February 8th, 2011 at 3:58 pm
LAREDO – When Mario Garcia surveys this city, he sees opportunities – opportunities to help people living in destitute conditions, opportunities to provide people a word of encouragement and most importantly opportunities to share the gospel with more than 185,000 area residents who attend no church.
A River Ministry coordinator, Garcia seeks to help meet those opportunities with every move he makes. At most, there are 21 Baptist churches in an area of about 500,000 people. Though there are other evangelical churches in Laredo, the region’s spiritual needs remain drastically underserved.
“The need is so, so great,” Garcia said. “Just hearing 185,000 people go to no church, that’s unbelievable.”
Laredo’s situation is typical of Texas border towns, where the number of evangelical congregations cannot keep pace with the exploding population. Noe Trevino, Texas Baptists’ church starter in the Rio Grande Valley, said Laredo and Brownsville each need at least 20 new congregations. Del Rio and Eagle Pass need at least five more congregations a piece. El Paso also needs a significant number of new churches.
Where congregations are being started along the border, they are growing, Trevino noted. Many of the 16 church starts facilitated by the convention in the past few years have ingrained themselves in their respective communities, building relationships, providing benevolence ministries and sharing the gospel.
Texas Baptists facilitates the starting of churches with churches and associations. Those efforts are supported by gifts through the Cooperative Program – Texas Baptists’ primary giving channel – and donations to the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions. Garcia’s ministry also is supported by Mary Hill Davis funds.
“The church is thriving in colonias,” Trevino said. “Folks are really eager to come out and listen to the gospel and help one another. Many times you’ll find these folks don’t go outside their colonia. They help those within the colonia. They’re practicing Acts 2, selling what they have to help their brethren.”
Garcia and Trevino are facing two primary obstacles head on as they seek to connect congregations and associations to start churches – lack of churches willing to sponsor church starts and lack of church starters. In Laredo, the association has two training groups that equip laypeople to become church starters, creating a force of indigenous, prepared people who feel called to start churches.
In order to encourage churches to sponsor new congregations along the border, Texas Baptists have tapped into technology to allow churches in other parts of the state to help launch congregations. Through the use of web video conferencing and regular visits, churches and local associations can provide the required accountability of the convention’s church-starting process.
“If a church in Dallas or Houston or San Antonio wants to partner to start a church along the border, we can enter into that conversation,” said Paul Atkinson, who leads Texas Baptist’ church-starting efforts. “We’re looking for sponsor churches from all across the state.”
For more information about sponsoring a new church along the border, call Atkinson at 888-244-9400.