By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Truer words could not be said about the growth of ethnic ministry in Tennessee over the past decade.
The world is moving rapidly to the Volunteer State and William Burton, new churches team leader and ethnic church planting and evangelism specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, has seen it firsthand.
In Burton’s own neighborhood, just south of Franklin, his neighbors include individuals from Colombia, South America, Mexico, Italy, Puerto Rico and more.
“There’s a plethora of people moving and they are all from outside the state of Tennessee,” he said.
It’s exciting, he noted, because it gives Christians and Tennessee Baptists opportunities “to engage the nations and change our world and our state.”
During a Radio B&R podcast (See episode 48), Burton said there are 144 different people groups in Tennessee. “We’ve engaged roughly half of those in some shape, form or fashion with the gospel,” he estimated. “We have churches on any given Sunday that are worshiping in 38 different languages and these are Tennessee Baptist churches. We’re starting to look like [the diversity] you see at Walmart.”
Burton added that of the 144 people groups in Tennessee, 40 percent of those people groups are less than 2 percent evangelized worldwide.
“Many of them do not have the gospel in their native language and God has brought these people to Tennessee and placed them in the place where the Bible belt buckles. What a great opportunity we have as Tennessee Baptists to impact the world and the next generations because the children of these people groups are going to school and playing on sports teams with your children and grandchildren. And, I want them to be saved.”
While ethnic work as a whole is booming in Tennessee, the growth in Hispanic ministry has been dramatic over the past decade, Burton observed.
Ministry to Hispanics has been a part of Tennessee Baptist life for at least 40 years when migrant workers began’ coming to the state. The first Hispanic church was started about 30 years ago and increased to between 30-33 churches by 2010, he said.
Since 2010, however, the number of Hispanic churches has grown by 300 percent, culminating recently in the celebration of the 100th Hispanic church that was planted and became engaged with the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the TBMB, Burton said.
The church was Renovación Church which meets at Tusculum Hills Baptist Church in Nashville and is being planted by Esperanza Church in Franklin. The new congregation, led by Puerto Rico native Juan Natal, is bilingual and has a goal of engaging second generation Hispanics and multicultural families who speak both Spanish and English, Burton said.
He stressed that the Hispanic congregations are not just in the metropolitan areas of the state. They are in Paris, Union City, Morristown and in smaller communities all across Tennessee, he said.
Burton encourages churches to get a demographic study of their neighborhoods to see who is living in their communities. For information about a demographic study, contact Lewis McMullen of the TBMB staff at email@example.com.
He also encouraged Tennessee Baptists to be observant. “If there is an Arabic restaurant in your neighborhood, go to that restaurant and meet those folks and learn about them. They want to know you.”
Burton also reminded Tennessee Baptists that they don’t always have to know the language to communicate the love of Jesus Christ.
He shared a conversation he had with a missionary in the Nashville area who works with the Somali people group. “He told me that every nine days a Somalian in Middle Tennessee dies without ever having a meaningful gospel conversation with a Christian.”
While you might not know the language, “a smile, a handshake, a pat on the shoulder may open the door for you to share the love of Christ in some tangible fashion.”
He also added that ministries such as English as a Second Language classes and clothing or food ministries can “be the bait on the hook” to develop relationships that will enable you to share the gospel at some point.
“My prayer and my heart cry to God is that everyone in Tennessee would be saved.” B&R — For more information about ethnic ministry in Tennessee, contact Burton at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text him at 423-231-6113.