CHIPLEY, Fla. (BP)–The more First Baptist Church in Chipley, Fla., gives, the more it grows.
This is not a recent phenomenon.
When the 19 charter members of the church founded in 1887 outgrew the two-room schoolhouse they were meeting in twice a month, they pooled their money until they gathered the $150 needed to purchase land on which to build a church of their own.
Even before the building was dedicated in 1902, five women from the church had organized a woman’s missionary society and responded to pleas written them from a Miss Annie Armstrong of Baltimore, Md., for support of a missionary in China, Miss Lottie Moon.
And, in the 1950s, First Baptist gave — for several years in a row — a greater percentage to missions through the Cooperative Program than any other church in the state. This despite the fact that the small town in the center of the Florida panhandle — the population of Chipley today is fewer than 4,000 — has a per-person annual income that’s less than half the national average of about $41,000. That being said, many of Chipley’s professionals now call First Baptist their church home.
“I’ve been able to see for the last eight years how God has allowed us to see growth take place,” said Mike Orr, pastor of the First Baptist, which has grown from about 250 to 630 in Sunday morning worship since he arrived in 2000. “There’s a principle there, in that when you follow His leadership in giving, He provides. I really think God has provided for our needs throughout the church’s history, because we’re willing to give.
“It’s important to us to be a good neighbor in our community,” Orr added. “But with the Cooperative Program we go global.”
About 26 percent of the church’s income is redirected toward missions, including 19 percent through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ method of supporting missions and ministries of state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention. That CP figure is up from 17 percent in 2000.
“The Cooperative Program is the best way our church can reach around the world,” Orr said. “We choose to give to the Cooperative Program because it works so well. The money gets spread around where it’s most needed, and where it can do the most good.
“When our church members go on [short-term] mission trips, it brings an awareness of the importance of giving to the Cooperative Program. Going on a mission trip gives you a whole new perspective on the need for making the support available to missionaries.”
In recent years the church has given more per capita to missions through the Cooperative Program than all but 12 other churches in Florida, according to statistics maintained by the Florida Baptist Convention. That doesn’t include its seasonal missions gifts and its gifts to the World Hunger Fund. But the church doesn’t stop with giving.
First Baptist Church has sent mission teams over the last eight years to France, Russia and South Africa, and a team plans to go to the Amazon in Brazil in July.
“We don’t go every year on a church-sponsored trip,” Orr said. “We want to do it when we feel we’re led to do it…. We also help individuals in the church who feel led to go on a mission trip; we’ll help with finances and cover them with prayer.
“I’ve never known anyone who hasn’t been affected positively by the experience of going on a mission trip. I don’t think you can go wrong in taking people on those trips. It’s something God has ordained.”
The church provides missions education as part of its total church program. R.A.s, G.A.s and Mission Friends meet Sunday night, and as a church outreach, AWANA takes place Wednesday evening.
“When we [began AWANA}, our children grew from 35 to 40, to 180 on Wednesday night,” Orr said. “There are about 100 workers, too. Our folks jumped in behind it [AWANA] to minister to children.”
Other programs for children include Team Kid, Vacation Bible School, children’s church, Centri-Kid children’s camp and children’s choir, plus a fall festival and an Easter egg hunt. The Alice Peacock Memorial scholarship fund makes it possible for every child to participate in AWANA, camp and all children’s activities.
Middle and high school students have their own building at church — 6,000 square feet on a three-acre parcel across the street from the church. It was paid for before the students moved in two years ago.
“That [the money] wasn’t a problem,” Orr said. “The question was, ‘Are you sure it’s big enough?'”
The church also provides a wide range of activities, ministries and spiritual growth opportunities for adults, including the Triple L — Live Long and Like it — group. The church offers Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, “Step by Step through the Old Testament” and several other classes: a class dubbed “Most Excellent Way” for people with addictions; a First Steps class for new members and new Christians; and F.A.I.T.H. evangelism training.
The church leadership is praying about adding a third worship service Sunday mornings, and a second Sunday School, the pastor said. They’re also praying about when to start construction on the 50 acres they recently bought south of town.
“They’ve been willing to do major things over the years,” Orr said. “They relocated to this location from two blocks away in 1979…. They’ve just been willing to follow the Lord’s leadership and get out of their comfort zone.”
That time is needed to raise the anticipated $12 million for the new building, without reducing any of their missions giving, the pastor said.
“As long as the Lord provides, we’re going to continue to give,” Orr said, adding that 100 people joined the church last year. “… I’m convinced God provides seed to the sower. He’s blessed us because we’re giving. He’s provided for every ministry need we have.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message.