Good stewardship of resources has always been an important issue for me as a church staff member. For that reason, in recent years, I have backed away from support for mission trips to international destinations. Between friends on the mission field, and personal observation, I have questions about the effectiveness of such trips, sending English speakers to a place where no one speaks English to “share the gospel.” At a cost of as much as $3,500 per person, I’m not sure the “bang for the buck” is all that great.
There’s another reason. In terms of reaching the population of Texas with the gospel, we are lagging way behind. Why spend $50,000 of your church resources to send a group to the Philippines when you could spend a tenth of that money and reach hundreds of Filipinos who live in the same metropolitan area? If you want to reach Koreans with the gospel, instead of going to Seoul, you can go to the old Spring Branch area of Houston, or the Bellaire/Beltway 8 area and minister the gospel to thousands of Koreans who do not know Christ. If you have an interest in reaching a latino population, you can choose just about any city or town in Texas and have a mission field in your back door.
The genteel, Southern oriented culture into which the BGCT poured its ministry for years still exists in Texas. In West Central Texas, the Panhandle, Central Texas, the Hill Country, the Piney Woods and even the Golden Triangle, old Texas can still be found. The culture was well suited to the growth and development of Baptist churches, which count two or three generations of the same family in membership. Towns and small cities where the First Baptist Church grew to be the center of the spiritual world along with the First United Methodist Church, dot the landscape. Rural congregations are the lifeblood of their communities. Each church has a culture that has developed around its way of doing things, all of them very similar, and well suited to be compatible with the old Texas. The BGCT was organized to work among the churches of old Texas, did an outstanding job, and grew to be the largest of all Southern Baptist state conventions as a result.
But there are several different faces to Texas that are now part of the landscape. Some of the Baptist churches of Texas have had varying degrees of success in adjusting to these changes that have developed as the population has grown and changed, but by and large, the characteristics and demongraphics of the BGCT have remained the same, even as Texas has become vastly different.
San Antonio, El Paso, Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande Valley anchor the bulk of Texas’ hispanic culture. Because it has been such a large part of Texas culture from the very beginning of its history, Baptist awareness of the need to reach the hispanic community has been keen, and the work has been effective. There are more than a quarter of a million hispanics who are members of BGCT congregations. The work in Texas includes the state conventions acquisition of what is now Baptist University of the Americas in San Antonio, training pastors and church leaders for hispanic-led congregations. Many Texas Baptist churches are aware of the ministry opportunities among the hispanic population in their area and lend a hand to help reach that population.
But even in this Texas, the need is rapidly outpacing the ability of Baptists to keep up with it. Hispanic ministries are growing, and they are a missions priority for many Texas Baptist churches, but the population is burgeoning, and there are areas that are going unreached. Still, the effort to reach the hispanic population of Texas is a high priority for Texas Baptists. I would suggest a mission trip to the closest inner city to you, rather than one to Mexico. There are any one of a dozen ministries and mission centers that would welcome your help with open arms.
Millions of people have come to Texas in the past two decades, many of them from other parts of the US, and a large number from other countries, particularly Asia and Africa. Houston has well developed ethnic neighborhoods where the majority of the population represents a particular Asian background. In some neighborhoods, street and business signs are in either Chinese or Korean. Whole subdivisions are populated by people from India or Pakistan. There are also large populations from the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia. The Dallas area also reflects large Asian population groups.
The city of Houston is home to 2 million people, Dallas to 1 million. The neighborhoods are teeming with people, but many of the inner city churches are in trouble. We lose inner city churches every year, and most of those that are left are declining, aging, and preparing for the inevitable disbanding. These congregations are oriented toward ministry in the old Texas, which essentially no longer exists in the big cities and metropolitan areas, except for senior adults who have kept their homes and retired where they lived when they raised their family.
It is not that these congregations are lazy, or don’t want to grow. Largely, they are steeped in the Southern Baptist church culture that once attracted friends and neighbors. But the populations in the neighborhoods now come from either parts of the US where Southern Baptists and the church culture that goes with us does not exist, or from other parts of the world where it is also not known, and has no appeal.
Before we think about spending $50,000 on a mission trip to an international destination where most of us do not even speak the language, we need to think of utilizing our resources to help our inner city churches retool and rethink their missional vision, rather than simply waiting for slow, certain death. The BGCT needs to think about helping these churches out and make that a missions priority. It will take creativity and the power of the Holy Spirit, considering our tight budget and our “Old Texas” cultural orientation. But I’ll bet we could do it if we are willing to work together and rely on God’s power rather than our own.