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W.Va. church at cutting edge in Cooperative Program missions

PARKERSBURG, W.V. (BP)–When it comes to supporting the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program, Fairlawn Baptist Church prefers to live and give with a spiritual edge.

“We tell our people that we want to be on the cutting edge of trusting God with our gifts,” said Don Yeager, pastor of the Parkersburg, W.Va., church. And that means giving 22 percent of the church budget to CP, associational missions and other outreach opportunities.

“The Lord has been good to us,” Yeager said. “And the church has been responsive with their gifts. They understand how important mission work is to spreading the gospel of Christ.”

Without missions and the Cooperative Program, Fairlawn Baptist Church wouldn’t exist. The church was started more than 30 years ago as a mission extension of a sister church in the city.

“We are so grateful CP was there for us in the early days,” said Yeager, the church’s only full-time staff member. “That’s why it is imperative for us to do our part and support Southern Baptist missions.”

The Cooperative Program, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, is Southern Baptists’ channel for supporting missions initiatives of their state Baptist conventions and of the Southern Baptist Convention across North America and worldwide.

When Yeager accepted the call to become Fairlawn’s pastor nearly nine years ago, the church’s giving to CP was cut back to 9 percent. “I told the pulpit committee that if I came, we would increase Cooperative Program to 14 percent and then move beyond that number.”

In 1999, the church reached the goal and then increased its Cooperative Program giving to 15 percent. In 2000, the church added an additional 4 percent allocated to associational missions. All totaled, the congregation has pledged to give 22 percent of their offerings to missions.

For Yeager and the church, faithfulness to missions giving is an important reminder of God’s faithfulness to them during adversity.

In 1998, adversity came in the form of a devastating flood that swept through Parkersburg and caused the church nearly $200,000 in damages. Fairlawn’s insurance policy covered only $22,000 in damages. The balance had to be provided through donations and hard work by the congregation.

Despite the setback, church members still gave a total of 20 percent of their undesignated receipts through CP and for other missions initiatives.

When Yeager came to Fairlawn in July 1991, the church averaged 150 people in Sunday school and was saddled with $450,000 in debt. Now, the church averages 250 people in Sunday school and Yeager said the church is about one year away from paying off its debt.

To accommodate the 300-plus people who worship at Fairlawn, the congregation has launched a $1.5 million building campaign, all the while increasing their giving to CP.

“If we can continue to get our people to tithe, we may reach the day where we can give 50 percent to missions and still have all the money we need to minister locally,” Yeager said.

But the church doesn’t stop at just giving to CP. They are on mission, too. The church sponsors annual mission trips for youth, college students and adults.

“We started youth mission trips back in 1992,” Yeager said. “And they go every year. It’s an exciting ministry.”

The youth groups, with about 25 teenagers, have been on mission trips to Ohio and South Carolina.

In 1998 the church sponsored a group of college students who were on mission during the Southern Baptist Convention in Salt Lake City. The college teams have also ministered in South Carolina.

And Fairlawn’s Baptist men’s group is involved in both local and statewide projects in West Virginia.

The men’s ministry performs hands-on service projects, doing odd jobs for senior citizens and refurbishing trailers for needy families. The men’s group also has extended a helping hand to sister churches involved in restoration projects.

This summer, Yeager said the Baptist men and youth are going to Youngstown, Ohio, where they will work on construction projects at a mission pastor’s home.

Yeager also said they keep missions at the forefront of their worship services. “Since we are in a non-Southern Baptist area, we put a lot of emphasis on mission offerings and we have missionary moments every Sunday morning and Sunday night,” he said.

The church also uses dramatic sketches to teach people about Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong for whom Southern Baptists international and North American missions offerings, respectively, are named.

And if that wasn’t enough, Yeager said the church takes its missions giving a step farther during the holiday season with an Angel Tree ministry.

“When we first started, our church adopted 15 children and provided them with an outfit and two gifts during Christmas,” he said. “Now, we adopt 75 children each year.”

As for the future, the West Virginia church is looking at the possibility of starting a new mission and, of course, to continue giving through the Cooperative Program.

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes