Panelists Urge Intentionality, Acceptance, Worker Mentality in Reaching Changing West Texas Population
PLAINVIEW – Reaching the changing populations in West Texas for the gospel and the church will require intentional efforts, a worker mentality and an attitude of acceptance, urged a panel of leaders Monday at the Panhandle-Plains Pastors’ and Laymen’s Conference held at Wayland Baptist University.
The panel discussion kicked off the 85th Annual conference, themed “That All May Know Him (The Messenger and the Message),” and invited participants to explore the changing demographics in the region and how the church can reach that population.
Primarily, the West Texas region has experienced great growth in the Hispanic population, now comprising 47.9 percent of Hale County, in which Wayland is located. According to Jesse Rincones, pastor of Alliance Baptist Church in Lubbock and a panelist, 1,300 of the 5,700 Baptist churches in Texas are Hispanic, and within the next decade, half of the Hispanic population in Texas will be age 25 or under.
Steve Vernon, pastor of First Baptist Church Levelland and the president of this year’s conference, served as moderator for the panel discussion, which also included Dr. Stacy Conner, pastor of First Baptist Church Muleshoe; Mateo Rendon, a mentor in West Texas with the Baptist General Convention of Texas; and Charles Davenport, a retired pastor from Tulia now serving as a BGCT congregational representative.
In his opening remarks and again in closing, Rendon said the heart of the matter was to return to the command of Jesus to become workers in the harvest. Quoting Matthew 9:37 – “The fields are white to harvest but the workers are few” – Rendon said that congregations must develop a worker mentality in order to reach not only the Hispanic population in West Texas but all populations.
“The question to ask is how many of the workers are out there working? I would venture to say that a third of these congregations are what we’re counting on,” Rendon said. “What we need to see is that percentage of workers doing the will of God increase.”
Rendon and Rincones pointed out that knowing how to reach the Hispanic population first involves defining the population and its subsets. For instance, Rendon said the recent immigrants who speak little English and come from a primarily Roman Catholic background will be a different audience altogether than the third- and fourth-generation Hispanic young families whose children speak little to no Spanish and who may be farther removed from the Catholic influence.
“You are probably closer to reaching Hispanics than you think,” Rincones said. “The language barrier is not there as much as it used to be, but the cultural differences remain. The question is how we embrace this change biblically and with a Christian view.
“The only way to reach Texas is not through a Hispanic perspective or a white perspective but a Christian perspective and a realization of the need for the gospel.”
Davenport said the changing population during his ministry has proved that models of the past likely need tweaking if the church is going to be effective at reaching its entire community, regardless of culture.
“Years ago, the idea was to build or buy a building and start a Mexican mission, and we thought we’d done our duty. But that wasn’t really the case,” Davenport said. “We have problems in reaching other populations as well, even the Anglo population. I think we’re going to have to realize that we’re going to have do something different and distinct or we’re going to lose this world for the gospel.”
Rincones said the key to reaching any population is to be relational and meet the needs of people. New works like cowboy church, college worship services and other efforts are examples of how churches are reaching different populations by keying in on common interests, and reaching different cultures has the same principle, Rincones said.
One solution Rincones proposed is for churches to be intentional in their partnership efforts. Planning combined services or activities between the traditionally Anglo churches and the Iglesia Bautistas in a neighborhood can build the camaraderie and trust levels needed to work together and really reflect the body of Christ, he said. Taking it one step further, Rincones said the two churches could even “share” some of their membership with each other in order to make both churches blended and benefiting from the shared experience.
In an example of meeting needs and relating to people, Conner shared about an after-school program hosted by the Muleshoe church at which children play games, do crafts and Bible study in the church one day each week.
“The group at that program looks like our local elementary schools, but those children are not available to us on Sunday mornings (because they are in other churches),” Conner said. “We’re just investing in the lives of these children and hoping it pays dividends later.”
Davenport said the intentionality of churches also involves welcoming guests.
“We assume that everybody knows they’re welcome at our churches but they may not know that,” he said. “We have to be more assertive in making people know they’re welcome here, regardless of ethnicity.”
Rincones said the blending of communities, even in the church congregations, is likely to happen by chance and time, but churches would better be served to intentionally pursue those efforts and build trust and bonds between the cultures. Cooperation with other churches is also essential.
“We’re going to have to redefine how we’re doing church,” Rendon said. “We must get away from the spirit of competition and get back to a spirit of companionship.”
The remainder of the Pastors’ and Laymen’s Conference featured the traditional afternoon and evening sessions on Monday with messages by Joel Gregory of Fort Worth, Don Sewell of Dallas, David Wilson of Lubbock, Gil Ramirez of Levelland and Michael Evans of Arlington.
Instead of the two-day conference format, the conference was contained on Monday, with a Tuesday golf scramble – the Pastors’ Masters – available for all participants. The Monday evening Spanish session was held as well.