposure

Part of deepening community for many college and young adults is developing friendships with those of older generations. They truly value the wisdom and experience older generations offer, and in my experience, those older generations love pouring into and sharing wisdom with younger people. At my church, we have three young adults who meet weekly with a multigenerational women’s Bible study. Those young adults have said often this study was one of the main reasons they decided to continue to come to our church and eventually join. 

Your church doesn’t need to be a trendy, social-media-famous church to attract my generation. What we desire is depth, service, and connection with the diverse body of Christ. That kind of investment can be practiced by any church of any size and costs nothing more than intentional investment.

Looking to equip your church to reach the next generation for Christ? Learn more about roundup 2024.

Awakening National Prayer Conference seeks to convey information, spark transformation in churches across U.S.

FORT WORTH—The question was as sharp as it was simple.

“When you die,” Steve Gaines asked, “what do you hope to do in heaven?”

Gaines, senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., told the crowd gathered at the Awakening National Prayer Conference on the campus of Southwestern Seminary on April 18 that he looks forward to seeing a number of people in heaven. Jesus, of course. His father, mother, and brother. Historical saints from the Old and New Testaments, ranging from Joseph to Joshua to John.

Amidst that shuffle of faithful faces and well-known names, Gaines said he will be looking for someone whose name he doesn’t know, a “little Baptist lady” that made his voice crack upon mentioning her. Though nameless (for now), her impact on his life was tremendous.

Gaines explained that when his mother was 24, she was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts. Doctors told her a double mastectomy would be required to save her life. Because of the severity of the procedure in those days, surgeons started with one side of her chest and sent her to a post-op shared recovery room, where she spent the next day in and out of consciousness, waiting to recover enough to undergo the second part of the procedure.

In that same room was the little Baptist lady, who had also just undergone a double mastectomy. Gaines said once the women learned of his mother’s condition, she crawled into his mother’s hospital bed, laid her head in her lap, and prayed for her over the next 12 hours, asking God to heal her.

The next morning, the doctors and nurses came in to prepare Gaines’ mother for the final portion of the procedure when, to their shock, they couldn’t find the cancerous lump they had previously located. An X-ray confirmed the miracle—the cancer on the other side of her body was gone.

“What happened?” Gaines’ mother asked through tears.

“God healed you,” the little Baptist lady told her. “I prayed for you last night, and I asked God to heal you, and He did.”

Speaking to the prayer conference, Gaines asked, “Does anybody believe that God can still heal?” Late last year, he announced his own cancer battle—one he has said is improving. “ … That lady then led my mom to Christ. She got healed and got saved on that same bed.”

The anecdote underscored Gaines’ message to kick off the conference, rooted in Daniel 9: Prayer can move the hand of God. Prayer can also reveal the will of God, he said, and it blesses the heart of God. Prayer mattered for Daniel, who Gaines estimates prayed tens of thousands of times over the decades of his life, leading God to grant him favor even in captivity. And prayer mattered for his mother, who came to know Christ because a little Baptist lady gave up a night of her life making her requests known to God for a woman she didn’t know.

“There are things God does for praying people that He doesn’t do for people who don’t pray,” Gaines said. “ … Some of you are discouraged, and all discouragement is just the devil taking courage out of you. Some of you are discouraged because you don’t pray. God wants to encourage you. He wants to put courage back into you, and if you will pray, you won’t lose heart. You won’t be discouraged.”

“Every morning when we wake up, all of hell should shudder—not because of our capabilities or who we know or what we can fund, but simply because the believer’s greatest weapon against the demons of hell is prayer,” said SBTC Executive Director Nathan Lorick at the Awakening National Prayer Conference. SWBTS PHOTO

Impressing God through desperation

The prayer conference featured some of the country’s leading voices on prayer and revival. Sermons were delivered by Southern Baptists of Texas Executive Director Nathan Lorick; Bill Elliff of The Summit Church in Little Rock, Ark.; Ronnie Floyd, author and pastor emeritus of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark.; and Robby Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow Church in Hendersonville, Tenn. A pair of breakouts on the topic of prayer and revival were also offered, featuring Gaines’ wife, Donna, and SBTC pastors Todd Kaunitz (New Beginnings Baptist Church, Longview) and Nathan Lino (First Baptist Church Forney). Worship was led by Julio Arriola, director of the church planting Send Network SBTC.

The event drew participants from not only Texas, but states as far away as Oklahoma, Ohio, and Indiana, according to Kie Bowman, the national director of prayer for the Southern Baptist Convention who organized the conference. Bowman said his heart was not only to inform conference participants about prayer, but to equip them to “move the dial” regarding prayer in their local contexts.

An increase in prayer has been credited for a number of notable movements of God around the country. Included in that has been thousands of people surrendering their lives to Christ on college campuses nationwide and churches crying out to God in desperation to see Him revitalize their congregations and communities.

“Every morning when we wake up, all of hell should shudder—not because of our capabilities or who we know or what we can fund, but simply because the believer’s greatest weapon against the demons of hell is prayer,” Lorick said.

Lorick, who has championed the vital importance of prayer since being called to lead the SBTC in 2021, said crying out in desperation—and not our abilities or accomplishments—is what will impress the heart of God most and lead Him to do things only He can do.

“The truth of the matter is, prayer is not missing in our churches,” Lorick said. “Almost every church has some form of transactional prayer. We pray before the service, we pray before the offering, we pray at the end of the service.

