BRANDON, Fla. (BP)--Bell Shoals Baptist Church is more than a building where about 3,200 people join in worship each week.
"Giving to missions, praying for missions and going on mission are at the heart of who we are as a church," said Stephen Rummage, pastor of the 50-year-old congregation in Brandon, Fla.
"We're working as hard as we can to reach our own community and city with the Gospel, and we're committed to partnering with other Southern Baptists to reach our nation and our world for Christ."
Bell Shoals, for example, gave more to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions than any other church in the state: $67,531.95 in 2009 -- $21.10 per capita -- the latest year for which state-by-state totals have been finalized by the North American.
Rummage added, "North American missions has become more and more personal to our congregation as we've participated in hands-on church planting efforts in Toronto, Canada, West Palm Beach, Fla., and Bozeman, Mont., as well as other places."
Bell Shoals has an ongoing Global Missions Fund that stretches from Nov. 1 through Oct. 31 each year, kicked off by an annual Global Missions Conference that most recently included 30 missionaries who serve in North America and elsewhere around the world. In addition, each spring the church recognizes and promotes local ministries, some of which are led by Bell Shoals members.
"The whole purpose of the fall missions conference is to engage our people in missions and to encourage them to personally get involved," missions pastor Ted Badger said. "It's a weeklong celebration during which we recognize the call and dedication of our missionary guests and connect them with the Bell Shoals family."
The Global Mission Fund is an offering promoted to be over and above the tithe, Badger said. Of the $372,000 given in 2009, 64 percent was divided among the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.
The remaining 36 percent helps support a variety of local ministries, mission journeys and projects, church plants and 27 independent missionaries.
Bell Shoals is an Acts 1:8 church, with missions and ministries spreading across its community, state, nation and the world, Badger said.
Bible Fellowship is the name at Bell Shoals for what many churches call Sunday School. Many Bible Fellowship groups organize missions projects, such as serving once a month at the Florida Baptist Children's Homes. Other classes have traveled to Jacksonville on a weekend mission journey to support Words to Works, an inner-city ministry that helps the homeless in a variety of ways, such as packing food boxes, teaching English as a Second Language classes and evangelizing.
Badger added, "We firmly believe in challenging and engaging children in missions and ministry from a very young age. New this year is promoting family-friendly ministries. What a wonderful lesson that provides children -- to serve the needs of others as families."
For example, a Bible Fellowship class went to Gwinnett County, Ga., to minister in an area that is a gathering point for refugees. Class participants, including many children, helped serve in several ways and openly shared the Gospel with more than 100 people making decisions for Christ.
Most North American work is done over a period of time, Badger said. One example is Bozeman, Mont.
Bozeman is one of the fastest-growing cities in Montana, with at least 55,000 residents and 13,500 college students. When George Thomasson, Bell Shoals' executive pastor, toured Montana to find a possible missions connection, he found Bozeman and Four Corners Baptist Church, which had closed after a pastor left. The church building had been vacant and deteriorating for 14 months when a 50-person Bell Shoals-sponsored construction crew arrived in mid-summer 2009 to begin the process of refurbishing the buildings.
Bell Shoals returned last summer to do more work and is looking for other churches to partner with to pay for a church planter and the expenses of planting a Montana church that already has a nicely refurbished facility and no debt. Bell Shoals has made a five-year commitment to help plant a church in Bozeman, with plans already made for this summer.
Support for new church plants continues in Toronto, Canada, Atlanta and Plant City, Fla. In addition, Rummage said he wants to start a new church out of the Bell Shoals congregation, and a Hispanic congregation to meet at Bell Shoals is in the planning process.
"I'm excited about the opportunities for Southern Baptists to develop and implement a strong church planting strategy across North America through NAMB," Rummage said. "We can do so much more together than any of us could individually."
The needs in North America require an intense focus, the pastor said.
"It's easy for us to underestimate the lostness in North America, but the truth is that around four people per minute on this continent are dying and entering eternity without Jesus," Rummage said. "Lost people are unlikely to show up on our doorsteps asking how to be saved. We have to go to them with the Gospel, and we have to look for every means to take the message of Jesus to them."
Karen L. Willoughby, managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist, writes for the North American Mission Board.
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