West Central Texas church revamps Wednesday nights

COLEMAN—First Baptist Church has been one of the strengths of Coleman, Texas, since the church was established in 1877, and now in modern America it’s finding its place again as a light drawing people from all corners of its sparsely populated county, partly by emphasizing Wednesday night gatherings.

“It’s an old church, but we’re reaching new people and doing new things here,” said Chas Shira, the church’s pastor. First Baptist recently affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Coleman County, in the West Central region of the state, is one of the older counties in Texas, Shira said, and First Baptist’s sanctuary—though renovated within the last year—was built around 1916. 

“We’re a county seat church, and we have people who come from all edges of the county. That’s our mission field,” Shira told the TEXAN. 

To frame the mission, Shira said he tells the congregation, “There are about 8,000 people in the county, and if we are one of the largest churches and on a good Sunday we have 150, then that means there’s at least 7,000 in the county that aren’t in church. Some of those people might identify themselves as Christian, but they don’t attend church regularly.

“I expect to run 8,000 someday,” Shira said. “That should be our goal if we’re trying to reach this county. There are a lot of unchurched, nominal Christians. The fields are white in Coleman County.”

Last fall, First Baptist launched The Gathering, a revamping of Wednesday night to include the whole family. 

“Wednesday nights weren’t heavily attended when I got here,” said Shira, who arrived in April 2018. “What we wanted it to become is a chance in the middle of the week for Christians to gather.”

The Gathering starts with a meal in the Family Life Center at 6 p.m., and then youth and children split off for age-graded Bible study and other activities. Adults stay in the room where the meal was served and study the Bible, Shira said, tackling even difficult passages and applying them to life.

“It’s a chance for the entire family to gather on a Wednesday. We’ve seen a lot of growth,” he said. “It’s been great. Our youth numbers have been up. Our children’s numbers are up. Our adult numbers have creeped back up.”

The church has a youth minister and a children’s director who is a former principal of the local elementary school.

One reason First Baptist emphasizes The Gathering is “there are a lot of churches in our county that don’t even have Wednesday night activities. They’ve just gotten so small,” Shira said. 

Without trying to take members from other churches, First Baptist invites people to take advantage of the ministry space and offerings they have midweek. Partnering with smaller churches in the community is a priority for Shira, and the day he spoke with the TEXAN he had met another Baptist pastor for lunch. 

First Baptist has been a strong supporter of the Cooperative Program all along, Shira said, and in the years ahead he hopes to lead them to participate in missions by identifying, with the International Mission Board’s help, a place in the world where they can make repeated trips for long-term involvement. 

For now, they’re focusing on personal contacts in Coleman. Last fall, Shira led the church in the “Who’s Your One?” evangelism emphasis, and he plans to continue that each year. 

In an effort to be a good community partner, First Baptist has been part of the local fall festival for the past couple of years. 

“We have a neat downtown area that’s kind of being revitalized. Coleman’s a neat place. It’s a pretty part of Texas, so there’s some growth here and some storefronts and some things coming back. So we’ve been partnering—doing sidewalk games, passing out candy,” he said.

A graduate of Hardin-Simmons University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Shira said one of the appeals of affiliating with the SBTC is being on the same page theologically.

“Partnering with people that affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is huge, to know that whatever ministry SBTC helps fund, it’s funding a ministry that has already agreed to the same Baptist Faith & Message that we do here.”

A Texas native, Shira is married to Katie, and they have three children, ages 4, 1 and four months. Their oldest son was adopted through foster care. Recently they bought a hundred-year-old house near the church and are renovating it as their new home. The house had been vacant for 60 years, Shira said, and when they bought it all of the windows had broken out. 

“We love Coleman and love being a part of the community,” Shira said.  

TEXAN Correspondent
Erin Roach
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