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Church holds to Baptist traditions that ‘still work’

LAFAYETTE, La. (BP) — When F.A.I.T.H. evangelism training first rolled out nationally in 1998, the outreach leader from First Baptist Church in Lafayette took note.

Starting that year and every year since, the Louisiana church has had 50 to 60 people train twice a year in the F.A.I.T.H. initiative that combines evangelism with the caring ministry of Sunday School.

“I tell our new people every time we promote the [twice yearly] orientation, ‘We do this because it works,'” pastor Steve Horn told Baptist Press. “Evangelism is something we have to be intentional about, or it doesn’t happen.”

First Baptist Lafayette, where about 1,100 people worship each week in the church’s downtown location (1,400 on Easter), has majored on Sunday School and missional outreach throughout its 117-year history.

Since probably at least the early 1960s, the church has given at least 10 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptist churches work together in state conventions, across North America and overseas to spread the Gospel worldwide.

Today it gives 10.5 percent, with plans to increase it incrementally to 11 percent.

“I very much like the language of identifying with all Southern Baptist churches to accomplish together what we cannot accomplish by ourselves,” said Horn, pastor since 2005 who has been nominated as executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. “The Cooperative Program is a wonderful model.

“My fear is that we become complacent and say, ‘We’re doing our part,’ without entering into consideration of God’s part,” the pastor continued. “As pastor, it’s my job to make sure we’re still seeking God’s will as to what our part should be.”

Along with evangelism and missions, discipleship and hands-on outreach also are well-established mainstays of the church known as “First Laf” locally as well as across the Louisiana Baptist Convention and the internet, where its website address is firstlaf.org.

“Everything with us sort of starts with Sunday School,” Horn said. “And we have a strong discipleship ministry. On average, if we have 1,000 in Sunday School, we’ll have 400 in discipleship Sunday evening or Thursday morning and evening.”

Teams trained in F.A.I.T.H visit contacts Tuesday evenings relayed through Sunday School class members who know to be alert to the possibility that friends, family members, coworkers and others with whom they come in contact might be needful of a visit by the church.

“We live in a changing culture but we find it tremendously easy to get into people’s homes,” Horn said, “and very common to share the Gospel when we get there.”

F.A.I.T.H. visits, along with First Lafayette’s other outreach efforts and an oft-repeated awareness from the pulpit of the need to share Christ, has resulted in more than 500 baptisms over the last 10 years.

“I’ve always thought in terms of the fact that we cannot do better than the vision of the Great Commission,” Horn said. “Jesus already gave it to us: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations….'” (Matthew 28:19).

A full complement of children’s missions education programs — Mission Friends, GAs, RAs and Acteens — supports First Lafayette’s ministries to “all nations,” which starts with its Cooperative Program and other missions giving.

This includes a Chinese ministry for the last 30 years led by Queenie Lau; a deaf ministry about that same length of time; a ministry to Gypsy children and the Roma people in Romania for the last 12 years; the relaunch within the last 10 years of a Hispanic church; and within the last year, a ministry to 200 children through a partnership with a church in El Salvador identified by Compassion International.

First Lafayette for the last 30 years has provided a Christian day school for area residents, which has grown over the last four years to include high school. This year will mark its first graduating class of seniors.

“It’s a great way to be evangelistic in our setting, our culture,” Horn said. “Our strength has been that we are a traditional Southern Baptist church that is not stuck in tradition for tradition’s sake, but using traditional programming to reach forward.

“We sound the bell that a lot of things a lot of people have discarded still work,” he said. “The reason things don’t work is people don’t work at them.”

Lafayette is in the south-central part of Louisiana, a 13-parish (or county) area known as “Acadiana.” The city was established in 1821 with land donated for a Catholic church, and that religious influence continues to permeate the culture.

“We continue to be in a very lost culture — no lack for evangelistic opportunities in Lafayette,” Horn said. “At the same time, we have a very good reputation, a very good name in Lafayette, and we want to use that to our advantage.”

The church ministers locally through music and the arts. One example: multiple performances of its “Living Christmas Tree” draw thousands of people from across Acadiana each year. Last Christmas the theme centered around a children’s storybook Bible, and 900 people signed up to receive a free gift of that Bible.

“We physically brought [the Bible] to their home, which gave us direct engagement with them in their home,” Horn said. “An adult couple on Easter both made a profession of faith as a direct result of receiving that Bible.”

For the last 10 years the church has engaged in “FBC Loves Lafayette Day,” a day of service in the community that has drawn as many as 600 to work on up to 40 beautification, cleanup and feeding projects. One year it focused on the campus of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. Other projects might include providing a meal for first-responders or for the homeless, tackling the needs at impoverished schools, and writing cards to thank people for their service in government and the military.

Two years ago at least a dozen other churches in the Evangeline Baptist Association got involved “and now we are calling it ‘Here For You Acadiana,'” tied to the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s ongoing “Here for You” campaign,” Horn said.

First Baptist has “always had an outward focus” in Lafayette and beyond, the pastor said. “We have tried to be a true partner to all our associational endeavors. I feel that’s a part of who we are.”