EL PASO – When pastors get together these days, the conversation often turns to some variation on a consistent theme. They talk about how their church has rebounded – or still needs to rebound – after the COVID-19 pandemic. And they question when – or maybe if – things will return to “normal.”
“It’s like we can hardly wait to get back to where we used to be,” said Phil Miller, director of the Center for Church Health for Texas Baptists. “And we wonder if we ever will get back to where we used to be – and we wonder if we even should get back to where we used to be.”
The premise of the Future Church 2030 Conference, which is scheduled April 28-29 in El Paso, is as simple as its name. Instead of pondering a return to the past, the conference is designed to help pastors and church leaders carefully consider a different question: What comes next?
Or, as Miller put it: “What does God want us to be looking at down the road?”
Future Church 2030 is the brainchild of David Hardage, Texas Baptists’ recently retired executive director. In its second year, its aim is to provide insight and equip church leaders for the cultural, technological and demographic shifts which are already taking place or are just over the horizon.
Speakers include: Jordan Easley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Cleveland, Tenn. and a young Southern Baptist leader; Ariel Martinez, pastor of Del Sol Church in El Paso; and Bobby Contreras, pastor of Alamo Heights Baptist Church in San Antonio. In addition, Texas Baptists leaders are scheduled to lead sessions, including Katie Fruge, director of the Center for Cultural Engagement; Katie McCoy, director of Women’s Ministry; Robert White, associate director for African American Evangelism; Eric Hernandez, Apologetics lead and millennial specialist; and Jonathan Smith, director of Church Health Strategy. See the full list of speakers and detailed schedule.
Many of the sessions include time intentionally set aside for Q&A sessions; if a topic piques interest, there’s an immediate chance for follow-up and further discussion with the speaker.
The Future Church 2030 Conference is cosponsored by the El Paso Baptist Association. Larry Floyd, the association’s executive director, said several area church leaders who participated in last year’s event returned to West Texas “with new ideas and considering new concepts and things they probably hadn’t thought of,” and they wanted others to have the same opportunity.
“We need churches that can advance the Kingdom while staying on top of what’s going on,” Floyd said. “This is not just an El Paso Baptist Association or a Baptist thing – this is for the church.”
Miller and Floyd said the conference will provide an opportunity for pastors and church leaders to connect with other church leaders, as well as Texas Baptists staff, who will be available to answer questions, provide resources and share how the Convention can assist churches.
Where the inaugural conference, held a year ago in Bryan, took place on a Monday and Tuesday, organizers intentionally chose Friday and Saturday, in hopes more people would be able to participate. Miller said the feedback he received from the inaugural conference included pastors telling him they were both challenged and encouraged. He added that the rapidly shifting conditions make the context in 2023 different than it was even a year ago. Along with cultural changes, Miller noted recent spiritual awakenings (notably on college campuses) and said it seems God might be “wanting to draw us back and say, ‘Let’s focus on Kingdom.’”
“Does this event accomplish all that? No,” Miller said, “but I think it’s a piece of the puzzle along the way. It’s a cog in the wheel that moves us forward. My hope is that people come out, just like (a year ago), and they begin asking themselves different things.
“I hope they come away encouraged with where they are in ministry, for sure. But also, I hope they’re challenged about, ‘What are the possibilities that God may be opening for us down the road?’”
The hope is that leaders will mold the ideas and concepts they hear to fit local contexts.
“Whether they’re encouraged or challenged, when they leave here, what do they take home?” Miller asked. “It’s how it gets contextualized; how they take it home from there.”
Floyd said the El Paso Baptist Association already has plans to conduct follow-up sessions with local leaders.
“We don’t want to just have the conference,” he said. “We want to follow up and act on what we’ve learned.”
The Future Church 2030 Conference will take place April 28-29 at Del Sol Church in El Paso. Translation into Spanish will be available. Registration is $20, which includes admission to all sessions, continental breakfast, coffee and a dessert fellowship, as well as a pastors’ luncheon. Students will be admitted free. Scholarships are available by contacting Miller at phil.miller[at]txb.org. For more information, go to txb.org/futurechurch.