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‘Team process’: Ind. church has global impact through CP

CONNERSVILLE, Ind. (BP)–Western Avenue Baptist Church in Connersville, Ind., has figured out the best way to get things accomplished for the Lord is through team ministry. Pastor David Pope says the Cooperative Program is one of the best team processes around.

“For our church, the Cooperative Program isn’t just a good team process,” Pope said. “It’s also good business. Where else can a church’s financial investment reap such eternal rewards?”

The Cooperative Program is the Southern Baptist Convention’s unparalleled way of reaching people and supporting missions across America and around the world.

“Through the Cooperative Program we get to have a hand in all six SBC seminaries, affect policy in our nation’s capital, and have a hand in missionary efforts all around the world,” Pope said. “It’s a unique team process. There’s nothing like it and I believe it is just one reason Southern Baptists remain so effective.”

A Georgia native, Pope ministered in upstate New York for 13 years before accepting a call to Indiana in 2003. In New York he served as a missionary for two years and was more a part of the ‘receiving’ end of the Cooperative Program. In Indiana, he enjoys being on the ‘giving’ end, he said.

Avenue Baptist gives 10 percent of undesignated funds through the Cooperative Program, plus 5 percent to the Eastern Indiana Baptist Association. The church will become debt-free in October.

Approximately 170 people worship on Sundays in two services at Western Avenue Baptist, which was started in 1951 in a typical county seat town surrounded by corn and soybean fields.

Their missions focus includes a new church start in Richmond, Ind. — which is 27 miles east of Connersville — as well as missions trips to Ecuador last year and New Jersey this summer, and a four-day global impact conference each November.

“At the end, we ask our people to come and by faith promise to give a certain amount for the next year to world missions through our church, over and above their normal tithes and offerings,” Pope said. “We tell them that you find your faith promise on your knees. It’s His faithfulness, your promise. You promise to give what He faithfully provides.”

In 2003, the church gave some $4,000 toward special missions offerings. In 2004, with the global impact conference, Western Avenue Baptist gave more than $10,000. Their faith promise this year: more than $24,000.

The church received about $254,000 in tithes and offerings last year, and gave almost $47,500 of it through the Cooperative Program and other missions endeavors, Pope said.

“What God wants us to do is to hold the ropes, to operate from our Indiana base and enthuse a missions heartbeat in our people,” Pope said. “What an opportunity and what a testimony: Here is a mid-sized church in Hoosier country impacting God’s work all across the world. If we can be effective here, then I think we can encourage SBC churches in other small towns to be effective, healthy, strong, touching the world. That’s what I’d like to see us become, and that’s what I see us becoming.”

Western Avenue Baptist is in its fourth semester of the FAITH evangelism strategy. It offers five discipleship training classes Sunday evenings, and in October children will begin to participate in RAs, GAs and Mission Friends midweek missions groups.

“We’re a team-run church,” Pope said. “This promotes involvement and encouragement, and it empowers God’s people. The whole idea is to make it real and authentic and not so organizationally structured that it hinders the ability to get things done. The key to our effectiveness is the good folks that make up Western Avenue Baptist.”

Its “teams” are as often informal as they are formal.

“Team is as much a process as a structure,” said Pope, who also serves as a Next Level Team consultant for the North American Mission Board. “For example, two ladies came to me Sunday and said, ‘We need a food pantry. What do we do?’ We told them, ‘There’s two of you; you’re a team. You decide how you want to run your ministry.’”

Among its local missions endeavors, the church is also involved associationally, such as through sharing its elaborate VBS sets with several other churches.

“Our purpose states that we exist to glorify God by equipping the saints to lovingly communicate the truth concerning Jesus Christ to Connersville, eastern Indiana, the United States and around the world,” Pope said. “One way to accomplish this is to one day have someone on the mission field every month, somewhere.”

Western Avenue Baptist has been a typical traditional Southern Baptist church in a part of the state many call “Kentuckiana,” Pope said. Common challenges in the area include rampant drug abuse and high rates of illiteracy, plus despair for many of those who live in the post-industrial Midwest.

“We’re daily challenged to be authentic, to be real and develop a biblical way of doing ministry,” Pope said. “We daily face the challenge and the opportunity of being a lighthouse in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us.

“We’re just beginning to believe God for the impossible. That’s beginning to happen. We try to place people on ministry teams with their passions. Instead of plugging holes, we help our members discover who they are in Christ, and what their ministry is. It’s working for us. It’s empowering God’s people. And God’s plans and purposes are being honored in the process.”