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Church ‘holding the rope’ for missionaries by its CP gifts

PRATTVILLE, Ala. (BP)–“The Cooperative Program makes it easier for our missionaries to know their needs are met,” said Travis Coleman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Prattville, Ala.

“While they’re out serving, we’re holding the rope for them, providing resources so they can be busy about what they’re called to do: share the Gospel and continue the work,” said Coleman, who has led the church since 1989.

For the last dozen years or more, First Baptist has given 13 percent of its undesignated offerings through CP Missions, alongside its associational and other gifts to missions endeavors and its active missions and ministries programs.

“We are believers in the Cooperative Program,” the pastor continued. “More is accomplished when we cooperate together and I think it’s important to see the wider influence we can have” through Southern Baptists’ unified support of missions and ministry efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention and state and regional conventions.

First Baptist’s influence spreads from its red brick structure with four white columns out front across the community, region, nation and world. Locally, the congregation perhaps is best known for Vacation Bible School, which enrolled 820 last summer.

The church’s location helps -– in a Montgomery-area bedroom community near Maxwell Air Force Base and its officer-heavy contingent of War College students. The base also is the center of chaplaincy for the Air Force and Civil Air Patrol.

“One of the benefits of the military is that when you get officers in the church, they come with commitment and discipline,” Coleman said. “They want to be part of the community. We find we benefit greatly from that mature leadership that steps in and assists us.”

An annual emphasis on spiritual gifts helps the congregation two ways, the pastor said. It helps the members know where they fit best in ministry, while the promotion of ongoing and new ministries helps stimulate interest and involvement.

Where do members get involved? FAITH and GROW methods of Sunday School evangelism help explain a 10-year average of at least 60 baptisms a year. More than 1,900 people attended the church’s recent Christmas pageant; a similar number flocked to the church for Easter. About 3,000 attended the Pumpkin Patch in October -– a block party type of Halloween alternative that included a variety of options for adults as well as children and youth.

A Korean church was started last May, with First Baptist serving one of four sponsors. The Prattville congregation also sponsors an ESL program -– English as a Second Language –- for Spanish-speakers.

For at least a dozen years, several members of the church have participated in the Builders with Christ construction ministry, including projects in Colorado, New Hampshire, Alaska and once to Brazil. International mission trips more often involve VBS workers and small group leaders.

“We went four times to Maracaibo, Venezuela,” Coleman said. “We had 700 in VBS the fourth year -– it just grew every year. We’d do VBS in the morning and, in the afternoon, dirt-road evangelism; we’d just share our faith. Then at night, we’d have conferences -– women’s conference, pastors’ and wives; conference, businessmen’s conference and a youth conference.”

Some people’s giving habits change after they go on mission; some people decide to give themselves, the pastor said.

“These trips give them an increased awareness of the mission field and the need for prayer,” Coleman said. “They see the importance of missions education and the importance of giving faithfully through the Cooperative Program…. We have seen an increase in giving in the missions area because of the projects we’ve been involved in, and we’ve had a number of people involved with the [International Mission Board’s] International Service Corps -– at least three have made decisions to do that in the last couple of years.”

Coleman first introduces people to Southern Baptists’ CP Missions focus through the church’s new member class. As they get more involved over time in the church’s multiple ministries, they can see with ever-increasing clarity the benefits of giving through the Cooperative Program, the pastor said.

“I try to share with them the broader use of the money,” Coleman said. “There’s a reason Southern Baptists have become the largest evangelical denomination. It’s because of our organization through associations and state conventions and the way we share our funding.”