From the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon to the lofty mountain grandeur of the Mogollon rim to the beautiful Sonoran desert, the diversity of Arizona is a wonder to behold! You can play in the snow of the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff one day and play golf in sunny Phoenix the next. You can enjoy the beautiful red rocks of Sedona the same day you wonder at the stone trees of the Petrified Forest. You can even find the London Bridge in a place called Lake Havasu City and the OK Corral in Tombstone. Arizona is the only place where you will find the stately saguaro cactus and the largest stand of Ponderosa pines in the country all in the same state!
Arizona is a destination state for many. Whether it is the warm winter weather, wonders of nature, or the pop of bats and gloves during Spring Training for over a dozen Major League Baseball teams in March, Arizona is the place to be!
We are home to six professional sports teams—the NFL Cardinals, the MLB Diamondbacks, the NHL Coyotes, the NBA Suns, the WNBA Mercury, and the AFL Rattlers. The two highest-attended sporting events every year are NASCAR races and the PGA golf tournament. And in the last twenty-six months, the University of Phoenix Stadium has hosted a Super Bowl, a Pro Bowl, a College Football Championship game, and the NCAA basketball Final Four. But it is not just about sports. You can find cultural attractions like the world-famous Heard Museum of Native American artifacts and Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural trademark Taliesin West right here in our state.
Arizona is famous for its five “C’s”—cotton, cattle, climate, citrus, and copper. The economy of Arizona is as diverse as its landscape. Yes, Arizona is home to copper mining and some of the best cotton grown in the world, but it also has thousands of acres of other agricultural products. In fact, the vast majority of the nation’s lettuce crop in the winter months comes from Yuma. Arizona has also become home to many companies in the technology sector, which brings many to our state. We are home to more than thirty college campuses, including the largest university in the country in Arizona State University, as well as three major military bases.
Maybe that is why Arizona is growing the way it is. The US census reports that eighty-one thousand people moved to Maricopa County in 2015–2016, making it the fastest-growing county in the United States. An average of 222 people move to the Phoenix area every day! The vast majority of people in Arizona live in two urban centers—Phoenix and Tucson. These two hubs form one of the North American Mission Board’s “Send Cities” to focus church planting efforts. The challenge is great to keep up with population growth as well as the variety of people groups that live here.
The peoples of Arizona are as varied as the landscape. From Anglos to Hispanics, Native Americans to African-Americans, Burmese to Burundians, Chinese to Koreans and Vietnamese, our state is a global community. Central High School in Phoenix provides services to thirty-four different language groups. Of the 6.9 million people who live in Arizona, an estimated two million are Hispanic. They are a significant part of the culture and economy of our state. Arizona is also home to two of the largest Native American reservations in the country: the Navajo reservation in the northeast corner of our state and the Tohono O’odham in the south. The sparseness of the population cannot hide the greatness of the need of these areas.
The variety of people in Arizona is not limited to their ethnicity. Arizona is also rich in cultural expressions like cowboys, bikers, students, artists, and senior adult communities. The over-65 demographic is one of the fastest growing. Some of the towns in Arizona double or triple in size in the winter due to visitors from other parts of the country. For example, Quartzsite, Arizona, grows from 3,600 to 360,000 during the month of January every year!
Arizona Southern Baptists have taken up the challenge of reaching all of these peoples with the Gospel. Our mission statement says we are “working together to make disciples of all peoples in Arizona and around the world!” We do that by sharing the Gospel, planting churches, training pastors and leaders, reaching out to people in need, and engaging college students. With one Southern Baptist church for every nineteen thousand people in Maricopa County, and one church per fourteen thousand people across the state, we need to plant more churches to reach more people in every area and among all people groups.
Our vision is to have one thousand churches by the year 2028 when our convention celebrates its one-hundredth anniversary. That’s more than twice as many churches as we have right now! We believe that will be the best way to reach our state, because the church is God’s instrument for the accomplishment of the Great Commission. We welcome our Southern Baptist family from around the country who will be visiting us in June. Perhaps the Lord will lead some to join us in our vision to reach Arizona by praying for us, partnering with us, or helping plant a church among us.
Arizona is a vision. And God has given us a vision for Arizona!
David W. Johnson is executive director-treasurer of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention and is a member of Royal Palms Baptist Church in Phoenix.