LANHAM, Md. (BP)–In 1980, leaders of a Baptist association in suburban Washington, D.C., took action in the face of a county growing primarily through new African American families.
“At that time, we had 20 white congregations,” recounted Ron Rogers, Prince George’s Baptist Association director of missions. “The association decided to start new works and to work more closely with churches that typified the community. Our emerging congregations are African American and some with languages other than English.
“That decision changed the entire structure of the association,” Rogers said, “and it is a decision we have never questioned or revisited.
The association’s 20 churches had 7,500 members in 1980 and nearly 8,000 members in 1995. “Some had grown and some had declined,” Rogers said. “If we had not made the decision we did in 1980, we would still be in existence but about where we were then and not really serving the county. Obviously, that was not God’s plan.
“We have new churches and we have doubled in size by adding another 8,000 members of churches in the association,” Rogers reported. Currently, there are 73 churches associated with the Prince George’s Baptist Association, including 43 African American congregations and 12 where other languages are spoken such as Asian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese Filipino and Spanish.
Prince George’s County is among the fastest-growing counties in Maryland because of its proximity to the nation’s capital. “Reports have called our county one with the most affluent African American neighborhoods, but we have extremes in income levels, and we have other races and cultures, too,” Rogers said.
“From the ’70s through the ’90s, reports projected that the population in Prince George’s County would decline by 60,000 among whites and increase by about 120,000 African Americans. That change is one we could not and should not ignore,” he continued.
“We also have people moving here from all over the nation and world, because of our proximity to Washington, again. So, this presents an overwhelming opportunity to meet the spiritual needs of people who know Christ, people who don’t know Christ, people who may be in need of nearby church homes — and more. Their needs are as diverse as their backgrounds,” Rogers said.
The opportunities are not without challenges, though. The county consists of numerous bedroom communities. There is no central shopping area or business district. Its residents, both white and African American, live inside and outside the Interstate 495 beltway, which surrounds Washington, traveling through its various suburbs.
“The average family income is higher outside the beltway than inside the beltway,” Rogers said. “This is something we have had to understand and respond to appropriately. The beltway, while great for transportation, is one of the two major connector roads in the county. There are no other major streets or highways upon which people travel within the county. So, having mass meetings involving everyone is difficult for us.
“Where our association has been most effective,” Rogers noted, “is in helping young churches and new churches. We have provided resources and assistance. That has been a good way to attract people and churches just to contact us. Of course, we are not the only ones they contact. They are looking for any resources and assistance available. Even I have been overwhelmed by the resources Southern Baptists can provide that other groups simply can not or do not.
“Let me emphasize that we do not go out and pursue churches or ministers,” Rogers said. “Most come to us directly because of word of mouth. In fact, we have helped several churches get started that will never be Southern Baptist.
“If there is anyone out there trying to reach people in the county for Christ, we are going to help him with things such as legal requirements, constitutions and bylaws, charters, tax-exempt forms and other needs,” Rogers said.
As new communities develop, there is a need to establish more churches. In preparation for this, the Prince George’s County Baptist Association has been working on a five-year plan to affect communities, change lives and develop churches.
The association has identified six areas as vital for serving the county:
1) fostering growth in existing churches and developing new churches;
2) equipping churches and members to share the gospel;
3) assisting churches and pastors in developing church and associational leaders;
4) assisting churches to minister to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of their communities, with a goal for the year 2000 of every church being involved in some type of ministry based on the needs of its particular community;
5) enhancing people’s lives by Bible study, prayer and other spiritual disciplines; and
6) fostering cooperation among all association churches to work together to reach the county for Christ.
While these areas will drive the activities planned for the next five years, they won’t limit what the association may additionally offer, Rogers said.
“Because we have so many different kinds and sizes of churches, we have to offer a lot and be flexible enough to make changes. We may get several calls from pastors asking for help in evangelism. If that happens, we will respond to their needs and make training or other types of resources available,” Rogers said, noting the importance of planning — but being flexible enough to not be hindered by the plan.