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Bow Valley links creative outreach with solid CP principles

COCHRANE, Alberta, Canada (BP)–Bow Valley Baptist Church was born to be on mission.

Just 20 years old, it has birthed three other churches and helped in the strengthening of others. It gives 13 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions, while also being on mission locally in the expansion of God’s Kingdom.

“We’re part of something much bigger than ourselves,” said Mel Blackaby, pastor since 2000 of the church that was started in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada, in January 1984. “It has impacted the people in our church to see how much we’re connected with others through the Cooperative Program [of the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists]. We’re not about building a big church but rather, extending the Kingdom of God.”

Bow Valley is a church of mostly young believers, said Jim Messner, a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer who has been part of the congregation since he became a Christian about four years ago.

“We are active in our church because we care about the people in church and in our community,” said Messner, who is a deacon and part of the men’s ministry leadership team. Men’s activities range from whitewater rafting to a “boys and toys” hobby show, as well as volunteering at community events and much more.

Blackaby combines the energy and out-of-the-box thinking of new believers with solid principles related to the expansion of God’s Kingdom. Ten percent of Bow Valley’s missions giving goes to the Cooperative Program, 2 percent to the Alberta Baptist Association and 1 percent to the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary.

“We have a goal in Canada of starting 1,000 churches by the year 2020,” Blackaby said. “For that to happen, each church has to do its part.”

Bow Valley does its part locally by connecting in an increasing number of creative ways with people in Cochrane, a bedroom community of 12,000 people — up from 900 in 1969 — about 20 minutes west of Calgary.

“We try to do things in the community that show we can be trusted,” Blackaby said. “As people begin to feel comfortable with us, then we are able to reach them with the Gospel.”

Examples abound:

— Members baked and took homemade cookies to every business in Cochrane one day last spring.

— They made and distributed Thanksgiving dinner to 175 working people in Cochrane on that holiday in 2002 — “gas stations, liquor stores, everywhere,” Blackaby said. “All year long we got lots of responses to that.”

— The church distributed bottled water labeled with its logo – “Bow Valley, where rivers of living water flow” — during the heat of summer.

— Members washed all the cars at a local dealership.

— Clad in church logo T-shirts, they picked up trash all over town.

“In Canada it’s hard to purchase land and build buildings because churches are tax-exempt and the cities don’t want to lose the revenue,” Blackaby said. “We wanted to let the community know we were here to help them, to be a benefit and not a drain on assets.”

Bow Valley’s Vacation Bible School is its biggest outreach each year, the pastor said. About 350 youngsters participate.

“We go overboard and do a top-notch production,” Blackaby said. “Families here say their children are their most precious commodity. … We wanted to reach more lost people who don’t go to church [and] found we’d get more lost people if we charged [parents pay $15 per child]. As soon as we did that, attendance dramatically shot up.

“It was like they were saying if it was something free from a Baptist church, it must not be good, and they didn’t want to feel like they owed the church something,” Blackaby continued. “To charge a fee kind of freed them up to come. [It] gave [the church] revenue to give things right back to them.”

Bow Valley uses its VBS theme each year in the huge float it enters in Cochrane’s annual Labor Day parade, featuring the children’s choir singing VBS songs. The float has taken first place for the last three years.

Town leaders invited Bow Valley last summer to lead in children’s programming for Cochrane’s centennial celebration and provided $3,000 for prizes and meat for grilling.

“They knew they could turn that big project over to us and we would do it well,” Blackaby said. “We’re noticing, of all the churches, they call us first. More and more we’re being seen as a church they can trust because we have a heart for the community.”

Bow Valley is the only church that participates in the town’s community softball league, where beer flows freely as the competition includes teams from the local bars and liquor stores.

“We want to be a light in the darkness,” Blackaby said. “We’ve had people join the church because they’ve played against us. They see we’re real people who like sports.”

Bow Valley has more than doubled in size in the three and a half years Blackaby has been pastor. About 400 to 450 people attend each week’s services. Nearly 200 were attending when the need for more space became obvious, but major debt loomed.

Church members rallied and in one day — Sept. 30, 2002 — brought in $450,000 in cash (not pledges) to retire the debt.

Since then a $2.3 million, three-story addition has been built. In the foyer outside the semi-circle worship center is the “He Brews” coffee center and gathering point. Under the He Brews sign is the scriptural admonition to “Stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” from Hebrews 10:24-25.

As important as its community is to Bow Valley, the church’s vision is larger than just Cochrane.

Even when the church was in its building campaign, having already sacrificed to pay off the old debt, it heard about the need of a Romanian congregation in Montreal. Without a senior pastor, forced to move several times in less than a year, the 40-member congregation wanted to buy a building. The bank said they would need 25 percent down. The members there scraped together that much, then the bank said there had been a change and it would now need 50 percent down.

“In the midst of our daunting building project, to decide we’re going to send $10,000 to this other church, that said a whole lot about [the congregation] giving themselves away when they really could have used that money at Bow Valley,” Blackaby said.

Bow Valley also sends mission teams to Mozambique and Chile, as well as throughout Canada and into the United States.

“We don’t want to serve in Cochrane with blinders on,” said Blackaby, younger son of “Experiencing God” author and Bible teacher Henry Blackaby.

“When we give to missions, we’re helping the family as well as reaching out across the world.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: COMMON GROUNDS, CHATTING WITH THE PASTOR, AROUND THE TABLE and HYMNS & PRAISE.