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Church gives & receives via the Cooperative Program

RAY CITY, Ga. (BP) — As traditional as its church programming is, First Baptist in Ray City finds ways outside its walls to reach people untouched by the Gospel.

Building an off-site multipurpose building for community engagement and imaginatively conducting a fall festival that draws more attendees than the town’s total population of 400 are among the church’s creative outreach methods. Other initiatives include constructing 15 to 20 wheelchair ramps a year and coordinating an annual free yard sale.

First Baptist, started in 1874, where about 135 people participate in Sunday morning worship, also gives nearly 20 percent of undesignated offerings to missions, including 15.3 percent through the Cooperative Program.

“As a church, we have to be Kingdom-focused, reproducing ourselves to lead people to Christ, and the Cooperative Program is a proven vehicle to that end,” said Robbie Peay, pastor of the south Georgia congregation since 2011.

“We call on the people who are being supported through the Cooperative Program to help us when we have a need,” Peay said, referring to the Georgia Baptist Convention staff. And, he noted, “We benefit from our generosity from a spiritual perspective as well. It’s an act of obedience indicative of our commitment to Christ and to missions.”

First Baptist also gives 3 percent of its income to missions through the Valdosta Baptist Association and an additional 1 percent to a church plant in Boston, Mass., that the association has adopted.

“We appreciate our association and state convention,” Peay said. “Mike Broadwater, who is our associational missionary, has done a wonderful job in helping us become more missions-minded, and we want to support his efforts in guiding us to be more effective in missions.

“Our state convention benefits not only us but our sister churches, through providing much-needed resources and leadership,” the pastor said. “Working together — the Cooperative Program way — is the best way for individuals and churches to be involved in missions.”

The Valdosta association and Georgia convention multiply First Baptist’s effectiveness, Peay added. As part of its missions giving, the church also supports the ministry of the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home.

At the pastor’s direction and members’ agreement, each of First Baptist’s local initiatives include a Gospel presentation.

Construction of a prepaid $2 million multipurpose building on 20 separate acres that the church owns is to start in February “as a tool to engage our community in a variety of ways that will also provide opportunities for the Gospel,” Peay told Baptist Press. “They don’t come to us; we’ve got to start going to them.

“The sole intent of that facility is to find ways to rub shoulders with lost people and share the Gospel with them,” he said. “We’re in close proximity to four counties [with] many small communities around us.”

First Baptist’s annual fall festival is a walk-through event that creatively combines different “superheroes” each year with Bible heroes — such as Superman, who battled Lex Luthor, and Jesus, who defeated death and hell.

“You really want to connect with kids where they’re at, and they really respond to this kind of thing,” said Kevin Davis, minister to families. “It’s being creative and finding new ways of showing the world it’s fun being a Christian.”

First Baptist’s men’s ministry in its way is just as creative.

“I never would have thought building wheelchair ramps would have produced so many opportunities to engage with our community,” Peay said. “I couldn’t imagine there would be that great of a need in this area.”

First Baptist member Bob Weaver, 86, was among those who started the ministry. About nine years ago, he was approached by a Ray City resident who had “an emergency,” Weaver told Baptist Press.

“Now, we probably do 15 or 20 a year,” Weaver said. “The church pays for it if the people can’t,” at a materials cost of about $600 and the labor of perhaps eight men.

The wheelchair ramp ministry has expanded to assist other churches as far as 65 miles away as other Georgia Baptist churches hear of the ministry, Weaver said.

First Baptist’s women’s enrichment ministry, meanwhile, coordinates an annual “Day of Blessing” for the community. It’s essentially a free yard sale on the church property.

Church members circulate among the “shoppers” to engage in conversation as they pass out evangelistic tracts. While there might be some who pick up items to resell at their own yard sales, the pastor said the result of the ministry is the same: God works through the activity so that people hear and can respond to the Gospel.

“Whether it’s the fall festival, wheelchair ramps, Day of Blessing or whatever, if we’re not sharing the Gospel, we’re not any different than the Lion’s Club or Rotary,” Peay said. “We don’t want to just hand them candy; we want to give them Jesus.

“We live in a society now where the idea of getting up on Sunday morning and going to church is somewhat foreign to the average person,” the pastor said. “As society changes and becomes more secular, the motivation for people to go to church is diminishing, but their need for the Gospel remains unchanged.”