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N.M. church reaches out to Hispanic community

LAS VEGAS, N.M. (BP)–First Baptist Church in Las Vegas, N.M., has a new pastor, new worship center and revitalized focus on its purpose.

The church is Stop No. 43 on Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch’s bus tour of SBC churches across the nation, underscoring the cause of evangelism in kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year..

“As a new pastor I’m cautious about moving in and making changes, but the congregation is excited,” said Ben Talley, who arrived on the church field July 12 after three years as a manager of a LifeWay Christian store in southern Florida. “I think we’re going to impact this community for God.”

Talley has a goal of reaching 200 in attendance. The population of the town is 16,000.

“We fully expect within the next couple of months in our new building to double our attendance, and I believe within three years we’ll have to add an additional wing for Bible study,” said Talley, who had 24 years in the pastorate before his stint as manager at a Christian store.

Talley says in the culture of Las Vegas, N.M., the term “Bible study” is preferable to “Sunday school.”

“I am a Sunday school person,” the pastor said. “We’re going to use Bible study on Sunday morning as the primary outreach for the church because statistically we know that eight out of 10 enrolled in Sunday school come to know Jesus as savior.”

About 85 percent of the people who live in Las Vegas, N.M., are of Hispanic descent. It’s a significant challenge for the predominantly Anglo church, said Talley, who speaks Spanish.

“We’re connecting more and more with Hispanic people who have chosen to come out of the Catholic faith,” Talley said. “We had a whole Hispanic family here Sunday because the lady teaching in the same school system with my wife, Lynda, found out she was a pastor’s wife.

“As we incorporate Hispanic families we can learn from them how best to reach their culture. What we’re attempting to do is to show everyone the only way to go to heaven is through a personal relationship with Christ.”

Longtime members tell him the church never had a new members class, so he started one. Among the five members are a deputy district attorney and his wife and a state trooper and his wife. The congregation also includes a judge and his wife, and the owners of the local McDonald’s restaurant.

“People need to know the expectations of the Lord and the church,” Talley said. “We hope in four years to begin planning for a family life center, and maybe even before that, a Christian nursery and preschool.”

About 30 people attend the three Wednesday evening growth classes –- Basics of the Bible, Disciplines in Prayer and a Beth Moore study –- which start with a meal cooked by a man who learned his craft as a Gulf War mess chef.
The pastor wants to develop a dozen or more cell groups across the area, with leadership he would train.

“At this point, we’re working to the point of sending out mission teams,” Talley said. “We’re not there yet. This church is an old church; it knows what it needs to be doing, but over time the members have become weak and disillusioned, and every once in awhile need to have someone come and minister to us.

“Missions is the lifeblood of the church. We need to keep that in focus. If we lose the mission of the church, the church dies. Jesus intended for us to have a global mission strategy, and that’s what we’re about.”