IN NEW YORK
It was a "horrendous" business meeting, said Tom Fanning, a member of New Hope Baptist Church for less than a year when the Watertown, New York, congregation wrangled in 1996 over their inability to meet the church's budget.
"It was quite an uproar," said Fanning, a former electrician who now works with Southern Baptists' summertime World Changers community outreach. "Some people wanted to know why we were sending money to 'this Cooperative Program thing' when we needed to pay the bills. The pastor got up and said he'd take a cut in pay, he'd get a part-time job, but we had to keep giving to missions. Less than three weeks later, we got checks from members who had moved away and hadn't connected with another church yet — these were their tithes — and we've been moving forward ever since."
"Missions is important," said Stan Gillcash, pastor of the congregation. "If you want God to bless your work, you have to have balance not just here at home but all across the Acts 1:8 spectrum. And you can't force it. You have to let God lead you to it."
About sixty people were members of New Hope during that critical business meeting in 1996 when the church took its stand for missions.
"It was just one of those things churches go through," Gillcash said. "Soldiers were deployed [from nearby Fort Drum]; giving was down for whatever reason. It might have been a test of God to see if we were going to keep missions our focus. Since then, God has blessed us both fiscally and with people."
New Hope's commitment to giving 10 percent of the church's offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program undergirds its multiple ministry activities in Watertown, population 27,000, and at Fort Drum in western New York, home to the 10th Mountain Division — one of the Army's most deployed units to Iraq and Afghanistan. The church's outreach also extends across New York state, New England, and eastern Canada and, through Southern Baptists' cooperative missions, to Haiti and other parts of the world.
"The Cooperative Program helps keep our missionaries doing what they're supposed to be doing," Gillcash said. "I know people who were in other programs who had to spend more than half their time raising funds. With the Cooperative Program, our missionaries can spend their time witnessing to people — which is why we send them — rather than trying to raise money to keep themselves there."
New Hope was started in 1990 by a church planter supported through Cooperative Program gifts. When Gillcash, a retired Air Force explosives specialist, was called in 1994 as the church's first full-time pastor, the forty people who comprised the fledgling congregation had just completed a 7,000-square-foot building.
During Gillcash's sixteen years as pastor, New Hope has gone through three additions, the most recent being a 14,000-square-foot educational wing that opened the way for a 50 percent growth in Sunday School attendance. Today, nearly five hundred people regularly participate in New Hope and its ministries.
"God has just worked fantastic in our church," Fanning said of the church's expanded outreach since that 1996 business meeting. "People caught the feeling of missions; they could see how missions were working in other people's lives. And when we started seeing people's lives changed, more people got involved.
"Once you get the church involved, it's not hard to get them excited about missions because they can see what God is doing," Fanning said. "It's working at New Hope!"
The first initiative New Hope became involved in after Gillcash was called as pastor was at a nursing home where they ministered to residents and to their families.
Steadily the church became known as a contributor to the city — and the fact it was a Baptist congregation in a Catholic region didn't matter; especially when New Hope brought World Changers to Watertown.
An outreach of Southern Baptists' North American Mission Board, World Changers fosters a personal commitment to missions among youth and adults through servanthood projects to meet the physical and spiritual needs of communities, often involving home renovation projects.
Gillcash and Fanning traveled in 1999 to Kingston, Ontario, at the request of a Canadian pastor to participate in that city's first World Changers week of ministry. Returning home, the two men discussed the possibility of bringing World Changers to Watertown, and they didn't stop there. What they started in 2000 spread from Watertown to other communities in New York, New England, and back into Canada.
World Changers "helped the community to see we're not here to be fly-by-night," Gillcash said. "We're here to minister to this community …. There's no rocket science to being Christian …. It's hard to tell somebody Jesus loves them and not help them."
World Changers came to Watertown for the tenth time this summer. Fanning was so impressed by the World Changers efforts in Ontario that he took early retirement to become a Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionary to work full-time with the ministry.
MSC is an initiative of the North American Mission Board, funded in part by the Cooperative Program. MSC personnel are self-funded, church-commissioned, NAMB-endorsed missionaries assigned for at least four months to NAMB-approved ministries. Fanning and his wife Judy have been MSC missionaries for ten years.
New Hope also has a crew of six disaster relief-trained volunteers who have helped in mud-out and chainsaw ministries in New York, New England, New Orleans, and other deployments. The church also has completed twenty construction projects over the last sixteen years in New England and eastern Canada.
"I grew up in construction with my dad, and did quite a bit of it in the military on the side," Gillcash said. "We have several men in the church well-qualified in construction, in building."
Gillcast and a Haitian-born physician who is a New Hope member put together a volunteer team of nurses, doctors, and others from Watertown's medical community to travel to Haiti after the massive January 12 earthquake there. "They came together under the Southern Baptist umbrella," the pastor said. "We were there for eight days in February, and treated 1,600 people. That was five weeks after the earthquake."
Roosevelt Baptist Church in Roosevelt, Utah, doesn't give to missions through the Cooperative Program primarily because God has blessed the Utah congregation, though He has.
The church gives because it's the right thing to do, pastor Stacy Hadlock says.
