Pratt's newest pastor has some specific goals for his church. Pastor Steve Taylor wants the First Southern Baptist Church to be the leading church in Pratt and in the Kansas-Nebraska convention of Southern Baptists, with an average attendance of at least one-tenth of the population of Pratt.
On a "solid fall or winter day" attendance at two services currently totals around 350, he said. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Pratt's population in July 2011 was 6,850.
Numerical growth will not come at the expense of other denominations.
"We don't desire to interrupt the ministry of other churches. We desire to reach the unreached people," he explained.
He envisions growth occurring as a result of an increased emphasis on evangelism and outreach and new activities, leading to a physical growth in church facilities. Building plans are already being talked about for church-owned land to the west, adjacent to a developing Sandy Creek housing subdivision.
He envisions a "fresh approach to doing Church."
That could mean expanding the number of worship services, holding worship on a day other than Sunday, and perhaps at a different location. At a previous church he pastored, Taylor held a Thursday evening service during break time at a hospital.
He believes the time is right to reach people who are not active church members.
"I think people are looking for life's meaning. People are still seeking God in their hearts," he said. "I think they want something worthwhile when they get there."
What he promises, when people get to First Southern Baptist, is strong Bible preaching and teaching.
He brings some unique experiences to the job.
He and wife Shirley moved to Pratt from Borger, Texas, having pastored churches in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. He was raised in Alabama, graduated from Samford University and earned a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, in 1976. He pastored his first church while still a teenager.
Most of the couple's adult life was spent in Zimbabwe, Africa, in the deep bush of the Zambezi River Valley. It is one of the "truly great wild places on the earth," he said, and the BaTonga people are among the poorest of the poor. They live as fishermen, hunters and gatherers, and do some subsistence farming. Taylor estimated their monthly income would equate to 12 U.S. dollars.
The Taylors and their three children, now adults, lived among the BaTonga, learning their language and customs and gaining their trust. Like the natives, he traveled many miles to obtain safe water from an artesian well, and hunted to provide for his family.
"I became one of them, to a degree," he said.
Page 2 of 2 - The BaTonga practice animism, or spirit worship, that Taylor said is based on fear of retribution if people don't please the gods. After winning their confidence, he began sharing the Gospel of Christ and found them to be very receptive.
Pastor Taylor continues to work in Zimbabwe through his international ministry, Rock Cry Expeditions, helping with well-baby clinics, providing medical supplies, working to prevent malaria, sports ministries and planting churches.
The Taylors moved to Pratt in late May and have purchased a house. They are finding Kansas to be to their liking, even though he quipped that among Southern Baptists the state is considered to be the edge of the mission field. In Texas, there's a Southern Baptist church on every corner; here there is only the one.
He says they are "here for the long haul."
"I will use the experiences of my past — both cross-culturally in Africa and in growing large churches in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico — to do my best to maximize the potential of First Southern in Pratt," he promised.