Editor’s Note: Sunday, April 25, is Cooperative Program Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.
MABANK, Texas (BP) – When Southern Baptists tithe, the emphasis usually is on what they can give to support ministries throughout the world. But sometimes it’s worth considering what churches receive from the Cooperative Program.
At Grace Community Church in Mabank, Pastor Michael Cooper explained how CP dollars that went out from his church circled back to benefit the congregation.
“I would say that I am a product of CP. So in a sense, I owe a debt to those who have given,” said Cooper, a two-time graduate of Criswell College and a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
CP dollars support Criswell and Southwestern, among other entities. These schools educate leaders like Cooper, who was only 24 when Grace called him as pastor in 2013. Then the 13-year-old church had members with an average age of 70 and attendance around 30.
“The group just loved the Lord. They were older saints, but they had a desire to grow spiritually and reach the community,” Cooper said.
The Cedar Creek Lake area southeast of Dallas has hundreds of churches of various sizes, but finding a church that prioritizes the Gospel is not easy, Cooper said.
“One of the things we’ve really tried to do here at Grace is to cultivate a focus on Gospel community both within the church and outside the four walls,” Cooper said.
Grace Community has three core values to guide its focus: Christ-exalting simplicity, biblically faithful worship and family-oriented community. Cooper said in his first few years at the church, he led the congregation to a healthier culture primarily through preaching and small group discipleship. Church attendance reached 140 before COVID hit, and is currently averaging around 100. As the church gained some health, more people were saved and baptized. Last fall, despite the pandemic, the church paid off its debt. Now it’s in position to build a new sanctuary for the years ahead.
“I’m convinced we’re at the precipice of really seeing good Gospel growth and Gospel transformation within our church but also within our community,” Cooper said.
Mabank is projected to see a population increase during the next two years of 1,500 people, Cooper said, adding: “For us as a little rural town, that’s big time.”
Much of that growth will be near Grace Community.
“There are about 300 homes being built less than 500 yards away from our church,” Cooper said. “We already have plans in place to make sure we knock on every single one of those doors so that every person in that home receives a personal invitation to church and a personal invitation to come to Christ.”
At Grace Community, the pastor envisions a funneling discipleship process where people start by attending a worship service and then go deeper by branching off into small groups. Beyond Sunday School and Wednesday nights, people can join Ladies of Grace or Men of Grace Bible studies offered on weekdays.
The Ladies of Grace and Men of Grace ministries identify and cultivate gifts and train leaders for service.
“For us, that is one of the identifying marks of discipleship, when our leaders are training up new leaders for various ministries,” Cooper said
Grace Community forwards 7 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program and gives another 5 percent to its local Baptist association.
“If a normative-size church like Grace Community Church can impact darkness all around the world through the Cooperative Program, then I’m going to support that,” Cooper said.
“I’m thankful that our convention forwards 55 percent on to the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s one of the dominant reasons I love being a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention pastor – we believe in CP.”
When Grace Community called Cooper as pastor, he remembers the search committee telling him they didn’t want to hire a pastor just to benefit from him; they wanted to be a blessing to that pastor.
“I can say from that time to now, being 32, nearly eight years of pastoring a single church, I would not trade any of it for anything,” Cooper said, adding that he has done a lot of funerals of saints who laid the groundwork for the fruit that is visible now.
The vision of Grace Community is not just something the congregation made up, he said.
“It goes back to Jesus – to be a blessing to our community, to be a blessing to the nations, to see people come to know him, to be baptized, to be taught,” he said. “It ultimately goes back to the Great Commission. We’re called to something bigger than ourselves.”