"God has called us to give toward what He is doing," Hadlock said. "Through the Cooperative Program, God is giving us an opportunity to do more than just say we have faith. When we give through the Cooperative Program, we're showing our faith."
Faith was about all the church had in 1994, when Hadlock was named senior pastor of a congregation that numbered no more than thirty, after serving for a year as co-pastor. The congregation struggled to pay the utility bills each month, but during his year as co-pastor, Hadlock learned about the Cooperative Program from director of missions John McClung (now retired). He discovered that CP supports the ministry of Southern Baptist missionaries around the world and across North America; it trains missionaries, pastors, and other ministry leaders; it undergirds the missions and ministries of forty-two state Baptist conventions and more.
"Our Cooperative Program has proven itself to be successful," Hadlock said in a business meeting soon after he was named senior pastor. "We can feel good about giving to missions through the Cooperative Program."
Just as church members were to tithe, to illustrate their dependency on God and obedience to Him, so should the church as a way of setting the example, Hadlock said to the congregation.
He doesn't know if his words were persuasive, if the congregation decided to show their support for him as their new pastor, or if they trusted him since he was born in the community and they had seen him grow over the previous four years as youth Sunday School teacher, youth pastor, and supply pastor.
For whatever reason, the congregation — which had not been giving anything to missions through the Cooperative Program — voted that day, despite the inability to pay that month's electric bill, to give the first 10 percent of its offerings each month to missions through CP.
"From that day to this, we have never had a problem paying the utilities," Hadlock said. "To me, it [the church not giving a tithe] was an example of not having faith. If we believe God calls us to do something, we have to do it even when it's not easy as an expression of our faith."
"We increased our Cooperative Program giving to 15 percent five years ago," Hadlock recounted. "The church had grown and finances had stabilized. By giving more, we would be able to be more involved in what God was doing around the world."
As Roosevelt Baptist's pastor, Hadlock said he looks for opportunities to show the congregation the results of their giving to missions through the Cooperative Program by using various printed and video materials, by bringing in guest missionaries and even when "talking up" the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
"We try to have a lot of things at church" amid the challenge of being in a Mormon community, Hadlock said. But, he noted, "All the other things will happen if you're able to keep people working on their relationship with God."
Because of the Cooperative Program, St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church in La Puente, California, can concentrate on Los Angeles.
St. Stephen, where about 850 people participate in Sunday School, expects each class — and each ministry area of the church, such as its six choirs — to have an ongoing mission project in the community around the church, or in Los Angeles County.
"We take our missions giving seriously," said Anthony Dockery, pastor since January 2008. "We want to have as much global impact with our dollar as we can, and the Cooperative Program helps us do that.
"The Cooperative Program is an investment in God's most priceless commodity: His people," Dockery continued. "It provides us with seminary leaders, church leaders, community leaders, and home leaders, plus missionaries. Right now our young adult minister is attending Golden Gate [Baptist Theological Seminary]."
At St. Stephen, the offering is gathered by white-gloved ushers, prayed over to ask God to guide its use, and ceremonially removed from the worship center to a secure location by ushers.
"We can do much more together than we can as individuals," Dockery said. "Streaming it all together, we can get IMB and NAMB missionaries serving where God has sent them, and our seminaries preparing them …. We have missionaries coming back here on furlough; they give testimonies which are directly impacting our people to go to the mission field …. And when they see Southern Baptists as 'first responders' [in disaster relief], they take pride in that, knowing their CP giving is helping in that."
The Cooperative Program is promoted from the pulpit three times a year, Dockery said. He includes it as part of his annual "state of the church" address, as well as during the times of the SBC and California state convention's annual meetings. It also comes up during promotion of North American and International Mission Boards' seasons of prayer and offering.
About eighty-seven people a year are baptized at St. Stephen, although on Palm Sunday this year, at the church's first-ever baptism in the Pacific Ocean, about two hundred were baptized; the figure included many "walk-ups."
Among many local ministries, St. Stephen goes to "Skid Row" in downtown Los Angeles every Thursday and provides a meal for the people who congregate there. Hygiene kits also are passed out to those who want them, and all is done with the reminder of God's personal love. On Sunday, those who desire can ride the church bus to the church services.
"You wouldn't know they were homeless," Dockery said. "We don't ask it of them, but they get cleaned up on their own. They sit right with the members."
St. Stephen also sponsors and hosts an ongoing drug and alcohol rehabilitation program called Free at Last, with meetings held each week. Youth basketball is a big draw that helps connect teens with good influences designed to deflect the peer pressures of being in a fast-paced urban environment.
"We try to have resources allocated at the right time in the right place and the right way," Dockery said. "The only challenge is helping people to see they actually have a challenge. The biggest opportunities seem to be the needs themselves. What we have to do is to be needs assessors, and meet the needs, and help them see the Person who met their needs.
"We might be the mouth piece, but Jesus ultimately is the one trying to get their attention."
St. Stephen is Dockery's first pastorate. He was an Air Force pilot for twenty-one years and served for seventeen years as a volunteer at the church, twelve years as minister of education and youth, and one year as executive pastor. At the same time, he earned master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from Golden Gate Seminary.
