CASA GRANDE, Ariz. (BP)–If a cord of three strands mentioned in the Bible is not easily broken, how much stronger might be a cord of five strands or 10 -– or the nation’s 16 million Southern Baptists?
The joining of strengths is one of the reasons Trinity Southern Baptist Church in Casa Grande, Ariz., participates in Cooperative Program (CP) Missions at a rate 5 percentage points higher than the average Southern Baptist congregation. Trinity currently gives 12 percent of its undesignated offerings to reach people in Arizona and around the world through CP Missions.
“Real Kingdom work is cooperative work because we’re not going to reach the masses without cooperating. It’s just an impossibility,” said Steve Ballew, Trinity’s pastor for more than seven years. “The more strands in the rope, the stronger the rope; the greater the work, the more you can lift.
“The Cooperative Program works,” Ballew continued, noting, “It gets more missionaries to the field effectively doing Kingdom work than any other method.”
Everything Trinity does, it does cooperatively, Ballew said. Initiatives in recent years include the launching of a new church; operating a crisis pregnancy center; and assisting a church planting movement missionary. About 400 people attend Trinity’s Sunday morning worship in one of two services linked by a joint Sunday School.
A strong missions-sending church is one that starts with a strong Sunday School, the pastor said. FAITH evangelism training is Trinity’s main growth catalyst. The church is in its 13th semester of the widely used outreach program.
“The best thing about our church is that we have 55 to 60 folks every Monday night out sharing their faith,” Ballew said. “It changes people when they do that. It causes them to recognize a greater purpose in life.”
Casa Grande is an overgrown cotton-growing town in the high desert about an hour south of Phoenix, but separated from the metropolitan area by the Gila River (Pima) Indian Reservation. About 30,000 people live in Casa Grande right now, but the county’s population is the fastest-growing in the state, and Southern Baptists are way behind in starting new churches, the pastor said.
That’s why Trinity, in partnership with the Gila River Baptist Association and the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, helped start San Tan Heights Church last April in a growth corridor of Pinal County. Trinity also is working with the association and state convention in helping Desert Sky Baptist Church in Casa Grande, which had reverted to mission status.
Trinity also provides the only pro-life, unexpected pregnancy counseling service in Pinal County; clients include more than 300 women so far this year. Services in addition to counseling include assistance for those who choose adoption and parenting classes for those who choose to keep their babies. Diapers, clothing, furniture and other baby-related items also are provided as part of the parenting ministry.
The Arizona Baptist Children’s Services partners with Trinity in the pregnancy counseling center and in a counseling ministry to families that also is sponsored by the church.
Another outreach –- supporting a church planting movement missionary in the region –- is a partnership involving Trinity and Desert Sky churches, the association and convention and the North American Mission Board.
Native Arizonan Rhett Currie “is attempting a strategy that’s very common in international missions,” Ballew said. “You locate a ‘house of blessing’ -– someone willing to have a Bible study in their home; you gather folks, lead them through elementary materials, lead them to salvation and into discipleship, mentor leaders and see where they want to go,” whether, for example, to continue as a Bible study or to start a church.
“We just started this in May,” Ballew said. “We’re still figuring out what does and doesn’t work.”
The strategy is dependent upon relationships, and in the new developments blossoming around Casa Grande and throughout Pinal County, people have not yet established relationships with their neighbors.
“We’re struggling in figuring out how to get to people in master-planned communities,” Currie said. “We as Americans are very noncommittal, non-trusting, pretty much introverted when we get home. If the host home does not invite the people in their sphere of influence, or if they don’t go with me and invite people, people don’t come to the Bible study.”
The next stage for the strategy is to figure out ways for the people living in the new developments to connect with one another and then present the home Bible study option, Ballew said.
“What is working best for us is on the reservation,” the pastor said. “They’re receptive because they already know each other.”
The pastor was speaking of the Tohoma O’odham Nation, formerly known as the Papago nation. Geographically it’s the second-largest Indian nation in the United States, about the size of Connecticut. About 18,000 people –- fewer than 2 percent call themselves Christian –- live across the expanse of high desert lands that stretch from the southern edge of Phoenix into Sonora, Mexico. Most live in small villages that consist of perhaps 35 aging adobe dwellings. Those are the people Currie is seeking to reach.
“One benefit to cooperating with others is that you can actually pay somebody; you can have someone fulltime on the field,” Ballew said. “You also have a broader base of resources for whatever you need -– prayer, materials or whatever.”
Trinity extends its missions focus across the globe. One church member went to Ghana last summer and two women taught English in China for a month this summer. And for three years, volunteers from the church have gone to Ecuador.
“We’ve formed a partnership of sorts,” Ballew said. “We are a prayer partner church for one of the Southern Baptist missionaries there; that’s how we got involved.”
Three years ago youth from Trinity participated in a World Changers project in Ecuador, “pre-church-planting stuff, Vacation Bible School, preaching the Gospel and checking for receptivity,” the pastor said. Last year adults went to the capital city, where they led in Bible studies, friendship evangelism at area parks and prayerwalks.
This year Trinity members led in Vacation Bible School for the children of missionaries during their annual planning meeting and led in evening worship services for the missionary families.
“We’ve never lost money doing missions,” Ballew said. “It seems the more we give away, the more we have. We’re actually the third-largest giving church in Arizona the last five years. And we’re not the third-largest nor the third-richest, but we may be one of the more faithful.
“We teach stewardship; we preach it,” the pastor continued. “Not just financial but lifestyle stewardship including missions and life purpose. The financial giving is an overflow of lifestyle stewardship.”