ARLINGTON—With a focus on equipping churches to reach future generations, the Empower 2023 Spanish session—called Apoderados—set attendance records this year. Approximately 360 pastors and church leaders attended the two-day event held at Lamar Baptist Church.
Lucas Leys, founder of e625—a ministry that provides resources and training for those involved in next-generation discipleship—was the keynote speaker. With a great sense of humor and charisma, Leys spoke of the importance of renewing a mission-driven vision for reaching younger generations for Christ. “Churches are suffering because, as they age, they have not made a plan for the next generation,” he said.
Leys said churches will struggle to grow—and in some cases, survive—if pastors do not develop strategies to reach future generations. One of the pitfalls can happen when churches measure success by attendance numbers only, he said, noting that a deeper examination is needed to build healthy congregations.
“Are families improving? Are marriages being restored?” he asked. “How many people are being transformed? That’s what measures success.”
Leys said discipleship should be central to any church’s strategy for growth. “If the church and parents are not discipling [the next] generation, that doesn’t mean they’re not being discipled,” he said. “It means they’re being discipled by the world.”
Apoderados featured a variety of workshops led by Hispanic leaders and pastors, with topics ranging from evangelism to casting vision. Among those leaders was Luis González, pastor of Lamar Baptist Church en Español, who encouraged attendees to understand that evangelism is a daily task that involves everyone in the church. Evangelism, he said, should not feel like a heavy burden: “We can rest and enjoy evangelism when we understand that it is the Lord’s [job] to change hearts,” González said.
Ramón Vélez, pastor of Una Nueva Familia, taught about intergenerational evangelism, challenging his listeners to be creative and “break the mold” when it comes to evangelism. Vélez said gospel-sharers should consider the age and context of the audience being evangelized.
“The devil is an expert at selling sin,” Vélez said. “We need to be better at sharing the gospel.”
Daniel Sanchez, distinguished professor emeritus of missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), shared strategies for evangelizing Catholics. Armando Hernández, director of admissions at SWBTS and a college student leader at Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, shared how to identify and confront secularism in our culture and why it should matter to the church.
The conference also featured a panel discussion led by Bruno Molina, language and interfaith evangelism associate for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The panel discussed challenges facing Hispanic churches in the U.S. seeking to reach and minister to second- and third-generation Hispanic children.
“Churches [in America] start as one ethnicity, become bicultural, and then multicultural,” Molina said. With this in mind, panelists answered questions such as, “Why do most students stop walking with God and leave the church after high school?” and “How can first-generation Hispanic pastors encourage their churches to better minister to bilingual youth?”
Hernández, who said he represents the second and third generation, urged Hispanic churches to find people in their congregations who can build a bridge between the older and younger generations. Those people can help churches mentor younger generations to seek out healthy churches where they can identify culturally.
Lisie Colón, events and communications coordinator of church resources at Lifeway, said there is a need to give younger generations an opportunity to feel accepted by finding a place where they can best identify. González emphasized the importance of knowing where children and youth stand spiritually and modeling for them a practical Christian life inside and outside the church. Cristina Ochoa, the wife of Pastor Over Ochoa of Vida Victoriosa Church, added that the church has a responsibility to ensure children know how to have a personal relationship with God from an early age.
“We must plan and invest in these lives to reach them, no matter the cost,” said Vélez, “because the price the Son of God paid was high.”