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Church’s heart for missions expands as local acreage & facilities expand

MARYVILLE, Ill. (BP)–Nearly every time First Baptist adds to its building or acreage, it increases its commitment to reaching people through Cooperative Program (CP) Missions.

This keeps the focus on Kingdom growth, said Fred Winters, pastor for 17 years at First Baptist in Maryville, Ill., a church started by one couple in 1941.

“The needs in Maryville are tremendous,” Winters acknowledged. “But who’s to say there aren’t greater needs elsewhere? We believe the Cooperative Program is the best way to meet mission needs around the world. It doesn’t matter if there’s a direct benefit to us, because it benefits others.”

Maryville is a rapidly growing community about 15 miles northeast of St. Louis. At the outset of World War II, however, the town had a population of about 800 — and 24 taverns but no churches. Fred and Norine Martin changed that when they mortgaged their home to build a picturesque white clapboard Southern Baptist church.

Over the course of three property acquisitions, six building programs and 17 years of positive growth — from 30 to about 1,000 in attendance in Sunday morning worship — First Baptist has doubled its giving through the Cooperative Program — from 5 to 10 percent -– and, in the last three years, has become the top giver to CP Missions in the Illinois Baptist State Association.

“God affirmed the principle that it is better to give than to receive,” Winters said. “We discovered the blessing of not thinking of our own needs, but to think of the needs of others.

They bought 35 acres, built a 1,000-seat worship center and recently added another 35 acres, with plans next year — or as soon as the first $1 million is raised in a $3.5 million capital stewardship campaign — to build a family life center and student center.

With all this land acquisition and building construction, CP giving is now at 10 percent at First Baptist, with additional percentages given to Gateway Baptist Association and Baptist Children’s Home.

“We give to the Cooperative Program because it’s right, and it benefits others,” said Winters, vice president of the state convention. “As we learn the discipline of giving, we step into the abundance of God.”

First Baptist makes it a ministry priority to think of others. The Maryville church shares its building with the community for interdenominational Bible studies as well as meetings of various support groups. The church sponsors a twice-weekly Mothers Day Out program for about 150 preschoolers and, this year, added a kindergarten.

Beyond its two worship services and three Sunday Schools, the church’s ministry includes an accountability group for high school students; church outreach through LifeWay Christian Resource’s GROW strategy involving home visits, phone calls and letters; Life University discipleship training; and a variety of sports, such as “Sack the Pastor” flag football.

With a new family life center, the church plans to start Upward Basketball, Soccer and Cheerleading. A walking trail also is to be developed among other steps to better reach the community.

“Our purpose statement says we are to exalt the Savior, equip the saints and evangelize the lost,” Winters said. “We’ve had that for about 15 years now, and the vast majority of our people have a strong understanding of our purpose and are very supportive of it.”

Over the years, First Baptist has started four churches elsewhere in Illinois. This year a new thrust sent about 150 members on short-term mission trips to Zambia, Greece, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Joy, Ill.

“This year we made it a priority to get on-mission,” Winters said. “We felt like our people were good at giving, but needed to experience giving their time.

“What we’re seeing with the people who went on mission trips is a real enthusiasm for missions giving and going,” the pastor continued. “We’re doing a lot to be involved in other opportunities to further the Gospel so people might have the hope of Jesus and the hope of eternal life.”

At its current location, First Baptist is surrounded by five cornfields. “But on the other side of the cornfields large subdivisions are coming our way,” Winters said.

“We have almost unlimited potential for growth. Our people want to baptize 200 next year.” So far this year they’ve baptized about 70 and anticipate baptizing another 25 during a special baptism-focused Sunday morning service Nov. 7.

“It is often said, ‘Build it and they will come,'” Winters said. “That’s the reality here at First Baptist Maryville. We’re building it and they’re coming.”