The church has a new focus for its ongoing interest in global missions. Several members went to a missions retreat in San Diego earlier this year and were collectively touched by what one church was doing with the needs of a specific people group in West Africa. St. Stephen decided to adopt a village of its own.
Four members recently went to West Africa where they connected with a village of a size the church could handle.
"It's 99 percent Muslim," Dockery said. "The poverty level is unsightly …. We're going back in October to give good news, but it's hard to just say, 'Jesus loves you.' We want them to know we care about them …. We want to build relationships, to start to build a sense of community with the frequency of our visits."
St. Stephen plans to send seven teams of five to seven people each year to learn what the IMB missionaries and villagers see as their pressing needs, and to meet them at the same time they introduce the villagers to Christ and His great love for them, the pastor said. The church has made a five-year commitment to the village and is open to extending it as God leads.
"We know we'll get way more out of it than we put in," Dockery said. "It's a pistol approach of resource usage, rather than a shotgun. It's focused, directed attention that will get results, and those will be reciprocating results: we'll benefit too."
Members going on mission trips will come back enthusiastic and more supportive than ever about reaching out to people outside the church walls, which will result in more people locally as well as globally coming to know Jesus Christ personally, the pastor said.
St. Stephen also supports its global missions focus with small group mission education.
"By learning more about what our missionaries are doing, and what people like us are doing, we learn more of what we can do to be part of the Great Commission," Dockery said. "That's empowering. That multiplies ministry."
Karen Willoughby is a member of Kingsville Baptist Church in Pineville, Louisiana, and is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist, and The Montana Baptist newsjournals.
First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas, is suspending its national and international television broadcast to increase contributions through the Southern Baptist Convention's Cooperative Program by 25 percent.
Ronnie Floyd, First Baptist's senior pastor and chairman of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force that completed its work in June, made the announcement in worship services June 27.
"For a few months, God has really been working in my life about what actions I need to take and our church needs to take to get the Gospel to the nations in a more effective manner," Floyd wrote in a June 28 post on his Web site, www.ronniefloyd.com. "Serving as the chairman of Southern Baptists' Great Commission Resurgence Task Force has so changed my life and ministry perspective."
The reallocation will bring the congregation's Cooperative Program giving to $500,000 for the church fiscal year beginning October 1, Floyd said. That represents a 25 percent increase over the 2009-10 budget and more than doubles the $243,000 the congregation gave just two years ago.
Floyd said the congregation "will continue to have a weekly reach into our region and perhaps our state" through television but that "for a season of time, two or three years or perhaps for a long time beyond, we are suspending our national and international television ministry in order to allocate more money to seeing the nations come to Christ through the work of Southern Baptists."
In making the decision to suspend the weekly broadcast on the Dallas-based DayStar Television Network, Floyd said "… I had to ask myself several hard questions: Is the pure Gospel being preached on this channel by someone besides me? The answer is yes. Is this the best way to appropriate monies so the Gospel can go where it has never been before? The answer is no. While exceptions to this might be justifiable on a secular network, I felt the answer was no on this network, even though we had witnessed many come to faith in Christ. I felt for us to allocate more monies so that more missionaries could go to North America and to the nations of the world would at this time be more beneficial for Kingdom work. Therefore, on Sunday, July 18, we will have our last national and international television broadcast for this season of our lives."
The GCR Task Force's recommendation, endorsed by messengers to the June 15-16 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando, to establish a broader giving category called "Great Commission Giving" had been criticized by some who said it "jeopardizes the Cooperative Program," Floyd noted, adding that the criticism "never made sense to me at all" because "I knew our own growing commitment to the Cooperative Program."
First Baptist's Cooperative Program giving increases the past two years were made "in the worst of economies," Floyd noted, in spite of the fact that "last year our own church cut our budget $600,000 and our staff team is closing in on year two without any raises."
The increased Cooperative Program allocation "will come from the source of our budget alone, be consistent annually, and become our base commitment in years to come," Floyd added. "This will also allow more monies in the future to be allocated through our 'Reaching Our Mission Offering' for Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong."
"With Internet technology, television is changing anyway, and we will engage in new ways to connect through the Web around the world," Floyd said. Calling the Cooperative Program "our financial priority as Southern Baptists to see the nations come to Christ," he added: "We believe this strategic and financial move for our ministry will result in placing the Gospel into our state, nation, and world in a more effective long-term way. Please pray for God's blessing and financial provision for our ministry. We must do so much more in years to come to get the Gospel to the nations."
The $500,000 CP contribution represents a significant increase of about one percentage point of the church's undesignated receipts (from 2.9 percent in 2009 to almost 4 percent of the church's current-year budget goal). This sacrificial decision of the church is in keeping with the growing trend of churches and Baptist state conventions that are increasing CP giving incrementally and sacrificially in order to fund the Great Commission causes of the SBC.
"I thank God for this GCR process that has so changed my life and perspective," Floyd concluded. "Thanks for walking with me through this GCR journey. May we truly see a Great Commission Resurgence. May the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Glory of God be extended to the nations!"