In Texas 2030, Tom Howe outlined projected trends for population growth and demographic change that have important – and perhaps jarring – implications for Texas Baptist (those affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas) churches and their goal of reaching the lost with the gospel.
On Monday morning (July 17), Tom Howe, director of church starting and replanting for Texas Baptists, led a workshop at the 2023 Texas Baptists Family Gathering that was focused on the future of Texas.
Using the illustrations of four types of snow — a snow shower, a blizzard, winter and an ice age — Howe suggested Texas is in the early stages of winter or an ice age. Either, he said, requires a much different level of preparation than a snow shower or blizzard.
Winter or ice age?
“Winters are interruptions — for example, the COVID pandemic,” Howe said. “If it’s an ice age, we have to change everything.”
And later, he added: “The world is changing all around us.”
Texas surpassed 30 million in population in Fall 2022. By 2030, the state is expected to add 5.2 million more people — more than Arkansas or Louisiana’s total population. But by 2050, projections have the state’s population nearly doubling — which would mean Texas would surpass California to become the state with the most population.
The DFW area is expected to add 9–10 million, Howe said, while Houston will add 8.5–9 million; the Austin/San Antonio area will add 5–7.6 million. Howe said several public officials have suggested his estimates are too low.
But it’s more than simply numbers, Howe said. Texas’ demographics continue a rapid shift.
In 1970, Texas was 86.8% white and 12% Black. By 2020, the state was 50.1%white, 12% Black, 5% Asian, 13% other and 17.6% “two or more races.”
Highlighting the last segment, Howe noted: “If your church is gonna be all white, all Black, all Hispanic — you’re already missing 20% of the population.”
Largest people group in Texas
Howe also noted Hispanics are now the largest people group in Texas, at 40.2% (non-Hispanic white is 39.3%).
Likewise, religious identification continues to decline. Howe said fewer than 50% of Texans “have any affiliation with religion.”
“Add another five million and we’ll have a lost culture of 20 million in Texas by 2030,” he said. “… We’ve got a missions field here in Texas now. Not coming — it came.”
Willing to adapt
Against that backdrop, Texas mirrors the national trend in churches.
More churches are closing the doors each year than are started. If that trend continues, he noted, it means by 2050, the population of Texas will double and the number of churches will be cut in half. The BGCT and SBTC combined have about 7,000 churches, he said — but if the numbers hold, they would combined have about 3,500 by 2050.
“What happens when the population doubles and the number of churches is cut in half? It’s not good, whatever it is,” Howe said.
“We’ll have less people trying to reach more people that desperately need the gospel,” he said. “There’s a great need for healthy churches.”
If every Texas Baptists church grew by 200 members, Howe said, and Texas Baptists started 500 churches that each grew to at least 200 people, the growth would equal about 1.1 million – “and we’d be ecstatic. But if Texas grows by 20 million, and we’ve added a million, we’ve missed 95% of the lost people in Texas.”
Additionally, Howe outlined the habits and expectations of millennials and Gen Z. Churches must be willing and ready to adapt to all of the changes in populations, demographics and habits, he said.
“The task is large, but we’ve got a big God,” Howe said.
The solution looks different with each church and each community, Howe said, but it requires change from every church. As Mark Clifton, senior director of replanting for the North American Mission Board, put it: “The community does not exist for your church; your church exists for the community.”
Becoming ‘adaptive leaders’
Churches’ leaders must “become adaptive leaders,” Howe said. Referencing the explorative journey of Lewis and Clark in the early 19th Century, he noted their understanding of their task changed dramatically when they first sighted the Rocky Mountains.
“As we look at this new Texas that’s coming, what we think we know about church work is what they thought they knew about America until they got to the Rocky Mountains,” Howe said.
Howe suggested pastors and other church leaders must get to know their community – compiling a community profile – and then produce a profile of their church and study the difference. Next, he said, they must build a “strategic bridge” from church to community.
“Start with what you know,” he said. “You know your community. Start paying attention to the movements. What new population is moving in or out? What plants are moving in or shutting down? Where are they building new subdivisions? You’ve got to be considering these things. You’ve got to learn your community and find the leverage points you have.”
Rather than feeling overwhelmed, Howe urged attendees, they should see the potential.
“We have an incredible opportunity, for the first time ever, to reach a Texas that has never existed. Every generation has that — let’s reach it! Let’s go make a difference in our communities. The world is coming to Texas. We don’t even have to do missions without leaving Texas. We can stay here. Jesus is bringing them to us,” he said.
“We can go outside, too. We can do that. But y’all come and let’s be part of changing Texas.”