SCOTT DEPOT, West Va. (BP) – Only four out of more than 200 churches in the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists average more than 300 in Sunday attendance. That makes cooperation essential, says Executive Director-Treasurer Eric Ramsey.
It becomes even more important when trying to direct a passion to share the Gospel throughout the state and beyond.
Many WVCSB churches have taken part in their own international missions efforts. But the current focus is tied directly to the state convention.
“Our churches are very much on track to perceiving themselves as a mission force,” Ramsey said. “For the first time in our 52-year history we are now engaging the globe and partnering in Peru. It’s exciting to see.”
West Virginia Southern Baptists met Nov. 3-4 with the theme “In and Through.” At the gathering they adopted – enthusiastically, Ramsey said – the three-year vision “IN + THROUGH: Making Jesus Known.”
IN + THROUGH is focused on increasing cooperation among WVCSB churches to transition “from a mission field to a family on mission.”
Doing that requires a collective effort, a desire reflected in a 12-point rise – from 66 percent to 78 percent – in the number of churches giving through the Cooperative Program since the beginning of the year.
“There has been a lot of prayer, answering SBC-related questions from our pastors and intentionality,” said Cleve Persinger, who heads WVCSB Communications and Partnerships.
For six years, he said, the state convention has worked to celebrate generosity across the Mountain State and model the concept in a biblical manner. In that time, the WVCSB has increased its percentage of receipts forwarded through the national Cooperative Program from 40 percent to 42 percent.
“We have focused a lot of attention and efforts on meeting our state missions offering goals every year and failed to give this same attention to CP,” Persinger said. “With this new three-year vision and a focus to build a sense of family and increase cooperation, we are promoting these giving sources equally and pray we continue to see increased generosity from our churches.”
Ramsey said he believes “West Virginia Southern Baptist churches are rallying around a Gospel-centric vision.”
Evidence can be seen in the Gospel-driven efforts of churches, higher baptisms and attendance at events and more native West Virginians moving back to start churches.
Coming home to lead
Ricky Love’s childhood was in the town of Poca, on the western side of the state beside the Kanawha River, and in Berkley Springs when his dad got a job with the state park service. Love dropped out of school at 16 and immediately got into drugs and partying.
At 20 years old he was “miserable, angry, violent, empty, depressed,” the current pastor shared in a recent video.
A friend became a Christian and started telling Love about Jesus. That friend began holding evangelistic events in the town.
“I went out to the second one,” Love said. “I was selling cocaine that night. Sat at the very top of the bleachers and thought it was stupid. I thought it was dumb.”
Then other friends started sharing their stories of salvation in Christ with Love. Before long, their testimonies took hold of him.
“It just gripped me,” he said. “I was just overwhelmed with God’s presence. I knew He was real and I knew He was there and speaking to me.”
That salvation experience led to seminary and helping plant a church in Virginia. Twenty years had passed by the time Love felt God leading him back to his home state. It also led him to reconnect with old friends and bring them up to speed on how Jesus had changed his life.
One friend in particular had been struggling with sobriety but was open to Love’s invitation to begin discussing the Gospel and visit Wellspring Church, which Love and others had planted in Berkley Springs.
“Someone who has never been to church, never grew up in church has a rough background. … Having a community of people to welcome him in was a huge part of his recovery process.”
That friend was also the first person baptized at Wellspring Church.
Boomerangs and beyond borders
Love’s story isn’t an outlier.
“We’re seeing quite a bit of that,” Ramsey said. “It’s a wave right now.”
Danny Rumple, a Send West Virginia Church Planting catalyst called this group “boomerang church planters.”
“Guys that grew up in West Virginia and left the state for different reasons,” Rumple said. “As they’ve finished school or begun to work God has begun a work on their heart and tugged on their heart and called them back to West Virginia to start new churches in this area.”
In 1998 Ramsey was media strategist for the North American Mission Board tasked with marketing the concept of church planting. That included enlisting not only those to plant churches but also existing churches to provide support.
Much of what he wrote became the Acts 1:8 Challenge, with Ramsey serving as a liaison between NAMB and the International Mission Board.
That experience led to establishing a partnership with the Peru Baptist Theological Seminary. An exploratory trip and inaugural visit with nine WVCSB pastors have already occurred.
In addition to the state convention’s work in Peru, several WVCSB churches are currently involved in international mission partnerships, including ones in Asia and Europe.
The inaugural Peru trip, taken in April, included Roger and Janet Brafford, lay leaders at First Baptist in Burlington who had never dreamed of such an experience. In their mid-50s, it was Roger’s first flight in 30 years. It was Janet’s first, ever.
“It was so stinkin’ cool,” Ramsey said of the Braffords’ experience. “They sat in a living room and shared their testimony, shared the Gospel. They led people to faith in Christ in four different homes.”
Addressing statewide ministry needs
Known for its outdoors, intentional Gospel-sharing is also taking place on hunting and fishing trips. The long-held retreat for men and boys had a higher attendance than in recent years.
In addition, WVCSB Disaster Relief leadership has trained more than 150 new volunteers this year while responding to flooding and other disasters in West Virginia, Kentucky and Florida.
Churches are also active in addressing the state’s ongoing drug epidemic. Instead of making it a separate ministry of the church, Persinger said, those in recovery are invited to join the church and experience both fellowship and accountability.
It goes together with a stronger desire for evangelism among churches, Ramsey said. The state convention’s role is to effectively channel that desire.
“We’re to mobilize our churches to make disciples among all people groups,” he said. “We’re really seeing a rallying around that. Our state leaders have been active in answering questions about what is going on in the SBC, but we try and redirect everything to our cooperative mission to take the Gospel to our neighbors and the nations.”