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Rural congregation reaches community through creative television ministry

LONGTOWN, Okla. (BP)–“I may not be Charles Stanley, and this may not be First Baptist Church in Atlanta, but our church services have the potential of reaching 3,500 homes each week,” said John Basden, pastor of Oak Ridge Baptist Church in Longtown, Okla.

Basden, said he got the idea of televising the small church’s worship services when he preached at First Baptist Church, McAlester, and noticed their television ministry.

“I discovered their services have been televised for 25 years on the local cable station,” Basden said.

After that experience, Basden said God gave him a vision about the possibility of doing the same thing at Oak Ridge, although the church is in a rural setting and averages less than 100 in Sunday School.

“I contacted the manager of our local cable company in Fort Gibson, about 80 miles from here,” Basden said. “We discussed what would be involved and the responsibilities of the cable company and the church.”

On Aug. 6, 1996, the church began televising its morning worship services.

The church began the venture with very basic equipment, Basden said.

“We used a camcorder and a VCR to produce the first church service,” he said. “We make a video tape and then replay it on the cable system 30 minutes after our service concludes.”

Oak Ridge’s Sunday morning worship is at 10 a.m., so the service is broadcast at 11:30.

Basden discovered that producing a videotape and getting it played on the cable system was a rather easy task, so he began looking into other areas where the church might play its worship services.

“Since our local cable company owned the system in Quinton, where I grew up, and about 15 miles from our church, I thought there might be an audience there,” Basden said.

In April, 1997, the church began televising services to about 450 homes in Quinton and Kinta. Again, airtime was provided as a public service and the only cost to the church was another VCR.

“What worked twice, I thought might work again,” Basden said. “I live in Crowder, about 15 miles from the church, so I contacted the owner of the local cable system about using Lakeland Cable to televise our services. He was open to the idea and already had all the equipment needed to air our services.”

That service began in October, 1998, and serves three communities with a viewing area of approximately 650 homes spread over the communities of Crowder, Canadian and Inola.

After launching the broadcast on four other outlets, Oak Ridge now televises its Sunday morning worship service on seven cable systems.

By the end of this year, another 2,000 homes will be added to the church’s viewing area thanks to the installation of a fiber optic cell, Basden said.

Basden explained that it takes about 10 to 12 people actively involved in the ministry to keep it going. One of the biggest challenges is “running” the tapes to the cable stations.

“Our service plays in three places on Sunday, two on Monday and two on Tuesday,” Basden said. “That means we have to have people delivering the tapes to those places.”

In addition to keeping its name before the public via television, Oak Ridge recently completed a 6,000-square-foot educational wing with 15 classrooms and two large restrooms.

“We were meeting in every available space on the property,” Basden explained, “but the only place we had to build on was covered with huge boulders.”

The church brought in a D-8 bulldozer to remove the boulders, then had to fill in the cavernous space with 30 loads of dirt.

Basden said Morton Buildings put up the shell and Norman Wagner, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma coordinator for volunteer construction projects, and a crew of volunteers framed the building in one day.

“Most of the men in our church are in their 60s, 70s and even 80s, but they did the rest of the work,” Basden said. “Eudell Barnes and George Carman from McAlester, First did the wiring and electrical work, saving us about $30,000.”

The small congregation even received $3,000 from the mission committee at First Baptist Church, McAlester.

The congregation moved into the new educational wing the first Sunday in January, nine months after construction began.

Basden, who is in his seventh year as pastor, said the church is located in a retirement community, and there are few young people in the area.

But, he said, if a church the size of Oak Ridge can have its services televised, most any church in any community can do the same.

“We have a small investment,” he noted. “Probably $4,000 would get a church started in this type of ministry.”

Basden said all a church needs to start a TV ministry are a couple of cameras [Oak Ridge has three camcorders], and a mixer.

The television ministry at Oak Ridge has also been instrumental in community outreach opportunities outside the church walls.

Basden says the church has been asked to record graduation ceremonies and ball games.

“We taped the last two games of the state basketball playoffs, which the Canadian girls won,” Basden said. “That helped the young people in the area know that we care.”

Basden said people have visited the church and said they have seen the services on TV, but “I don’t know that that’s what brought them here.”

He said the ministry serves the homebound and shut-ins well.

“They love to see what is going on, now that they can’t come to church anymore,” he noted.

The church even broadcast the dedication service for the new education wing.

“I went to visit a man in our church who was dying, and the first thing he said to me was ‘I saw the dedication service on TV,'” Basden said.

“This is really nothing for a big city church, but for us it’s a pretty big thing,” Basden said. “And we have never spent one cent for air time.”

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  • Dana Williamson