COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)–God was good to First Baptist in 1999, and the church celebrated the blessings by sending an extra one-12th of its Cooperative Program commitment to the South Carolina Baptist Convention and an additional one-12th of its commitment to the Lexington (S.C.) Baptist Association.
Pastor Lonnie Shull said the idea crossed his mind as he thought about God’s vision for the West Columbia, S.C., church, the faithfulness of its members and a renewal of ministry in a community on the upswing.
“I went to the finance committee and they concurred that this was something we should do, an expression of our thankfulness to God,” Shull said.
Billy Hayes, the finance committee chairman and a lifelong First Baptist member, said, “We not only exceeded our 1999 budget, but also in 1999 we exceeded what our 2000 budget was going to be. And this is a larger story than it appears.”
In 1997, Shull returned to his home church after serving 40 years in seven churches, most in-state. It was at First Baptist that God called him to full-time ministry.
“When I came here, there were overwhelming facility needs,” Shull recounted. “We began a capital needs campaign and paid for those needs.” Then, around Labor Day 1998, the heating and air conditioning system broke down in the 30,000-square-foot education building, causing pipes to burst. Damage was extensive. But the church family continued their pledges from the earlier campaign, and those renovations and improvements were completed. A new capital campaign is expected to pay off the debt in less than two years.
“This faithfulness became contagious,” Shull said. “God used challenges in our facilities to pull us together, renew our ministry and give us encouragement.”
Hayes said, “I’ve been in this church since my name was on the cradle roll, and this is a high mark in our church’s spirit. I believe God brought Lonnie Shull and our church family together with God’s vision for us all in perfect order.”
B. Carlisle Driggers, executive director-treasurer of the state convention, said, “So far as I know, what First Church, West Columbia, and pastor Lonnie Shull did in sending a 13th check from their 1999 budget overage is a first among our churches in South Carolina. I am humbled by their passion to missions causes through the Cooperative Program, helping everybody everywhere know about the Lord Jesus.”
Shull said the excitement is evidenced by ministry as well as giving. Youth involvement is up from three to almost 30, the worship and education ministry of the church are expanding — and the timing is perfect.
“With the growth in the Lexington area and other parts of Columbia, West Columbia had entered a time when people were leaving,” Shull said. “That’s changing. As the riverfront is developed, young families are returning. Our church is positioned and growing to minister to all of them.”
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ method of supporting missions and ministry efforts of state and regional conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention, in addition to such designated contributions as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions, world hunger and other special gifts.
State and regional conventions retain a percentage of Cooperative Program contributions they receive from the churches to support work in their areas and send the remaining funds to the Executive Committee for national and international ministries. The percentage of distribution is at the discretion of each state or regional convention.
Vaughan is director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s marketing department.