SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (BP)–Cross Pointe Baptist Church members live like missionaries in a foreign land.
“We really try to focus the congregation on being a missionary where they live,” said Vince Smith, pastor at Cross Pointe since May 2006. “It’s the commandment of Christ, as we understand it. My belief is that we have to take the techniques of the foreign mission field and use them at home, because what we have been doing has not been getting it done.”
With this missions-centered mindset, the congregation has more than doubled in the last three years, even though they have sent out members for three new local church plants.
And, despite struggling with an unexpected indebtedness from a building program, Cross Pointe gives 15 percent of their offerings to missions, including 10 percent through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ method of combining resources to further missions work in each state convention, North America and around the world.
“I think the money follows our burden, our passion,” Smith said. “To me, the Cooperative Program is more than money; it’s cooperating with other Southern Baptist churches. Our people work together — it’s the shoulder-to-shoulder heart-to heart work the Cooperative Program was designed to foster.
“If it weren’t for the Cooperative Program, this church wouldn’t exist,” Smith continued. Southern Baptists from afar and the infusion of Cooperative Program gifts helped grow Cross Pointe, the first Southern Baptist congregation in Sioux Falls, which started as a home Bible study 26 years ago.
Participating in the Cooperative Program is “a debt we owe to those who sacrificed before us,” Smith said. “Not giving to the Cooperative Program would be irresponsible. I think a lot of churches that started after the Cooperative Program was started have forgotten they owe that debt.”
Debt is something Cross Pointe members know a lot about. The church suffered a falling out during the stress of building a 400-seat worship center, and the people scattered. The remnant who remained, too far into their $1 million building program to drop it, struggled on, and called Jim Hamilton as interim pastor. Hamilton is executive director of the Dakota Baptist Convention.
A year later, Smith was called from Texas — a former nuclear submarine officer who had served God and his country as a liaison officer in Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, Greece and Egypt. He was called in mid-career to the Gospel ministry while stationed in Naples, Italy.
As Cross Pointe members have extended the Good News of God’s love among their families, friends and co-workers, 25 to 30 people — mostly adults — have been baptized each of the last three years at the church.
Many more have been baptized at the three church starts where Cross Pointe has been active: Iglesia Bautista Cross Pointe; The Gathering of college students; and at the Church at the Warehouse where hurting people are helped in conjunction with The Answer Center community ministry center. All three church plants meet within five miles of Cross Pointe.
There is much yet to be done in Sioux Falls, Smith said. The small city is growing, in part as a result of a $400 million gift for a world-class pediatric research center, which is expected to add thousands of medical personnel to an area that already is a regional medical center.
Sioux Falls also is a regional financial center because of state laws favorable to credit card companies that have located in the area. And the nation’s first oil refinery to be built in 30 years is expected to go up in that corner of southeastern South Dakota — Sioux Falls is about 100 miles north of Nebraska and about 15 miles from Minnesota.
More than 250,000 people live in metro Sioux Falls, which was ranked in 2008 by Forbes magazine as the nation’s number one “best small city for businesses and careers.” About 80 percent of those people never go to church and at least 110 languages are spoken in the region, Smith said.
Smith, president of the Dakota Baptist Convention, said he works closely with the Siouxland Association of Southern Baptists director of missions James Pratt and with local pastors: Jesse Moore of Ridgecrest Baptist and Sonrise Baptist churches, Al Peratt Sr. of Set Free South Dakota and a chaplain at the state penitentiary, Mark Kracke of Breaking Out and Nick Constant of Cross Roads Community Church. The Sioux Falls Korean Baptist Church is pastored by Hyongsik Oh, who also pastors a Korean congregation in Sioux City, Iowa.
Many additional churches are needed to reach the Anglo and ethnic people groups already in Sioux Falls, and more are arriving every day, Smith said.
This includes people from rural areas drawn to the state’s largest city in hopes of finding work, despite the fact that Sioux Fall’ economic outlook has slid downward as a result of the national economy.
“Just today we heard of another plant closing,” Smith said. “The anxiety level is really high. Every day there are more layoffs. People are starting to tighten their belts.”
It’s also affecting churches, Smith said. In 2007, Cross Pointe exceeded its $5,000 goal for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions by more than $1,000, so the goal was set at $7,000 for 2008.
The goal wasn’t reached by year’s end, in part because extremely cold weather kept people home a couple of Sundays. “Even in the Dakotas, not many get out when it’s 35 below zero,” Smith said with a grin, so the offering’s ending date was moved to Jan. 31.
Smith said God’s Kingdom work advances in the same way it does with missionaries overseas who reach out despite turbulent economies and vast numbers of unreached people: one by one.
“Just like our missionaries overseas, our members have reached out to their friends and co-workers who have a need — friendship, divorce, death in the family, whatever,” Smith said. “Every story is unique….
“This concept, that every member of our church needs to live like a foreign missionary in their community, to see where God is at work and join Him in it, means putting discipleship and evangelism back together,” the pastor continued. “It’s something we reaffirm every week…. Teaching God’s Word and putting it into practice, that is our primary task and also the unfinished task.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message and the Dakota Baptist newsjournals.