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ETHNIC CHURCHES: Engaging Native Americans

EDITOR’S NOTE: Southern Baptists are one of the most diverse denominations in America, with more than 9,330 ethnic congregations — almost one in five Southern Baptist congregations. Many ethnic churches — from New Jersey to Oklahoma to Oregon — are excellent examples of what it means to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ with a heart for lost people of any background. Baptist Press offers these five ethnic congregations as snapshots of Southern Baptist diversity and role models of congregational health.

Click here to view a photo gallery with more photos from Glorieta Baptist Church.

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (BP)–It’s the Christmas story like you’ve never seen it before.

All the participants are meticulously dressed in Native American regalia. Tribal chiefs portray the Wise Men. The shepherds who come to worship the Christ child are seen as hunters.

Across the packed auditorium at Glorieta Baptist Church, members and guests watch as “A Native American Christmas Story” unfolds.

This is one of the more popular outreach activities at Glorieta Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla., a 350-member congregation that is 90 percent Native American.

The church conducts a wide range of activities to engage its community and mature people in Christ, says Emerson Falls, who grew up just a few miles from the church and this past fall was elected president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

But of all the initiatives the church undertakes, Falls says the most important thing they do is pray. Like many other churches, the Wednesday night schedule begins with a meal, but then the rest of the evening focuses entirely on prayer.

“Whatever we do comes out of a dynamic relationship to God,” Falls says. “We encourage members to read Scripture daily and keep a journal of what God is saying to them. We have to be connected with God before we can do anything.”

One of the major changes the Lord led the church to make since Falls became pastor five years ago was to move its Sunday evening service to 2 p.m. and change it from a time of worship to a focus on discipleship training. That helped them involve more church families, many of whom travel to the church from all over the metropolitan area.

Falls tries to use the afternoon session to equip members for witness and ministry.

“We recently did Becoming Contagious Christians, and we revisited Experiencing God,” Falls says. “We also train our people in the ‘Roman Road’ plan of salvation once a year.”

But the church also works to get people in the pew so they can hear the Gospel.

“The No. 1 reason people come to church is because they know someone,” Falls says. “Therefore, our outreach tends to be relational.”

Toward that end, the church launched “Give Friday Nights to Jesus,” a non-threatening social time — a cook-out, game night or other event — where unchurched people are special guests. Summer movie nights, with popcorn and soft drinks, also attract the unchurched, as do the fall festival, senior banquet and open gym night.

“One man had not been to church in 20 years, but he was invited to a social event at someone’s house, got to know them, came to church and two months later was saved,” Falls recalls.

Falls said the church also conducts events that are intentionally evangelistic, reaching people who would otherwise not come to church.

“In all of these activities, our goal is to find prospects for our church,” he says.

The church also tries to connect with non-church groups, such as the Oklahoma City Pow-Pow Club.

“We do such things as pick-up trash for them,” Falls says. “They have asked us to lead worship services and they use our building for their Christmas dinner.”

The church also works with the Oklahoma City public schools Indian program, counseling and helping raise money. Mission activities include collecting toys for the Indian Clinic and involving members in a drug rehab program. During the summer, they provide water for native people who play in sports leagues. They also work with a juvenile detention center and the Capital Baptist Association rescue mission.

“We try to get unchurched people involved in these activities with us,” Falls says. “One lady who helped us gather toys was baptized six months later.”

Judy Barker, a member of Glorieta for five years, knows firsthand the value of involving unsaved people in church projects. Her husband, Bob, was saved during one of the church’s outreach efforts.

“He came, got to know the people, connected with them and started coming to church,” she said. “He was saved a year ago this December.”

Barker says she loves the church’s passion for ministry and missions.

“We try to involve everyone, from the very small ones, who are collecting Bibles to send to our soldiers, and the first through sixth graders, who make hospital packets for the pastor and associate pastor to take when they visit people, to our members who are shut in, keeping them informed of activities so they feel involved,” Barker says.

Glorieta is a diversified, but close-knit congregation, Barker adds: “We take care of each other and embrace those who come in and get them into a small group so they are not lost in the pews.”
Dana Williamson is assistant editor of the Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

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