By the time Steve Young was called as pastor in 2008, the church had decreased its CP giving to 2 percent of undesignated offerings, down from its original 10 percent in 1998 to help support Southern Baptist work in Montana, across North America and around the world.
"The church went through some hard times, and the Cooperative Program was the easiest place to trim some dollars," Young said. "They went a year without a pastor. The men of the church took on the responsibility, and financially things began to turn around. By the time I came, finances weren't a problem, but they hadn't put that money back to work for God."
Young led South Hills, located in the suburbs of Helena, Montana's capital city, to increase CP giving to 4.5 percent that first year and to 6 percent his second year.
"Hopefully in one to two years we'll have it back to 10 percent," Young said. "I just believe the Cooperative Program is the most efficient way for us to fund Kingdom ministries, and that is what we're supposed to be about in churches. If you give more, then you do more.
"When the churches give more, we see more Kingdom ministry going on through ourselves and through the Southern Baptist work we have going on around the world," the pastor said. "When you see it up close, you no longer see it as a convention fundraising plan. You see the Cooperative Program really is about ministry and missions."
Getting their giving back on track has helped South Hills Baptist gain confidence and God's strength in all the church does, including outreach and nurturing members, Young said.
"We have not had any extended stewardship campaign," he said. "We've not set commitment goals of how much you'll give each Sunday or anything like that. We've just talked about being faithful to God, and that the area of our giving is a part of faithfulness. Besides, when people see God at work, they're excited to be part of that, and to give.
"Last year we received about $12,000 more in general receipts than we budgeted for," he said. "So not only did our CP percentage go up, but we gave more because we received more. That's one of the positives of giving a percentage."
Young said he believes 10 percent to be a minimum that a church should give through the Cooperative Program.
"It's a worthy offering for the Lord's work," he said. "If we really are Southern Baptist and we really do believe in what Southern Baptists are doing, 10 percent is just a starting place for us. I know as a church we're not commanded to tithe, but I almost personally believe that is a place to start."
God has blessed South Hills Baptist with more ministry opportunities, more workers and more money since they increased CP giving, Young said.
The church paid off its debts, sent three members on international mission trips and gave more to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in 2009 than they had in the previous five years combined: $3,000. In 2010, they gave $3,500.
"I challenged them," Young said. "I told them Southern Baptists have work on six continents. Surely we can give $500 for each continent, I said, and they did."
From its beginning, South Hills Baptist has sought to reach the 2,000 people who live in Montana City. That focus has broadened to include all of the local Treasure State Baptist Association.
In Montana City, the church hosts a community-wide block party each summer to kick off Vacation Bible School. The church's choir leads in special events for Easter, Christmas and the Fourth of July and performs at a half-dozen area nursing homes. The choir director even started a Sunday School class at a retirement home as a result of the choir performing there.
Vacation Bible School last summer was the biggest-ever for South Hills, in part because a North American Mission Board-appointed summer missionary was assigned to the church at Young's request. Trevor Cooper, a student at Arkansas Tech University, also led a five-day sports camp at the end of summer that offered instruction in a different sport each day.
"It really was a blessing for our church to have Trevor for the summer," Young said. "It helped our church understand how we do things as Southern Baptists: We give and here's how we get back. We basically had youth and children's ministries for the summer because of NAMB."
South Hills has a year-round part-time volunteer youth minister, John Goodsell, who has seen the youth group grow from fewer than five to 19 students on a recent Wednesday night for Bible study.
"I think he got a lot of help and energy from our summer missionary," Young said.
The other summer events have resulted in a surge of students in the school year's AWANA program, which now draws about 50 children.
"We've seen several families of new Christians come into our church this last year," Young said. "That's been exciting.... There are a lot of people to reach, and we don't have to go far to find them. We do have a good foundation. We're not struggling every week to pay the bills and keep our head above water, so we do have good opportunities to look outside ourselves."
South Hills Baptist provided housing throughout the summer for mission teams that came to help with church plants in Helena. This winter, South Hills is doing the same for mission teams coming to assist the Capital Baptist Fellowship church plant. That "housing" consists of sleeping on the floor of the church, using the church showers and the kitchen.
"South Hills Baptist Fellowship is a willing partner with Treasure State Baptist Association," Young said. "Besides being heavily involved in church planting, the association provides all kinds of training, plus pastoral fellowship and retreats. We get far more back than we give to the association."
Casting a larger net, the youth are planning a mission trip to Idaho this summer to do backyard Bible clubs, Vacation Bible School and follow-up for both. The pastor is working on a long-term partnership between the association and a nation in East Asia. He plans to lead a group from the association there when schedules can be arranged to give Bibles to travelers who don't have easy access to them in their homeland.
"We're not doing anything others aren't doing," Young said. "God's blessing. I think the people here have a heart to serve. I think folks are praying.... Sometimes God just chooses to bless and we can't put a finger on it.
"Our major challenges are the same ones you have everywhere: maintaining a missions and evangelism focus, not growing satisfied with what we have," he said. "We are in a community that's 90 to 95 percent unchurched, upper middle class. They enjoy all the things I enjoy, and do them on Sunday."
Guiding the church members to grow in their faith and follow God's direction for their lives is an important part of his leadership as pastor, Young said. As people grow closer to God, His love spills out from them and touches everyone they encounter.
"Our focus is to impact our community," Young said. "We've got some good things to talk about and encourage us, but we've not done near all what God wants us to do at South Hills Baptist Fellowship."
Or throughout the world, he added.
Last summer Young participated in an East Asia Summit in Oklahoma City sponsored by the International Mission Board.
"I came away with a renewed appreciation for the International Mission Board," Young said, saying "It's not perfect" but affirming that it's "doing a pretty good job. I was reminded what solid missionaries we have."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
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