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Miss. church sets sights on local, international outreach

JACKSON, Miss. (BP)–Evangelism, church starting and missions all are key facets of the overarching ministry of Colonial Heights Baptist Church, but that’s only part of the story.

Colonial Heights, in Jackson, Miss., concentrates on discipling and nurturing its members so they have the wherewithal to do the work necessary to maintain the church’s Kingdom focus, says Mark Anderson, pastor since 2000 of the church that was started with six charter members in 1956 on a farm northeast of Jackson.

Colonial Heights was stop No. 24 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s national bus tour to build a greater 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.

“This is a very churched community,” Anderson said of Jackson. “There are many people in this area who have some Christian identity. The local church is very visible in the South, so people assume they’re Christian when they’re religious. Our challenge is helping them understand the need for a personal relationship with Christ rather than a ritual they might have experienced in the past.”

About 1,350 people in two services attend Colonial Heights, which on Sept. 12 is starting a move to a new, 60-acre site two miles north of its present location in northeast Jackson. Leaders have been trained to start 50 new Sunday School classes at the new location; the church has been promoting the new site for a year.

“We’re praying for 1,000 new people on that day,” Anderson said. “That’s our prayer and vision. That area north of us is growing and more centrally located to our congregation. We hope within three to five years that everyone will be in the second location.”

That total move is not contingent upon selling its current location, the pastor said. How quickly it sells, however, will help determine how quickly the entire church is relocated.

Among its many outreach programs and ministries, Colonial Heights has been involved in the FAITH strategy of evangelism through the Sunday School since 1998, averaging about 60 teams per semester.

The church sustains a highly visible event ministry to make itself known in its community, such as an annual Christmas pageant and a recent “God and Country Day” that included Oliver North as guest speaker.

“My role is like a coach who is trying to challenge momentum and to lead by example, to give people the opportunity to be used by God with their gifts and abilities to make an impact for Christ,” Anderson said. “I feel one of my responsibilities is to create an environment where they can maximize their potential for Christ.”

Colonial Heights has adopted the Battlefield Park depressed area of Jackson, about five miles from the church, and George Elementary School in that area. About 100 members recently painted the entire school at no cost to the school. About 50 adults also have been involved in a “Book Buddies” tutoring program that utilizes the Scriptures.

“We hope to build a ministry center within the next five years that will provide tutoring and an indoor recreation facility for the school to use, and ultimately to start a church in,” Anderson said.

Colonial Heights also has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in Battlefield Park, to let the residents know the church is involved in its community for the long term, the pastor said.

Colonial Heights also started a Hispanic church last year, Vida Abundante, because a member who works as a builder noticed an influx of Hispanics in the Jackson area. The mother church pays the salary of its pastor, Uruguayan-born Gaston Romero.

“We’ve tried to create a soul-consciousness in our church, where they’re aware of the needs of people spiritually,” Anderson said. “I tell them, ‘You’re out there, in touch where people are.’ We saw God working in this opportunity to provide a place of worship in their heart language for Hispanics, and God is blessing that ministry.”

Colonial Heights and First Baptist Church of Jackson are partnering in a new start in Madison County, where a new Nissan plant has opened. The new church is in the fastest-growing area in central Mississippi, Anderson said.

Colonial Heights doesn’t limit its outreach to starting churches. It hosts a Vacation Bible School that draws in more than 1,000 youngsters each summer, plus another 200 in a VBS at the Northside YMCA led by the church.

“Our church has a reputation for very strong ministry,” Anderson said of the VBS. “Several daycare facilities — with the permission of parents — bring their kids here. We’ve made an intentional effort to include people not involved in church.”

About 400 Colonial Heights laypeople lead in the VBS program.

“We’ve really tried to increase the vision of our church being a Great Commission church locally and globally,” Anderson said. “Before I came, the church was averaging one to two mission trips a year, and this year we have 16 trips — to Peru, Brazil, Latvia, Canada….”

Colonial Heights has started churches in several unreached areas, particularly in Peru and Colombia. Members are going three times a year to Peru to train new believers in five villages. Others are helping in the construction of a retreat center and starting new churches in a Colombia area free from the turmoil of that nation’s civil war.

“We’re now seeing Bible study leaders who have been Christians for a year, going out to areas we can’t get to,” Anderson said. “It’s very exciting.”

The foundation for Colonial Heights’ Kingdom focus is its giving to the Cooperative Program, the pastor said. Members give 10 percent of undesignated offerings for the (CP) Missions initiatives of Southern Baptists in missions, ministry and education around the world. They also give at least $100,000 to their annual missions offering.

“I think a person would go to our church because they’re going to hear the Bible in a clear, concise, compelling way,” Anderson said. “Our motto is, ‘Colonial Heights is where you can …’ grow, experience life, start over, etc. And we feel we have created an opportunity for people to experience the life-changing power of Jesus Christ.”