By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
GALLATIN — A year ago, a virtual church plant was unheard of in Tennessee Baptist life.
Now, thanks to Hispana Iglesia Bautista Gallatin, the concept is “a new tool in the toolbox,” according to William Burton, church planting specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Hispana Iglesia Bautista was birthed in September last year after Burton had preached earlier in the summer at Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Hendersonville and challenged church members not to let the pandemic keep them from doing what God called them to do.
“I encouraged them to stay on mission and they took hold of it,” Burton said.
Church members Frank and Maria Elena Urroz took Burton’s challenge to heart. “My wife and I began to pray,” Urroz said. “The Lord confirmed to us that Gallatin was the area that Spanish speaking people needed to hear a clear message from the Word of God.”
Because the pandemic was still in full swing, they knew that they could not have in-person services.
Burton mentioned that churches in other areas of the country were beginning virtual church plants and having some success, Urroz said.
After more prayer and confirmation from God that was what they needed to do, the new church was launched virtually in September of last year, the planter said.
On that first Sunday, they reached two families with eight people in the Gallatin area. But that was not the end of the story.
Also tuned in to the online Bible study on Facebook Live and other venues were about 175 people from nearly 10 different countries and other locations in the United States.
Urroz and his wife are both from Nicaragua so they expected some additional viewers but they were overwhelmed by the numbers at that first service.
But because of friends who shared the page with their friends, people learned about the service and tuned in.
“It never crossed our minds that we would reach that many people,” Urroz said. “It’s amazing.”
Burton agreed. “It just goes to show that while we see the pandemic as a limitation, God sees it as an invitation for us to utilize resources that are available to reach more people.”
Since that first online Bible study, the Gallatin church has continued weekly services and has added a Thursday night service as well.
In December the church met in person for the first time at First Baptist Church, Gallatin. “It was marvelous to see that God’s hand was on them and that He used us to start something like this. It was an overwhelming joy,” Urroz said.
They have since met in person six other times. “It’s been good to meet the families and start building relationships,” the pastor noted. He is hopeful the church can add in-person services on a regular basis later this spring.
Meanwhile, the virtual services will continue and will continue even after the church is meeting in person.
The church is now reaching 12 families in Gallatin, comprising about 35 people, Urroz said. In addition, the church is still reaching more than 100 people weekly from about 10 countries, he said.
The new church planter has a simple, but reachable goal for 2021.
“We want to share the gospel in a clear, concise way with as many Spanish speaking people as we can in Gallatin so they can understand the gospel, respond in baptism and grow as believers,” Urroz said.
“We hope to baptize a minimum of 15 new believers this year,” he added.
Burton is grateful that Urroz and his wife listened to God speaking to them through Burton’s message last summer. “God got hold of their hearts. I just praise the Lord.”
Mike Pennington, director of missions for Bledsoe Baptist Association, helped connect the new church plant with pastor Travis Fleming and First Baptist Church, Gallatin.
“Bledsoe Baptist is thrilled with the new Hispanic church plant. It is a joy to partner with them,” he said.
Pennington noted that Gallatin is brimming with Spanish speaking people. “This church has the opportunity to reach many people with the gospel and to make a great impact on the Kingdom,” Pennington observed.
The DOM added that the virtual church plant shows the value of cooperation.
”The vital partnership between the local church, the association and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board is working,” Pennington affirmed.