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Church links hands-on evangelism with Cooperative Program

CENTRALIA, Mo. (BP)–This Baptist church in the heart of Missouri has a prescription for staying healthy: evangelism, the Cooperative Program (CP Missions) and Sunday School.

“The thing that drives this church is outreach and evangelism,” said Jim Tolliver, pastor since 1999 of First Baptist Church in Centralia, a congregation established in 1871. “I want everything we do to tell people that Jesus loves them.”

The church reaches out to its community and state in a multitude of ways, and the Cooperative Program goes everywhere Centralia members can’t get to, Tolliver said.

“I could add 10 more staff locally and not have the impact that we can by giving faithfully to the Cooperative Program,” Tolliver said of Southern Baptists’ channel of supporting missions and ministry worldwide. “It is, I think, the most ingenious strategy we have as Southern Baptists; it’s the most effective. It works! It allows us in Centralia to have that worldwide impact.”

The genius of the Cooperative Program is that it harnesses energy built up by a local church’s members, Tolliver observed. People get involved, learn and do missions and ministry at the local church level. That gives them a vision, outlet and method for Kingdom-expanding global evangelization.

About 300 people attend First Centralia’s two Sunday morning worship services and various Sunday School classes, and most everybody is involved one way or another in the congregation’s outreach efforts.

In the last few years, the church’s use of the FAITH evangelism strategy, which teaches how to grow Christians and reach the lost through Sunday School, has involved about 60 adults and 75 teens.

More than 50 junior and senior high school students, meanwhile, participate in weekly Bible study and fun activities in preparation for a midsummer outreach in inner-city Kansas City, Mo.

And about 40 adults help with the Sunday night AWANA discipleship-training program for youngsters and, each summer, about 40 adults and teens team up to lead in Vacation Bible School, which draws about 200 youngsters.

The church also sponsors a community-wide all-night softball game, which includes a worship segment as part of the fifth inning stretch, and it participates in a joint Easter pageant with other congregations in the local ministerial alliance.

Except for its ongoing support of CP Missions, however, “Judgment House” is First Centralia’s largest evangelistic thrust.

The dramatic event involves about 100 members and draws about 1,000 spectators from as far away as 200 miles. Each year, at least 100 attendees make public decisions for Christ at the finale.

“It’s very easy to do,” Tolliver said of the packaged Judgment House script, which costs about $1,000 each year for royalties set updates after an initial $5,000 investment in set and costume development. “You have eight or nine rooms for people to walk through. Actors in each room take about three or four minutes to do their parts.

“Judgment House is reality evangelism,” the pastor said. “We want to make people realize heaven and hell are real -– and something to think about.”

First Centralia sends contact information to other Southern Baptist churches for non-locals who make professions of faith.

“It’s important for our church, for every church, to have a more world vision,” the pastor said. “We begin here in Centralia, but we don’t stop here. With the Cooperative Program we have worldwide impact, and that’s exciting; that’s healthy.”

First Centralia contributes 10 percent of its undesignated offerings to CP Missions and also supports the central Missouri’s Little Bonne Femme Baptist Association. It also helps provide support to Calvary Baptist Church in Glenwood, Iowa, and to Horizon Fellowship in Rock Springs, Wyo.

There’s also a burgeoning focus on Romania.

“God is moving there and I want our church to be involved in that,” Tolliver said. “This is what we’re about: It’s ministry. We’re not the Lion’s Club or the Bear’s Club. Our distinctive as a church is to minister. That’s why we’re here -– to be mission-minded, to share the message of God’s love that no one else shares, to save the world.

“We’re one small church, but with the Cooperative Program, we’re connected,” Tolliver said. “We partner with Baptists all over the world. It’s a Kingdom mindset that gets people more aware of others’ needs.”

First Centralia members have needs too, the pastor said. One of those needs is to be involved in something big and meaningful, but people don’t get involved unless doing so fits with their personality.

“I just want everyone involved in evangelism,” Tolliver said. “We have a lot of people involved in FAITH [evangelism through the Sunday school] but a lot of people don’t like going door to door. With softball or VBS or Judgment House or the other ways we have of getting them involved, they can find a way to evangelize without getting too far out of their comfort zone.

“It’s not only about Centralia,” the pastor continued. “It’s about the world, and the Cooperative Program helps us with this. I want people to be excited about giving to CP Missions. It’s an investment. It’s our tithe to the world. I try to stress it’s the best thing we do as a church.

“We all have needs,” Tolliver said. “We have just so much money to meet those needs. But CP Missions is so much bigger than that. If we’re just absorbed in ourselves, our little town, that’s limiting. We want our church to be a vibrant people who are excited about Jesus….

“Their life is totally enriched in giving to others,” Tolliver said. “It encourages them to keep on keeping on. Our goal for all of us is to get people involved.”

The church benefits as well as each involved member and the cause of Kingdom growth through global evangelization, the pastor said.

“If [your members] are on board with you, as part of the team, and feel they have a vital part of the ministry, they’re with you and not on you,” Tolliver said. “It’s much healthier for a church to have these people with you, reaching others.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: THE VIEW FROM CENTRALIA and PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE.