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‘We can’t lose this nation,’ pastor declares

EDITOR’S NOTE: The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions in Southern Baptist churches will be March 6-13 in conjunction with the 2011 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, with a goal of $70 million to help pay the salaries and ministry support of 5,000-plus missionaries serving in North America under the SBC’s North American Mission Board. For more information, go to www.anniearmstrong.com.

HOUSTON (BP)–Champion Forest Baptist Church leaders credit a year-long emphasis on missions giving for the fact that its 5,000 members gave more than $175,000 to missions through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.

The amount was $37,000 more than the next-largest giver to the North American missions emphasis in 2009, the latest year for which individual church reports have been posted.

“We promote the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering every spring,” said David Fleming, pastor of the Houston congregation. “But we found people can and would give more to missions if they would put it in their monthly budget” in response to a year-round emphasis on missions.

“Having been on the mission field [in short-term missions] and seeing what our missionaries do, both across America and the world, I am compelled to be a part of what they’re doing,” Fleming said. “We can’t all go, but if a pastor will get his people on the mission field, they will give to missions. Suddenly, it becomes personal.”

The United States is becoming more unchurched, more non-Christian, Fleming said.

“We can’t lose this nation,” the pastor said. “Our nation is our responsibility. For us, it’s a balanced approach to missions. It’s those concentric circles of advance: We’re not going to skip America to get to the foreign mission field. We’re not going to skip Houston to get to America.

“We start here,” Fleming said. “This is home. We don’t even need a passport to do missions across America. We should certainly prioritize reaching America as we seek to reach the world for Christ.”

Some might say large churches like Champion Forest in northwest Houston don’t need the Southern Baptist Convention to do missions. But one of the first things Fleming did when he was called as pastor in 2006 was to lead the church — started by Southern Baptists in 1970 — to affiliate with Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and to direct its Cooperative Program giving through the state convention, Fleming said.

“We have learned we can do more together than we can independently,” Fleming said. “We need the cooperation of all our churches and the coordination of a mission agency to maximize our efforts. That includes our association, the state convention, the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board.

Champion Forest baptized 382 people in 2010; has three church plants in Houston; and also is partnering with church plants in Seattle and in Long Island, N.Y. Locally, its evangelistic efforts start with the FAITH evangelistic Sunday School outreach, now in its ninth semester.

“We’re constantly trying to bring people into the Sunday service,” Fleming said. Those who visit the church on Sunday morning receive a return visit that afternoon from one of the 100-plus three-person FAITH teams. “Our folks just love it,” the pastor said. “People are blown away to get a visit Sunday afternoon.”

Champion Forest’s world mission efforts start with a major thrust each November.

“We typically have a missions fair in the fall, and in December we start promoting the Cooperative Program and missions giving,” Fleming said. “Throughout the course of the year, we’ll have video highlights of missions trips, and we bring in missionaries as guest speakers. We keep missions and evangelism in front of the people all the time.

“Our goal is to get our people mobilized at the church, in the city, across the country and beyond the continent,” the pastor said. The church’s motto is: “Helping people make sense out of life through Christ-centered living.” Even shorter, Champion Forest calls its members to “Know, Grow and Go.”

“Locally, our members are involved in more than 100 local missions and ministry projects,” Fleming said. “Most of that happens through the small group ministry of Champion Forest. The Sunday School is the church organized to fulfill the Great Commission. If you put a project in the hands of the Life Groups [Sunday School classes], they get it done.”

A missions booth in the church’s foyer each week provides a central location for people to learn of various missions and ministry opportunities, missions minister Lezlie Armour said. She also created a 30-page glossy magazine last fall with stories and photos from each of the year’s missions trips. The church brings out flags on special occasions for each of the nations and states in which the church has a missions commitment.

Church members go on a dozen or more mission trips each year across North America and around the globe, including multi-year efforts in New Mexico, Washington, New York, Kenya and Ecuador.

“It changes people forever who go on mission trips,” Armour said. “For them to come back and tell others what God has done through them — it’s contagious. There’s nothing so rewarding as seeing someone come to the Lord who doesn’t know Him.

“Missions means reaching out to someone who needs the Lord,” Armour said. “It’s the same thing if they’re in Africa or America or across the street. Missions is missions, and for many people it’s easier to put aside $800 for a mission trip in America than it is to save up $3,000 for a mission trip to Africa. Besides, this is our home country and, to me, it’s more and more in need of the Lord. We need to take care of our own, so we have the strength to reach out across the world.”

Among local projects, Champion Forest reaches out through ministry partnerships like “Church Under the Bridge” for homeless people, through the association’s three Baptist mission centers, and through sending inner-city youngsters — many whose parents are prison inmates — to summer camps.

Champion Forest also provides major events, such as a “trunk or treat” fall festival that drew about 10,000 people this year, primarily families, to discover and experience Champion Forest outside the walls of the church. Its four major Christmas events — “The Miracle of Christmas” — drew more than 12,000. One event, entirely in Spanish, drew nearly 4,000 people. Seventy people made professions of faith in Jesus during the Christmas outreach.

Northwest Houston is a diverse community and growing more diverse every year, Fleming said. The church’s thriving outreach to the Hispanic community is unique in its approach.

“We don’t have a Spanish ‘mission.’ We’re one church in two languages,” Fleming said. “That has been a major concept in growing the number of Spanish-speaking members of our congregation. We’ve added Spanish-speaking and also African American staff to reflect and reach our changing community. When I came, the church had one African American ministry staff member, and only one part-time Hispanic minister. Our staff is now growing in diversity, with more than 10 ministers who are African American or Hispanic.

“That is the result of a vision and an intentional effort to reflect our community in order to reach our community,” Fleming said. “When a person comes in, they look around and ask the question: ‘Is there anyone here like me?’ When they see members and even leaders like themselves, that increases their comfort level.”

Champion Forest’s commitment to reach its community is just more evidence of its being an Acts 1:8 church that reaches out through multiple circles of influence that eventually cover the globe.

“We’re building bridges to share the Gospel with people from every nation, right here at home,” Fleming said. “I think a lot of people come here because of our programs and activities. They grow because of our commitment to teaching the Bible. They stay because they get connected to something bigger than themselves. They’re making a difference with their lives, and that matters.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist.