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Church shuns ‘fluff,’ gives more to missions

GASTONIA, N.C. (BP)–Parkwood Baptist Church expects a lot from its members.

To join the church, for example, a personal interview with one of the church’s pastors is required, and in that meeting, potential members are told, “We expect you to participate in small groups,” known in some churches as Sunday School.

As a result, out of nearly 1,200 people in recent Sunday morning worship services, more than 1,000 also were in small groups, resulting in relationships that lead to a shared sense of purpose.

“Glorify, grow and go are our three goals,” said Jeff Long, senior pastor since 1999 and youth pastor the previous seven years. “There’s not a lot of fluff here. We are Bible-centered and discipleship-oriented.”

Parkwood, located in Gastonia, N.C., also is focused on missions and church planting, which can be seen in part by its giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. Although it is not the largest Southern Baptist church in Gastonia, Parkwood gave more to the Annie Armstrong Offering than any other church in North Carolina — $71,658, or $59.81 per capita, in 2009, the last year for which statistics are available.

That amount comes from a portion of the church’s year-long Faith Offering and from a special emphasis at Easter on spiritual needs in North America.

Parkwood’s focus also can be seen in its eight church plants — five across the United States and three in other countries, and in the local community ministries it supports in Gastonia.

“We believe it’s crucial to the growth of the Kingdom in the world that just introducing people to Christ isn’t fulfilling the Great Commission,” Long said. “If you’re going to create disciples and baptize them and teach them to observe all God has commanded, there needs to be the local expression of a church.

“Ultimately, that’s our goal, to raise up church planters and disciple them,” the pastor said. “The first step is to sow the seeds of evangelism — a broad sowing of seed — and through that, we realize others will be raised up too.”

Parkwood members are actively involved in each of the church plants.

“We say we’re going to Phoenix to work with Scott Gorley, and probably a couple hundred people here know Scotty,” said Kem Lindsey, Parkwood’s missions pastor. “You’ve got a face, name and city, and the church they’re planting. It helps our folks come back understanding what we do here in Gastonia.

“Some of the things we’ve done with church planters, we do the same things here,” Lindsey said. “In Phoenix, they hosted a movie night and gave out information about the church. Here, in a new area with about 300 homes, we headed out with the USA Today newspaper, with a sticker on it of our church.

“It’s gotten far enough in three neighborhoods that their homeowners’ organizations came to us and asked, ‘Will you help us?’ Relationships are being made, and that’s something we got from the church planters,” Lindsey said. “We’ve brought those concepts home.”

Getting members involved in short-term mission trips, as well as giving to missions, is one way of discipling them, Long said.

“Missions trips allow people at different stages in their walk with the Lord, and with different gifts, to participate,” the pastor said. “We do a fall carnival in Phoenix every year. For some people, that’s easier than in-home visits. But it — whatever they do — allows people to develop a heart connection, and we want to nurture that. They grow as believers and reach others as they grow, and as you do that you glorify God and fulfill our purpose.”

An unexpected result of the short-term mission trips is that Parkwood members are now asking different questions about church finances, Long said.

“We’re really battling this question,” he said. “What do we really need? Our worship center was built in 1985 and needs to be renovated. However, when people return from mission trips in places like Phoenix where the need is great, you realize the need for putting resources toward planting churches. The needs beyond Gastonia force us to evaluate our perceived needs on our campus and in our budget.”

Parkwood became debt-free in 1997. Its members voted in 2002 never to borrow money again, even to build. Twenty percent of its $2.7 million budget is allocated to missions — the Faith Offering is in addition — and no goals are set for seasonal missions offerings.

“We ask people to pray and ask the Lord what to give, and that’s enough,” Long said. “We nurture that all the time, and since we’ve done that, much more has been given to missions.

“The vast lostness of North America is one reason we give to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering,” the pastor said. “I think NAMB’s vision is clear; we’re supposed to reach people with the Gospel. We want to be faithful with being an Acts 1:8 church. Though we are very committed in the uttermost parts of the earth, we’re also committed in our city and want to be in North America as well. We try not to sacrifice one for the other.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist newspapers. For more information about the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions, go to www.anniearmstrong.com.