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Mayor’s words drive N.J. church into action

EDITORS’ NOTE: Baptist Press will release a feature story on each church on the itinerary of the national bus tour of Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch.

MADISON, N.J. (BP)–If it ever was true that all the churches in Madison, N.J., were “completely self-serving,” it no longer is.

When Madison Baptist Church Pastor Terry Robertson heard that the mayor had made that statement, he called the mayor and asked him what the mayor would like done.

Madison Baptist was Stop No. 14 on Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch’s bus tour of SBC churches across the nation.

“The parks could use some help,” the mayor said, according to Robertson.

Robertson and other members of Madison Baptist checked out two parks in the town of 16,000 people, where the mean household annual income is more than $80,000.

“We’re going to cut down brush, pick up trash, and repair benches and tables at Belleau Woods,” Robertson said. “We couldn’t believe the condition of this park in this affluent a city.”

Madison Baptist chose Belleau Woods Park because it is located next to a senior apartment complex, where one of the church members lives and where visitors to the church live.

“It was one of two parks the mayor mentioned, and I was interested in the one that clearly impacted a group of people,” Robertson said. “This park should be a place the people who live in the housing complex would want to come and sit.”

As part of the North American Mission Board’s New Hope New York strategic focus cities emphasis, a senior adult mission team from Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., is set to join Madison Baptist members in the park project in late September.

“During that week we also will be doing ministry to that apartment complex and area nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” Robertson said. “Our hope is that the mayor and others in the community will say there is at least one church that is not completely self-serving.”

Robertson moved to Madison a year ago after living 23 years in Buffalo, N.Y.

The church was founded in 1960 by Southern Baptist executives who had been transferred to New York City. (By train, Madison is one hour from downtown Manhattan.)

Because of the income level of its members, it became the leading contributor to the Baptist Convention of New York, though its Cooperative Program giving was only 7 percent of undesignated offerings. Approximately 150 people attend the Sunday morning worship service.

“For [the] Lottie Moon [Christmas Offering] last year, the church gave more than $40,000,” Robertson said. “The church has always been very mission-minded, always giving large amounts of money to mission causes. We want to make sure we continue missions commitment while accelerating efforts to reach the local community –- indigenous people.

“With a number of the Southern transplants relocating, we’re putting more and more emphasis on reaching local people,” Robertson added. “We have enormous potential. The fields are white. The time is right for us to reach this community and the communities around us.”

The city of Madison, 30 miles from Manhattan, has no buildable land. As fast as people move away, others move in, causing housing prices to soar, Robertson said.

“Recently a three-bedroom fixer-upper sold for $700,000,” Robertson said. “But the folks who went through 9-11, they want to move to these outlying areas for safety for their families.”

A Fourth of July outdoor patriotic service and block party drew approximately 300 people to Madison Baptist this summer, Robertson said.

“That day more than 20 decision cards were turned in,” Robertson said. “And I was told that at least 22 individuals who attend a Saturday night Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at the church came for that outdoor Sunday service. It was a good event. It was good for us as a church to do it.”

Mission teams from Alabama and North Carolina helped, which added to the learning experience and the encouragement received by the Madison Baptist workers, the pastor said.

In September the church will start its second semester of the FAITH Sunday School Evangelism Strategy. In March, Robertson also started meeting for prayer each morning with one of Madison Baptist’s five deacons.

“The one who meets with me on Monday has commented several times that he never imagined it would be possible to anticipate that God would meet with us every week,” Robertson said. “The fact that each of them meets with me weekly for prayer has helped them and me anticipate that God is going to do something in our midst.”

Welch, the SBC president, conceived of a national bus tour rally as a means of generating a sense of urgency about evangelism among Southern Baptists. The bus tour is a kickoff for “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.