“But what we must seek after is not transactional prayer, but transformational prayer,” he continued. “I just wonder what it would look like if believers and pastors and staff and churches took on a new posture of desperation [in prayer].”


Couple’s connection to Montgomery church is emblematic of plant’s mission to reach, minister

For Everett and Debra Luten, Mother’s Day evokes bittersweet memories and profound gratitude. Only last October, they lost their adult daughter in a kayaking accident. That grief is still fresh as the couple stays busy raising their nine-year-old granddaughter, Penelope. 

The Lutens say they are not alone because of their Savior and because of Cornerstone Community Church in Montgomery, a town of around 2,000 people located 50 miles northwest of Houston.

As involved grandparents, the Lutens first heard about Cornerstone from their granddaughter’s pre-K teacher, who invited them to visit about four years ago.

The Lutens, who had been attending another church, soon found unexpected connection in the newly planted smaller church. They got involved in community groups gathering in people’s homes.

“We have food together and we talk and everybody shares their stories. We talk about the sermon. … We have a lot of praying,” Everett said of the group he and Debra now attend, which is held at Pastor Ralph Clements’ home. “Everybody [at church] is involved with everybody else.”

At Cornerstone, the Lutens were discipled: Debra by Amy Clements, the pastor’s wife, and Everett—a sergeant retired from the Harris County Sheriff’s Department—by an elder, Gerald Coleman. The men have gone through books together over breakfast at a nearby restaurant for the past few years. Everett said he now prays every morning and spends time in the Bible.

Last February, both Debra and Everett were baptized by Clements, surrounded by many from the congregation. For Everett, the baptism marked his growth in faith.

“I realized you don’t have to be perfect to accept Christ. After you do that, you’re not perfect,” he said. “And He will still hold you in his arms and forgive you if you are contrite. The Holy Spirit will guide you.”

Everett and Debra Luten are raising their granddaughter, Penelope, following her mother’s death. The Lutens, who were both baptized this year at Cornerstone, praise the church’s love and assistance. SUBMITTED PHOTO

“I realized you don’t have to be perfect to accept Christ.”

On the same page

The family’s hearts broke when their daughter died. “We didn’t know it was going to happen, but God did,” Everett said.

They found comfort and strength in their church. “The Lord leading us to Cornerstone [gave] us spiritual strength to get through this,” Everett said. 

“Cornerstone has been exactly what the name is to us: a cornerstone,” Debra said. “They have helped us so much with our salvation … getting into God’s Word. They’ve stood beside us through these things with my daughter. They are there and will be for us raising Penelope.”

There are challenges, Debra added. The couple and Penelope have lost so much: “It’s really been a struggle for her and for us also. We are struggling for ourselves, the loss of our daughter. But she doesn’t have a father, either. … Cornerstone has been there for us,” she said.

Realizing the importance of God’s Word has changed Debra’s life, she said. Now her heart is to “be led to be God’s tool” for conveying that to Penelope. 

“Pastor Ralph tells the congregation that when you bring your kids in here, you really need to know we are not babysitting them. We are making disciples,” she said, adding, “Cornerstone has brought us together close to God as a family. It’s so joyful to me. We are on the same page.”

“Cornerstone has been exactly what the name is to us: a cornerstone. They have helped us so much with our salvation ... getting into God’s Word.”

The Cornerstone story

As a relatively young church plant, Cornerstone’s story is unique. Clements calls himself “co-vocational,” or intentionally bivocational. He planted a church in 2007 while studying at the Houston extension of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. When that plant folded after five years, he and Amy were “worn down” and spent the next several years attending another church.

In 2018, God moved again. They saw a need in Montgomery, started talking with various folks in their neighborhood, and began hosting a Bible study in their home. By February 2019, that Bible study group had grown to a “pretty good crowd” and by the summer, the conversation turned toward an official church launch.

In September 2019, Cornerstone began Sunday services in Montgomery High School. The congregation was six months old when COVID-19 hit. What could have derailed them instead promoted growth as the then 35-person congregation was allowed to continue meeting in the school’s 750-seat auditorium where social distancing was not a problem.

“When several churches were shutting down, we were able to stay open,” Clements said. “We couldn’t do all the outreach we wanted, but the Lord used it. We continued to grow.”

Much of this growth, Clements said, has occurred organically: “People loving on neighbors,” people inviting people. 

In 2021, they moved into a building purchased from another denomination whose congregation had dissolved. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention began supporting Cornerstone with church planting funds in October of that year. While the assistance was promised for three years, Clements and the church contacted the SBTC in early 2023 to say the funding was no longer needed as of that May.

Church leadership decided to forego additional support, believing it the church’s responsibility to care for the shepherd, Clements said. “The church was doing well. Giving was over budget. The year had ended. It was an opportunity for us to take over [financially].”

Growth has continued, slow and steady. About 60-70 regularly attend now. “It’s what we prayed for. We didn’t want to grow big and not be able to handle it,” he said.

‘They are what we are’

The Lutens’ story is “the story of our church,” the pastor said. “We are walking through some difficult times with them right now. …They are what we are trying to do: seek the lost or those who are uncertain—help them understand and grow in discipleship.” 

“I believed for the longest time that everything in my life depended on what I did as a person,” Debra said. “I think in being at Cornerstone, I have realized that everything that happens has already been determined. I just need to reach out to Jesus … to pray about it … to rely on God to place in my heart what I should be doing … knowing I will get that answer.”

“Like babies still drinking milk, we are learning every day,” Everett added. “My wife and I are on the same page about something besides when I should take out the trash.”