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Congregation bolsters CP & church planting

WEST CHESTER, Ohio (BP)–Members of Lakota Hills Baptist Church realize the opportunity God is placing before them.

“God has brought the world to us,” Pastor Travis Smalley said of a growing influx of Hispanic and Asian business professionals into West Chester, Ohio, near Cincinnati.

“We’ve just got to have our eyes open and look for opportunities to join God where He’s working,” Smalley said.

“Sometimes we try to create opportunities and miss what He’s already doing,” the pastor reflected. “For one thing, He’s been using the Cooperative Program all these years. It’s our goal to be a partner, to cooperate with other likeminded churches to reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Mission trips are wonderful and great, but there is no way we would be able to reach everyone and do everything. We can accomplish more together than we can alone.”

Lakota Hills’ commitment to being Jesus’ hands and feet starts in West Chester, the pastor said. One recent local ministry outreach was a gas buy-down. The church paid the first 25 cents of 2,000 gallons of gas and provided full service -– pumping gas and washing windows -– at a local gas station. The proprietor put on his marquee that the church was doing this, and within two hours all 2,000 gallons were sold.

“People were just blown away by that act of kindness that was both substantial and practical,” Smalley said. “A lot of people don’t go to church because they say churches are just after your money, and here was a church giving money away!”

Lakota Hills, in accord with the Acts 1:8 model of outreach, also wants to impact its “Jerusalem” and “Judea.” That’s where its two missions partnerships come in as well as its plans for a new mission congregation.

Smalley met Darryl Hammock of Columbus during the annual meeting of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio last November. Smalley learned that Hammock and his wife Wendy are planting a multicultural church of people in their 20s and 30s, now with about 25 attending Bible study in the Hammocks’ basement once a week, anticipating the launch of City of Refuge Baptist Church next fall.

“This is a segment of people we’re not reaching very effectively in Southern Baptist life, in the Columbus area anyway,” said Smalley, who has been at Lakota Hills less than a year. “I brought his vision back to the missions committee and they said, ‘Let’s do it!’

“We don’t have a lot of haggling,” the pastor said. “We know what we need to do and we just do it.”

The church’s other missions partnership is a new plant in Forest Park, just inside the beltway that defines metro Cincinnati. West Chester is just outside the beltway on Interstate 75.

A church closed in Forest Park and its property reverted to the North American Mission Board. The Cincinnati Baptist Association voted to buy the property and move the associational offices there and use the building as a missions incubator.

Just as a chicken incubator keeps eggs warm and growing, so do buildings that serve as mission incubators: They provide a place for young or struggling churches to use while they grow in numerical and spiritual strength to where they need their own building.

“African American Church planter Dorian Hensley will be launching sometime this fall, after we get the building all squared away,” Smalley said. “He doesn’t even have a name yet but already 30 people are meeting in his home. Forest Park is 60 percent African American…. I’m really excited about God’s plans for Dorian, and to be in this partnership with the association and NAMB, that’s just awesome.”

Lakota Hills stands strong on its own. More than 300 people attend Sunday morning worship. The church plans to expand to two simultaneous Sunday School and worship services in the fall in order to maximize the building’s usefulness.

“The vision that I’ve set forth is to go to a multiple service format” rather than add more buildings, Smalley said. Parking, however, will be expanded to handle the increased traffic.

The church carries a $1.2 million debt and is planning to start a capital campaign in July to eliminate the debt in three and a half years.

“The goal is to get us out of debt so we can put $100,000 a year into ministry,” Smalley said. “Here in Ohio we’re all about church planting. We really believe our part of that is to sponsor as many church plants as we can and also get to where we can launch one all by ourselves each year.”

Their first likely will be a Hispanic congregation that will meet on the Lakota Hills campus, the pastor said. It’s an outgrowth of an English as a Second Language (ESL) program with about 30 people enrolled. Participants include people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds -– Russian, Taiwanese, Korean, Chinese and Hispanic -– but mostly Hispanic.

The Hispanic population in West Chester is expected to grow about 20 percent in the next five years, and it’s obvious God is working in that ethnic group, Smalley said, so Lakota Hills is merely seeing where God is working and joining Him there.

The new mission’s first activity is to be a dual-language Vacation Bible School in July, followed by meetings with people interested in being part of a Hispanic Southern Baptist church, and the work will launch once a core group develops.

“I think it’s going to be a go,” Smalley said. “Everything is always tentative; the church will have to vote on it officially, but everyone is aware of what’s going on; we’re all pulling together.”

At its core, Lakota Hills is a missions-minded church that’s also preparing the next generation to be on-mission. Active Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action children’s programs and its youth ministry, combined with mission trips in the United States and internationally, complement the church’s 12.5 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program — a half-percent increase over 2006.

“We’re not here to build our kingdom; we’re here to build the Lord’s Kingdom. I think that’s the attitude of the whole congregation,” Smalley said. “We want to touch the uttermost parts of the world, and we can do that with the Cooperative Program. It’s the most effective tool there is for reaching our world for Jesus Christ.

“Going is also an integral key in a missional philosophy,” the pastor continued. “I believe when God’s people see the need and are able to touch individuals personally, that God gives them a passion to give more to missional efforts.”

One recent ministry effort involved painting the home of one of the widows in the church. About 40 people from the church got involved, bonded with each other and felt the joy of giving of themselves, the pastor said.

“I really see Lakota Hills could have a major impact in planting churches and reaching individuals, that we could be a major church-planting church,” Smalley said. “That’s an opportunity we have to make an impact. God has placed us here and given us the finances to do so. We just need to do it.”