San Antonio church discovers the tools, training needed to reach next generation of believers

To position itself for a healthy future, University Baptist Church in San Antonio set a goal of “growing younger,” placing a renewed emphasis on reaching young families even as it continues to treasure and involve older generations. 

The church realized most families in the surrounding area “are not more than two generations removed from active church participation,” Pastor David Norman said, explaining that in a given family, the child may have never heard of Jesus, the parents may have attended church sporadically, and there is a strong likelihood the grandparents were active in church.

The nearest neighborhood to the church is largely filled with young families, so the congregation went to work painting, updating, and cleaning its preschool and children’s areas. 

“Preparing a nursing mothers room was a big step for our church, utilizing that space for those that we’re trying to reach rather than for storage,” Norman said.

The idea of growing younger was spurred by the church’s participation in one of the first cohorts of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Regenesis process for guiding churches toward health and renewal. Norman now serves as a trainer in the program. 

“I’ve been subject to crafting more vision statements than I can count, and I breathed a deep, deep sigh when I saw that was part of the Regenesis process,” Norman said, “but this was a very helpful manner of going about it.”

Regenesis helped University Baptist Church develop a three-year vision of being “a church family surrendered and sent,” with 200 adults engaging in connect groups, 150 engaged in one-on-one discipleship, and baptizing at least one new believer each month.

“The beauty of Regenesis is that it helps you discern God’s vision for your church and the unique contribution to the kingdom your church has to offer.”

Though the numbers are just markers, Norman said, by comparison the church averages 135 in worship now with about 100 in connect groups. Along with growing younger and growing together, the church is emphasizing evangelism and leadership development. 

“For our three-year vision to be attained, these are the four initiatives that we believe are necessary to that end,” the pastor said. “We have to grow younger, we have to go out, we have to grow together, and we have to grow up.”

Last fall, the church offered two Bible studies—one on evangelism and the other for young mothers who would otherwise drop off their children on Sunday nights and leave. Also, the children’s ministry focused on missions, while students learned to steer conversations toward the gospel. 

To reach families in the community, the church started hosting a trunk-or-treat event in the fall. They ask for 100% participation from members: if someone is unable to sit out in the cool weather that night, that person can donate candy or help organize. 

With a goal of baptizing one new believer each month, University Baptist Church is intentional about leading people to Christ.

“We found shortly after I came here (in 2020) that there were a lot of really large Halloween events but that parents were really eager to bring their kids to a safe environment where they could go trunk to trunk with no traffic,” Norman said. “It was an opportunity for us to love them, to provide for them, to show them that we are a church that cares for them.”

One of the trunks was manned by an off-duty Santa Claus who gave out candy canes and invited children to Pancakes with Santa, an event hosted by the church in early December. 

“My family has 22 years of Santa pictures with our children. We have spent a lot of time in line waiting on Santa,” Norman said. “We’ve spent a lot of money paying for those pictures. We decided we would provide an avenue for parents to come, eat pancakes, and take a picture of their kids with Santa—no stress.”

All church members are urged to participate in Vacation Bible School at University Baptist Church in San Antonio.

Church members had been training to share the gospel and their testimonies, the pastor said, and Pancakes with Santa provided an opportunity for them to engage their neighbors. Attendees were invited to the church’s Christmas Eve service, which was aimed at people who don’t know Jesus. 

“On Christmas Eve, we saw probably twice our typical Sunday morning numbers,” Norman said. 

Considering how God has used Regenesis to renew University Baptist Church to this point, Norman encouraged other churches to set goals tailored for their congregations. 

“My encouragement would be revitalization is very difficult. It is something only the Lord can do,” Norman said, “but I think the Regenesis process provides an opportunity to discern how the Lord is leading your church. 

“One of the things I constantly emphasize is that Regenesis is not a copy and paste. It’s not a program. It’s not something you just pick up and take on,” he added. “The beauty of Regenesis is that it helps you discern God’s vision for your church and the unique contribution to the kingdom your church has to offer.”

Regenesis is designed to help churches identify and overcome growth barriers. A Regenesis One-Day event is coming to your area soon. 

TEXAN Correspondent
Erin Roach
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