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In America's West, cooperation a must

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
GALLUP, N.M. (BP) -- In the heart of the American West, where 68 percent of the population claims no religious preference and the Gospel is little known, one church is making a difference with a disciple-making ministry that also reaches around the world through the Cooperative Program.

"Let's look at reality," said Jay McCollum, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gallup, N.M., since 1994. "The world has come to North America. It's going to take our cooperative efforts -- because of the amount of money it will take -- to reach the people of America.

"No one mega church can do this; it's going to take multiple churches," said McCollum, whose congregation gives 11.5 percent to support Southern Baptists mission work at the state level, across North America and around the world through the Cooperative Program. "The Cooperative Program has been the vehicle Southern Baptists have used to put the largest missionary force in the field in the history of Christianity.... Our cooperative efforts assist us not only in reaching people in our corner of the world but also to the vast people groups of the world."

The people in Gallup are a microcosm of the world, McCollum said. Gallup has long been known as the "Indian Capital of the World" for its proximity to several Indian reservations, including Navajo, Hopi, Zuni. More than two-thirds of the city's estimated 21,000 people claim Native American heritage.

It's the other third that brings a cosmopolitan air to the town and to the church membership, the pastor added. In addition to Hispanic, African-American and Anglo, there are a variety of Asian groups, and even 600 or more Palestinians, the highest per-capita presence of Shiite Muslims in North America, McCollum said.


"The Cooperative Program broadens our horizons," McCollum said. "CP raises the awareness of people to see there's Christian work taking place around the globe, and that people can be called to be a missionary on a foreign field, in the state convention, or in their neighborhood."


First Baptist seeks to make inroads to the community through a variety of initiatives: connection with city leaders and residents through government and private organizations, the pastor's radio programs, in-costume character sketches at schools and other endeavors that result from McCollum involving himself in Gallup civic life during his 17-year tenure.

Gallup is one of about 95 cities across the nation that provide a week-long Southern Baptist WorldChangers learning experience in home repair, simple construction and other servant evangelism skills for high school and college students. More than 200 who gathered the last week of June in Gallup worked at 19 job sites. Their assignments ranged from roof repair to building a handicap ramp to prepping and painting exterior walls of homes and more.

While the week of World Changers in Gallup involves students from across the United States, the other 51 weeks of the year First Gallup members prepare the town for the next onslaught of enthusiastic teen workers.

"There's the constant work of securing homes to work on, and raising the money for materials and supplies," McCollum said. "And as they become aware of needs, church members throughout the year do light repairs for invalid adults and single moms with insufficient funds.


"Being able to host a WorldChangers project in Gallup, it's given people a vehicle to be on mission in their city, and it's changed the image of our church," the pastor said. "We're no longer a 'rich church that sits on a hill.' We're a church that cares about its community and the people in it, some of whom are the most vulnerable."

Despite the many needs in Gallup itself, WorldChangers spreads out from Gallup each summer to the nearby reservations, through a partnership with Jim Turnbo, regional missionary for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.

First Gallup also involves itself through its association in strengthening churches that need a helping hand. In addition, it's a part of a new church start on a reservation near Gallup.

The church also doesn't shy away from crucial but controversial social issues. About 15 months after McCollum's arrival in Gallup, he led a successful city-wide charge against the sale of packaged alcoholic beverages on Sunday. Despite opposition from liquor store owners, weekend crime involving alcohol has dropped so much that elected officials are not inclined to reinstate Sunday sales.

"I engage in the community," the pastor said. "I serve on various boards, coached soccer, been on about every booster club, and we often host sports banquets in our church, so we're constantly engaged in that facet of our community."



The congregation follows McCollum's example of engaging in their community. All that activity builds relationships, which lead to evangelistic encounters that keep First Gallup focused on its goal of baptizing about 50 people a year. This in a church where about 270 people participate in Sunday morning worship.

"This is a mission field," McCollum said. "You're looking at 68 percent of the population who claim no religious preference.... I have a great opportunity to preach to people who are not Gospel-calloused. We're not in the Bible belt. We're not in 'cultural casual Christian mode.' We're in the Wild West.

"Oftentimes the good news is good news because they've never heard it," the pastor continued. "They may not accept it, but they're willing, open, to hear it."

McCollum writes his own radio and television advertising, promotional spots and on-air devotional thoughts.

"Utilizing social media and broadcast to let the message of First Baptist Church be known to the public is something I love to do," the pastor said. "We'll do 156 radio spot ads a week in seven formats.... There's no way to monitor the response to this. You're raising the level of spiritual awareness in the community.

"I think every church needs to be a strong evangelistic church," McCollum said. "You have to preach the gospel, see people come to Christ, disciple them and equip them, so they are missionaries -- ambassadors for Christ where they live, in their places of work, and as they share the Gospel while going about their lives -- shopping, sports and the like.


"This is a process that takes place over time," the pastor continued. "It has to be done in every generation."

Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist, newsjournals for their respective state conventions. Learn more about the Cooperative Program at

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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