Contrary to the conventional wisdom that the Southern Baptist Convention is primarily a white Southern organization, about 10,000 of the SBC’s 46,124 churches are “ethnic” congregations, according to the convention’s chief operating officer.
In Louisiana, of the 1,600 churches in the Louisiana Baptist Convention, 162 churches are classified as “ethnic,” meaning they are predominantly African-American, Hispanic, or one of many Asian people groups, according to the LBC.
The Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, made of 94 churches and six ministries, includes 14 African-American, two Hispanic and five Asian churches of Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino and Burmese believers, according to the association.
The New Orleans Baptist Association, made of 125 churches and missions includes 25 African-American, 13 Hispanic and five Asian churches, according to the association.
“We are — by far — the most ethnically diverse convention on the face of the Earth,” the Rev. Dr. Frank Page, CEO and president of the board of the Southern Baptist Convention, declared to the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge at its 125th annual session held at Woodlawn Baptist Church in Baton Rouge on Oct. 14.
Almost 4,000 SBC churches are African-American, almost 3,000 are Hispanic, over 2,000 are Asian-American and 28 other recognized fellowships, bringing the ethnic total to nearly 10,000, Page said.
“People don’t realize that,” Page said. “They still think we are a Southern, white denomination. Those days are long, long, long gone.”
The Baton Rouge association mirrors the SBC in ethnic diversity, according to the Rev. Dr. Tommy Middleton, BAGBR’s director.
“Multicultural expansion is a Southern Baptist work and we are working to make it (BAGBR) look like what our country and our city looks like,” Middleton said.
Many predominantly white congregations are also becoming more ethnically diverse, Middleton said. “I see it everywhere I go.”
The Rev. George H. Guillory, Jr., senior pastor of Glen Oaks Baptist Church, is moderator of BAGBR and a leader in Together Baton Rouge.
“Over the next 10 years BAGBR plans to plant 70 new churches — most of those are non-Anglo churches,” Guillory said. “We’re looking at all the people groups in our area — African-Americans, Africans, Hispanics, Haitians, Asians, Koreans, Vietnamese, Burmese, Chinese — we have all of them, and we’re trying to reach them.”
The Rev. Lee T. Wesley is pastor of Community Bible Baptist in Baton Rouge, an SBC church, and Plymouth Rock Baptist in Plaquemine, a National Baptist Convention USA Inc. church, and is the founder of Together Baton Rouge.
“I have been a part of Southern Baptists for 26 years and when I first joined the then-Judson Baptist Convention — I was the only minority,” Wesley said, “and (minority membership) has grown tremendously since that time — that is a good thing.”
Florida Boulevard Baptist in Baton Rouge is a prime example of the growing SBC diversity. Along with the church’s historic white congregation, a small Hispanic and a growing African-American congregation also worship there in Sunday school rooms, the fellowship hall and main sanctuary.
“I think God is doing a unique work bringing everyone together under one roof at our facility and it’s exciting to be a part of,” said the Rev. Joey Beeson, Florida Boulevard’s acting senior pastor. “We think this is what heaven will look like.”
The First Baptist Hispanic Church has been worshipping here for five years. Last Sunday, the Rev. Carlos Rosales preached to his small congregation in the fellowship hall after the FBC congregation met there for its contemporary second service.
“We have had tremendous support from Florida Boulevard Baptist church both with the facility and with some financial assistance,” Rosales said after the all-Spanish service. “The Hispanic population has grown tremendously in Baton Rouge and everyone is welcome here.”
At the same time, the Baton Rouge congregation of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church of New Orleans was worshipping in the main sanctuary after the FBC congregation worshipped there for its traditional early service.
The Rev. Manual Pigee, Franklin Avenue’s Baton Rouge pastor, said the three congregations meeting under one roof is proof that skin color doesn’t matter.
“We believe that heaven is multi-ethnic so why wait to get to heaven to see what heaven looks like?” Pigee said following their service. “We just want to say to a watching world that the only color that matters is red — the blood of Jesus Christ. We all love each other; we work together toward a common goal and that is to share Christ Jesus with a lost world.”
“The New Orleans Baptist Association has always been an inclusive association,” said its executive director, Jack Hunter. “Not just in terms of ethnicity but also in terms of theological views — we consider that as one of our strengths.”
Hunter said many of the predominantly white congregations are becoming more diverse as the population becomes more African-American and Hispanic.
Hunter cited the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., as a prime example of the growing diversity of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Luter is the senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist in New Orleans, one of the state’s largest SBC churches. He served as the convention’s president for two years, its first African American president.
The Florida Boulevard congregation of several hundred is a remnant of Luter’s church who moved to Baton Rouge following Hurricane Katrina and stayed here.
“I consider Fred Luter’s presidency as a watershed in many ways, not only as an African-American, he is the favorite son of New Orleans,” Hunter said. “And he is Southern Baptist through and through.”
The Rev. David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, said they are committed to reaching everyone with The Every People Group Task Force.
“Of the 300 churches we’re working to plant by the year 2020, the majority of them will be non-Anglo congregations,” Hankins said. “Waylon Bailey, of First Covington, has indicated he wants his church to look like heaven. That is a great way to describe the desire and direction of Louisiana Baptists.”