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Small California church gives 18 percent to CP

GRIDLEY, Calif. (BP)–Reaching a world for Christ is the goal of the 75 or more people who participate in Sunday morning worship at First Baptist Church in Gridley, Calif.

“Some people are kind of amazed that a church our size gives 30 percent of its budget to missions,” says Rick Cunningham, the church’s pastor. “But our church has such a cooperative spirit that it’s not an issue; it’s just part of budget planning.”

The Cooperative Program comes first — 18 percent of undesignated offerings, plus 7 percent for the work of Sierra Butte Baptist Association and 3 percent to other missions and ministries.

“We feel anything we can do to present the Gospel is the mandate God gives us as a church and as individuals,” Cunningham said. “The Cooperative Program helps us fulfill our mandate at a global level.

“One of the great things about the Cooperative Program for me is that the [missionaries] we send out are taken care of through prayer, through the Holy Spirit, and through the Cooperative Program,” Cunningham said. “… One thing we in the Southern Baptist Convention do agree on is that people do need Jesus Christ and the Cooperative Program facilitates that mandate.

“I can’t think of a reason that I wouldn’t be primarily involved with the Cooperative Program. It makes biblical sense, it’s scripturally sound and it’s practical. It works, and that’s what’s important to me as a senior pastor.”

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ method of supporting missions and ministry efforts of state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention. A strong commitment to the Cooperative Program is indigenous to First Baptist Gridley, Cunningham said. Some of the church’s former pastors have been missionaries or have left the church for the mission field. Also, some members of the church are retired Southern Baptist missionaries.

“We know giving to missions is the right thing to do, but we don’t always catch the vision of the people we’re helping,” Cunningham said. “I want us to understand it’s not just a cause; it’s people who need Christ. So we try to personalize our missions efforts.”

At the local level, migrant ministries is a major part of the church’s outreach in Gridley, which is a farming community of 6,000 people about 55 miles north of the Sacramento, Calif., airport.

“We are in a community where the Hispanic population is approaching 40 percent, so obviously if we’re going to reach our local community for Christ, we’re going to have to reach Hispanics,” Cunningham said.

The congregation is involved with “Feeding Those Who Feed Us,” a statewide migrant ministry program at state-owned migrant camps started four years ago by Southern Baptist Tom Stringfellow, pastor of First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills, Calif. Cunningham is team leader for the program in Sierra Butte Baptist Association.

“We give about $3,000 a year from our church for this, and the association gives another $5,000,” Cunningham said. Part of the money produces a major evangelistic event each summer at a state-sponsored migrant camp in Yuba City, about 18 miles south of Gridley. A free dinner, where approximately 500 people come to eat, follows a week of Vacation Bible School and a soccer clinic designed to reach children. At the evangelistic service following the dinner last summer, Campus Crusade’s Jesus film was shown on a large outdoor screen, and 23 adults made professions of faith.

“Before we got involved with migrant ministry, many of our people had never been involved in cross-cultural evangelism,” Cunningham said. “Doing so has helped us to understand God’s bigger picture.”

Another local mission effort recently completed was the 120 Christmas baskets handed out by the church in connection with Gridley Emergency Relief Services, a cooperative effort of the local ministerial association.

First Gridley’s statewide involvement includes sending volunteer teams to work on construction projects across California, such as First Baptist Los Molinos, Calif. Members also have gone on short-term missions projects in Brazil, Russia and Africa.

“We believe in short-term missions,” Cunningham said. “When we had the Healthy Church Group of the California Baptist Convention conduct an analysis, we found our people for the most part are doctrinally sound and biblically knowledgeable. Our people do know what they believe and why; that makes it easier to capture missions, because they have the concept of the Great Commission and Great Commandment. That helps with the overall emphasis we have on missions.

“We try to inform on a regular basis what the Cooperative Program is,” Cunningham added. “That’s real important for our people to be part of. And every Sunday in November and December we show clips of the Lottie Moon [offering for international missions] video.”

One of the church’s strengths is the genuine love members have for one other, Cunningham said. This is lived out in women’s Bible study groups, men’s ministry teams, and Wednesday evening AWANA programs, in addition to the church’s Sunday morning and evening, and Wednesday Bible study and worship times.

Because members stay focused on living out the church’s mission statement — to reach the community, nation and world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ — the church avoids conflicts, he said. The congregation, he said, has an opportunity to reach the world from its unique location.

“Every part of the world is represented here, every ethnic group,” Cunningham said. “We preach the Gospel in more than 120 languages in this state. We have students here from every country in the world. When you talk about the mission field, California is the mission field. California is a recipient of Cooperative Program dollars; we want to be a giver, too.”