PAVE helping San Antonio church build momentum

by Teresa Young on December 7, 2023 in Stories of Impact

Despite being a vibrant part of the San Antonio community for 102 years, Saint Luke Baptist Church appeared to some to be dying. Declining membership and a changing neighborhood demographic were not painting a hopeful picture, and Pastor Joe Barber knew something had to change if the church’s ministry was to continue.

“The church has been reluctant to change … and the younger generations have moved out of the neighborhood around us,” said Barber, who celebrated 18 years as pastor in October. “The church elders and core members were stuck.”

An email from Oza Jones, director of Texas Baptists African American Ministries, gave Barber a glimmer of promise. Jonathan Smith, director of the convention’s Church Health Strategy, was working with churches just like Saint Luke through his office’s PAVE church revitalization program.

“When I learned about PAVE, I decided to go learn more. I refused to pull the plug on [Saint Luke],” said Barber, who serves bivocationally as a substance abuse counselor. “It was like CPR to revive us. The program, for me, has been a godsend.”

After attending the spring workshop, Barber left with an armful of resources and ideas to bring renewal to the Saint Luke congregation. He chose to tackle one immediately: a new idea about celebrating baptisms to build excitement among church membership. But Barber had one additional concern: the church had not had any baptisms in quite some time.

“Pretty soon, the Holy Spirit moved,” said Barber.

A family came to join the church with a member who was a candidate for baptism. Barber’s congregation followed the PAVE suggestion and interviewed the individual beforehand, then played the video just prior to their baptism. Church staff also videoed the baptism, and the whole congregation got involved.

“That started an energy in the church where folks were getting excited about baptism,” Barber said. “Now we’re on a run for about 20 weeks straight of baptisms. Now the focus is discipling them all and how we’re going to do that.”

Smith said he was encouraged by how the simple change made an impact.

“I'm convinced that baptism is one of the best evangelistic tools for the modern church,” said Smith. “Some people share the gospel of Christ with more people on their baptism day than they will the rest of their lives. Part of the power of the three-week baptism plan is for people to tell their story of redemption, coupled with the symbolic act of baptism”

Barber said he also took Smith’s advice to involve church members of different ages, building buy-in among the young people in everything from strategic planning to community outreach efforts.

“It took all the stress off of me as a pastor and forced me to form teams made up of youth, middle-agers and seniors, basically three generations all looking at the life of the church. It’s starting to bring energy as well,” said Barber. “I’m excited for what it’s doing for our church. We’re coming up with fresh new ideas. It has really turned this ship around where we are looking at doing some different things.”

Among those is involving the growing population of young people at each service, which has led to more young people visiting and joining the congregation. Saint Luke is also planning to revive its community clinic that suffered during the COVID pandemic. They have continued Wellness Wednesdays, opening the church for mental health counseling, prayer, an emergency food pantry and more.

“Pastor Barber's church in San Antonio is a beacon of hope in a difficult area of town,” Smith noted. “Saint Luke's ministry to the least of these is incredibly inspiring.”

Barber has enjoyed sharing ideas and encouragement with other PAVE pastors, and he’s excited to see the church membership slowly rising, hitting an average of 60 with 100 on some peak Sundays.

“It’s been a tedious process, but it’s so rewarding now as you see results, slowly but surely,” Barber said. “It’s been surprising to me and exciting to my old deacons to see the impact of these small changes. We hadn’t had any baptisms in a long time, and we worried that we were dead. When the deacons started seeing that, it revived them as well. Now, they’re excited about how to get others here and how to disciple them.”

Texas Baptists is a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love by strengthening churches and ministers, engaging culture and connecting the nations to Jesus.

The ministry of the convention is made possible by giving through the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program, Mary Hill Davis Offering® for Texas Missions, Texas Baptists Worldwide and Texas Baptist Missions Foundation. Thank you for your faithful and generous support.

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