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Montana church strikes balance: CP Missions & local ministry

BILLINGS, Mont. (BP)–Despite the absence of a strong Southern Baptist identification, Cooperative Program (CP) Missions is embedded in the framework of LifeWay Community Church.

From its inception in the late 1990s in Billings, Mont., this congregation has seen itself as part of Southern Baptists’ global missions outreach as well as a catalyst for local ministry.

Pastor Stacy Gaylord said LifeWay Community, with a “diverse background” of people, seeks “to be faithful where we are and cooperating and supporting kingdom work in other critical areas throughout the world.”

“The thing that’s gratifying is to be able to talk with some of our newcomers about CP Missions and about how we relate with churches locally through our association and globally through cooperating in something huge,” Gaylord said.

“One of the cultural challenges that I’ve seen go far, far by the wayside is denominational lines,” Gaylord said of his ministry in Billings in light of his deep roots in Oklahoma Southern Baptist life. “The bottom line conviction is not that we’re Southern Baptist but that we have a commitment to kingdom work worldwide and there’s value to what Southern Baptists are doing. … [W]e’re supporting kingdom work financially — locally, in our nation and around the world.”

LifeWay Community from its beginning has given 20 percent to missions — 10 percent to CP Missions globally and 10 percent to Yellowstone Baptist Association for mission efforts.

Not long after LifeWay was organized in 1998, however, the founding pastor took ill and returned to his southern roots. During the year the fledgling congregation was without a pastor, Gaylord, then an attorney in Spokane, Wash., felt led to pastoral ministry.

About 30 people attended Gaylord’s first service as pastor of LifeWay in December 1999. It wasn’t long before people began coming to the church who did not have a strong Southern Baptist affiliation but were drawn by those already at the church and their core beliefs.

“Part of being effective,” Gaylord said of the church’s current direction, “is not just deciding on what to do, but also what not to do. We’re learning how to connect with the community we’re in,” which requires strategic thinking.

“The people were friendly but not close-knit,” Gaylord said. “[T]hey all had such busy lives it wasn’t a church that had a lot of relationships internally. We recognized that was a problem.

“We were also having a problem assimilating people,” the pastor continued. “The point of entry for folks was our worship service, but no matter how much people like a worship service, they won’t stick around if they’re not in small groups.”

A third problem was that LifeWay’s core group wanted a contemporary church but were in a traditional organizational structure.

Gaylord and his wife, Kara Coward Gaylord — daughter of Jack and Linda Coward, longtime Southern Baptist missionaries in Montana — led the congregation to a new dynamic.

“These are not particularly radical ideas, but they’re designed to fit the challenges we face,” Gaylord said.

Instead of the traditional Sunday-School-followed-by-church format, LifeWay’s Sunday schedule starts with church first. A 20-minute “Interlude” follows, with coffee and donuts undergirding relationship-building conversations that lead into an hour of “LifeGroups.”

“This has enabled us to promote our small groups — which are so key to us,” Gaylord said. “We used to have fewer than half in Sunday school as we had in church. Now we’ll have 50 to 55 in worship, and it’s not unusual to have small group numbers within five to 10 of that. There was one Sunday we had 61 in worship and 63 in small groups.”

Wednesday activities include Team Kid for about a dozen youngsters, and perhaps twice as many adults in leadership training.

“The changes we made early on weren’t designed to make us grow but to put us in a position to grow,” Gaylord said. “It wasn’t until this year that we were able to put in some strategy. We’re trying to establish ourselves to where we’re out in the community, reaching people who don’t have a church background.”

Reaching out into the community is one facet of LifeWay’s commitment to global, national, regional and local kingdom growth.

Oasis — an outgrowth of LifeWay’s women’s ministries — is one way this is being done. Women in the church began praying for a ministry they could get involved with. God began sending single moms to the church. A phone call to the local pregnancy crisis center revealed that the director had been praying for a church willing to focus on the moms. (Several churches were involved with the children, but the director knew the moms also had needs.)

“We decided we really wanted to honor the women, the mothers, and recognize what they’re doing is a very difficult and courageous thing,” Kara Gaylord said. “Parenthood is not easy.”

LifeWay women decided to make “pamper yourself” gift baskets for the moms — 50 to be distributed by CareNet crisis pregnancy center for Mother’s Day.

Fifteen items were selected, including a journal, picture frame, devotional plus bath and beauty items.

The items — and the stores with the best prices for them — were listed in the bulletin for several weeks, the pastor’s wife said, while the baskets and devotionals were purchased with funds from the church’s outreach ministries fund.

“Several women met together one Saturday to assemble the baskets,” Kara Gaylord said. “It was fun to fellowship with each other and exciting to complete our first phase of Oasis ministries.”

The “pamper yourself” baskets were just the first contact for LifeWay’s women’s ministries and the single moms who contact CareNet.

“We’re going to offer every month a Mother’s Day Out, three to four hours on a Saturday for these single moms,” Kara Gaylord said. “That’s why we call this ministry ‘Oasis.’ Our goal, our prayer is to build relationships with these women, that they would come to know Christ, and help them grow in that relationship.

“Vision-wise, maybe we’ll have some Bible studies, possibly some parenting classes, some money management classes,” she continued. “This is where we’re starting out and we’re going to see where God takes it.”

The women’s ministries group will keep the “pamper yourself” baskets on hand for additional single moms who contact CareNet, she added.

“I’ve seen the growth in the women at the church as they have found something they could do to be involved,” Kara Gaylord said. “Instead of just coming to church, they have become part of a ministry.

“Stacy’s done a strong emphasis on how relationships are amazingly important,” she continued. “This should be a place where we are a support for each other, a place where we build relationships within ourselves and then with people in the community, and that’s how they come to know Christ and become part of the family.”

Continuing that process, global relationships are promoted through CP Missions, the pastor said. “When I think of missions I don’t think of an institution. I think of kingdom work. I think of the power of God manifested throughout the world.”

LifeWay promotes the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions because of its global reach, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions because of its national reach, and the Baker State Offering for Montana Missions because of its statewide reach.

“The point is there is kingdom value in what we do,” the pastor said. “It’s tied less to Southern Baptists than it is to seeing people come to Christ and develop in their faith.”

That’s a real strong conviction.

“What’s cool about this is that our church still receives Cooperative Program funds on a monthly basis, but our CP giving has always been more than what we received,” Gaylord added. “And that’s as it should be. We ought to have faith in what we’re doing.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BASKET MINISTRY and HELPING SINGLE MOMS.