When I first came to Houston back in 1979, I was impressed with the number of Baptist megachurches, the new, growing congregations in the sprawling suburbs, and the fact that there seemed to be churches everywhere. Houston was often referred to as the “buckle” of the Bible Belt. Now I know there are some other cities who claim that same title. Legitimately, it probably belongs to Charlotte, North Carolina, which does indeed have more churches per capita than any other city in the country. Atlanta probably also has a stake in the same claim, though the diversity of population there has caused the same kind of religious diversity that Houston has experienced. But Houston really seemed to be the real deal.
A close examination would have revealed, even in 1979, that the predominant religious group in the Houston area was Roman Catholic. There are lots of Southern Baptists here, too. In fact, the Union Baptist Association, which covers most of Harris County, is the largest association of churches affiliated with the SBC in terms of both number of churches and membership. In the Houston area, however, we come in fourth among Christian denominations, with Lutherans and Methodists outnumbering us here. Christian groups, however, account for less than half of the population of the metro area. I would guess that Southern Baptists are also probably outnumbered by Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, as well as the non-affiliated, or unchurched.
Serving on staff of a church of about 300 active members presents a unique challenge. Located in the inner city, in a neighborhood that is redeveloping, in a historic district where the population is becoming increasingly affluent, we could say we are between a rock and a hard place. Many of the Christians in the area are looking for a church where they can be served, and which has a virtual cafeteria of services to offer, and which ask for little in return except a check on payday. Attracting and assimilating new members isn’t easy. The unchurched, and the never-churched, who comprise a significant portion of the population around us, are very difficult to reach. Building the relationships that are necessary to lay a foundation for sharing the gospel come slowly, and even when they are built, the response isn’t always positive. It is slow and sometimes discouraging work.
The up side of all of this is that we don’t have to go far to find a mission field. It is at our doorstep. It drives past our building thousands of times a day, not giving a thought to what goes on inside. Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth can all be found in the quaint, quiet streets of the surrounding neighborhood. Our challenge is to find a way to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ to as many of them as we can.