EDITOR’S NOTE: April 8 is Cooperative Program Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention. For information and resources about Southern Baptists’ channel of missions and ministry support nationally and internationally, go to sbc.net/cp.
DENVER (BP) — A Denver-area church plant, in only its third year, voted to quadruple its giving through the Cooperative Program, realizing the value of the missions-support system that has aided them — and through which they can help reach the world for Christ.
“It’s one thing to plant a multiplying church in Denver. It’s another thing to be a part of planting multiplying churches all over the country and world,” Ben Mandrell, pastor of Storyline Fellowship in Arvada, told Baptist Press.
“Through the Cooperative Program, we can be in a thousand places. Without it, we can only be in one place.”
Mandrell was pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, Tenn., when God began stirring his heart toward church planting. When Kevin Ezell was named president of the North American Mission Board, Mandrell was “inspired by what was happening.” Ezell, meanwhile, knew that First Baptist Church in Orlando had been interested in planting a church in Denver, and he encouraged Mandrell to see if he would be a fit for the project.
Storyline Fellowship launched in February 2015 with 65 people who had moved to Denver from around the country to help plant the church, Mandrell recounted. After three preview services at the end of 2014, Storyline was able to see 300 people in attendance for the official launch. Now they have about 900 people in worship.
The church has been meeting in an elementary school but recently purchased an old Walmart building and is in the process of converting that space to a 60,000-square-foot facility on the main street of their target area.
Despite the funds needed for the new location, Ezell encouraged Mandrell to lead Storyline Fellowship to give through the Cooperative Program and specifically to work with the Baptist General Convention of Colorado.
“One of our core values from the start has been teamwork,” Mandrell said. “We not only believe in building teams but in being part of a team, and the SBC is our team. So we want to give back and help other churches get started.”
Mandrell, in meeting last year with Colorado’s new executive director, Nathan Lorick, wanted to set a goal for Storyline Fellowship to be in the top 10 of churches in the state giving through the Cooperative Program.
So with a projected 2018 budget of $1.7 million, Storyline Fellowship plans to give $40,000 to the Cooperative Program through the Colorado convention, $5,000 to their local Baptist association, $20,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, $20,000 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and $5,000 to the Colorado state missions offering.
Storyline has budgeted another $57,000 to Southern Baptist church planters for a total of $147,000 in missions giving. Combined with dollars they’re investing in local missions efforts and international missions trips, Storyline is sending out 14 percent of its budget.
“We have latched on to some value statements, and one of them is ‘For the Kingdom, not the castle,'” Mandrell said. “We use that as a fun way to say we don’t want to be just about ourselves and building things for ourselves…. We need a church home, but even as we do that, we’re going to stay committed to the Kingdom.”
Being a church plant in a city like Denver means Storyline has to work to create credibility, “which means we need to do a lot of good in the city,” Mandrell said. One of the ways they’ve done that is to focus on a local high school that has been struggling with teacher turnover and a lot of at-risk students.
“We’ve bought Thanksgiving meal baskets for 65 families who are registered as homeless but their kids go to the high school,” Mandrell said. “We’ve donated prom dresses and altered all of them and done free hair and makeup. We’ve made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for athletes who rode on the bus to sports games but couldn’t afford to eat while they were there.”
The way Storyline has grown, Mandrell said, is for people to say, “You should come to Storyline and sit next to me.” The fastest way to grow a church in that context, he said, is for people to walk away and say, “I really felt loved there.”
“In Denver, most unchurched people embrace Christian community before they embrace the Christian faith,” Mandrell said. “They move here to play and to recreate, but then they experience enormous loneliness and are looking for friends and community, and there just aren’t a lot of places where you can find those kinds of relationships. The church provides that.”
Rick Lewis, Storyline’s associate pastor of outreach and missions, moved to Colorado as a church planter 30 years ago and planted several churches in the state before becoming executive pastor at Riverside Baptist Church in Denver about 18 years ago. He had left Riverside to pastor in Littleton and was serving as an International Mission Board trustee when he began to talk with David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Orlando, about planting a church in Denver.
That was around the same time God was leading Mandrell to Denver, and Lewis joined the team. He had grown up around strong Cooperative Program giving in Texas and had modeled it at churches he served in Colorado, so it was easy for him to be on board with Storyline’s recent CP decision.
“To whom much is given, much is required,” Lewis told BP. “We certainly have been given much through Southern Baptist efforts. Our story is one of incredibly being given to — through the North American Mission Board, through the Cooperative Program, through the state of Colorado. We’ve had so much support that it just makes sense. It’s just the right thing to do.”
One of the joys of his life, Lewis said, is to now be ministering at a thriving church plant in Arvada, which is the very area he and his wife prayerwalked during their time at Riverside years ago, praying God would reach the families moving into the area.
Lorick, the Colorado executive director, told BP Storyline’s strong Cooperative Program commitment “is a great example to church planters of how each church can make a global impact in any stage of their church.”
“There is nothing that allows a dollar to go further than the Cooperative Program,” Lorick said. “We must understand that the Cooperative Program is not really a program. It’s people and a partnership. It is about partnering together to send people into the mission that God has called us to.
“Storyline is setting the example,” Lorick said, “and I pray many others across the SBC will follow.”