I visited Southern Hills Baptist Church during a law school competition held in Las Vegas. I called the church for a ride to a church service, and Pastor Josh Teis sent a ministry volunteer (now a Deacon) to pick me up in a smart car. The ensuing ride involved rain, race-like maneuvers through a group of semis and a tune-up to my prayer life. I truly believed that some first responders were going to find me, Josh’s deacon and his smart car smartly pancaked between some 18-wheelers. Having experienced personal revival via a car ride, I arrived at Southern Hills to find a vibrant, multi-ethnic church doing great things in what some have called “Sin City.” In this episode, I talked to Josh about urbanization, apologetics and ministering to a multiethnic, multilingual congregation.

#1 Las Vegas reflects our Plural (Rather than Just Secular) Society

The world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history. If current trends continue, 85% of the developed world will be urbanized by 2050. Since we are called to reach people with the Gospel, the Church must follow people into cities if we are to remain effective in coming years. One city that has exploded in the last fifteen+ years is Las Vegas, Nevada. The 2010 census pointed to Las Vegas as the fastest growing city of that census (1.4 million in 2000 to about 2 million in 2010), and greater Las Vegas continues to grow exponentially. In the 1960s and 1970s, sociologists declared that cultures become more secular as they modernize. However, sociologists like Peter Berger have now concluded that this “secularization theory” is false. Our society is becoming more plural (various races, ideologies and belief systems) than secular. Josh mentions that this is certainly the trend in Las Vegas and discusses how he is intentionally trying to reach across cultural barriers with the Gospel. Interesting fact: Hawaiians call Las Vegas the “ninth island” because so many Hawaiians have relocated there.

#2 Practical Apologetics

Josh and I discuss an important theme in apologetics these days: many people are not struggling with a conflict between faith and reason but rather a conflict between faith and feeling. As Josh’s wife, Heather, puts it, the “struggle is not rational but emotional.” Josh recently preached through a series called “Clear Answers,” in which he addressed many of the tough questions people are asking these days (He also recommends Ben Schettler, an apologist with Ask or Think Ministries). He emphasizes that we should focus our efforts on questions people are actually asking. For example, his current sermon series, Let Go (the graphic look like the Lego logo), is framed as follows: “LET GO is a practical “How To” Sermon-Series that will help you finally overcome the issues that are blocking you from happiness. You will learn how to identify, remove, and replace the pieces that don’t fit. You’ve tried before, but this time will be different – because you’re going to learn how to LET GO.” Josh also notes that modern people are not looking to the church for a cultural echo but rather for Biblical responses to the mega-changes in our society.

#3 A Multilingual Ministry

Josh talks about ministering to a church family that speaks several different languages. Southern Hills has used transmitters (similar to devices used at the UN) and bilingual pastors/staff to translate the service into different languages. This provides several benefits to attendees. It allows immigrant families to worship together (he notes that many of the second and third-generation families speak English but wish to honor their elders, who do not). It also provides an opportunity for immigrants to learn English as a second language. Southern Hills is also experimenting with separate services for different languages.

On a final, encouraging note, Josh is confident in the future of the Gospel-preaching church despite the challenges of our times.

Josh leads Idea Day, a one-day conference dedicated to facilitating conversation that will help church leaders gain practical insight and methodology that will help their ministry. I have attended an Idea Day and found it very helpful.

You can connect with Josh Teis on Twitter at @joshteis and follow his blog at www.joshteis.com.