"Someone told her that Baptists tend to reverence the Lord, and that's why she came here," said Stanley Hughes, who at Easter will have been pastor of the congregation in Richland, Wash., for 20 years. "It was inspiring to me that someone has that attitude toward Baptist churches. We want people to know we love Jesus and if you come here, you're going to be loved."
Richland Baptist shows its love for Jesus by striving to stay close to God, by reaching out with the Gospel to people in southeastern Washington, and by stretching across North America and the world both in its giving and in its going. About 500 people participate in two Sunday morning worship services linked by Sunday School.
"I see lots of churches nationwide that are just slowly dying," Hughes said. "I don't know why. They get smaller and smaller.... Sin just has a way of impacting Christians and churches. If you don't walk close to the Lord, it's a slow death -- empty buildings, closing churches instead of reaching lost people.
"Life always has to be infused into the church, and only God can do that," the pastor said. "If we walk close with Him, stay in fellowship with Him, then we can be a part of His life. There are too many people who need to hear the Lord for us not to."
Richland members consistently give more to Southern Baptist Christmas, Easter and state missions offerings than most churches in the Northwest Baptist Convention. They gave $11,551 in 2009 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, the most of any church in Washington and Oregon. In 2010, they gave $13,264.
The church contributes 16.5 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists' channel for supporting state, North American and global missions and ministries. Richland Baptist also sends 5 percent of its undesignated offerings to the Columbia Basin Baptist Association.
"People like to be a part of furthering God's Kingdom," Hughes said. "I think most people get on board when they understand what it's going for."
That takes intentional education, the pastor said.
Giving through the Cooperative Program "does not benefit as much if it is not made known what the Cooperative Program is," Hughes said. "It's just dollars out the door if they don't know. We help our new members understand where our CP dollars go."
Hughes added, "There are times churches struggle and can't give as much, while other churches at the same time might be in a period of strength. It's all of us working together that makes the Cooperative Program work."
During the various missions emphases throughout the year, giving is mentioned in the weekly newsletter and regularly from the pulpit. A mission offering banner is set up in the worship center, and state and national mission guides are made available to all who attend.
"It's about being faithful in every area, not just overseas," Hughes said. "All mission outreach arms ... are equally important, and we should not do one to the neglect of the other.
"I think reaching people by whatever means possible -- as long as it's scriptural -- is, 'Let's go for it.' New church plants are certainly a great way to reach people, a key word being 'healthy' new church plants," Hughes said. "It ought not to be 'Build a building and they will come.' It ought to be 'Get a gifted person and let the work grow from that.' If you have the people and they're called and they're fulfilling that calling, there's unlimited potential."
Richland Baptist helped start Reata Springs Baptist Church in Richland about 12 years ago. Now it is a thriving congregation under the pastoral leadership of Jim McGown, Hughes said. He requested that Southern Baptists pray for God to raise up 1,000 new "fire brand church planters" to be scattered across the nation and start new, thriving, healthy churches.
Richland Baptist was the first church in the Northwest Baptist Convention to utilize the FAITH process of evangelism through Sunday School. Richland continues to use FAITH, a curriculum produced by the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay Christian Resources.
"There are a thousand things to occupy people's time," Hughes said. "We've made a decision to keep evangelism in the forefront, in obedience to the Lord's command.... We tend to do what we plan to do. God said to go, and so we're going to go. The fruit is His business."
In addition to a full slate of programs for church members and those they invite, including massive Vacation Bible School and outreach via block parties, Richland produces a Judgment House each fall for the community that results in 60 to 80 professions of faith, which Hughes calls "Kingdom fruit" because other churches often reap the benefit.
Other community ministries include weekly visits and Bible studies at the Twin Rivers Group Home, the Juvenile Justice Center and the Union Gospel Mission; Good News Clubs at two elementary schools and an English as a Second Language program at the church with participants from Chinese, Russian, Hispanic and Ukrainian backgrounds.
Missions and ministries on a broader scale include regular mission trips to the Colville Indian Reservation in north-central Washington near the Canadian border and international trips to Guatemala and Costa Rica. Past mission trips have included LaGrande, Ore.; Lewiston, Idaho; Tacoma, Wash.; and an international trip to Brazil.
Several Richland members are actively involved with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and the church has been active in supporting individual members who have felt God's call to participate in mission activities.
"Realizing one can do the right thing for the wrong reason, it is important to be sure your motives and fellowship with the Lord are right and to walk honestly before Him," Hughes said of the church's missions and ministries, locally and globally. That's why prayer is such a significant component of its endeavors, the pastor added.
As part of Columbia Basin Baptist Association, Richland has shared significant dollars and time with sister churches that are seeking to reach their communities.
"We're team players and we certainly believe in furthering God's Kingdom, and this is a great way to do it," Hughes said of assisting struggling churches. "The Bible speaks about loving your brothers and sisters, and that you can do more together than you can individually.
"I think our big Baptist word is 'cooperation,'" the pastor said. "The Corinthians were challenged to take up an offering for the believers in Jerusalem following the sacrificial example from the churches in Macedonia. In Galatians they were told to 'bear one another's burdens.'... It's all a picture of cooperation."
Hughes said Richland Baptist is "a very loving church, a church with vision, with a high percentage of godly people who truly love the Lord."
"It's real and it's genuine. I do believe we have been faithful to share the Gospel and have tried to leave the results to God," he said.
During all this giving and going, the church remodeled the worship center and built new education space at a cost exceeding $6 million. The church in a three-year period reduced its original $3.8 million mortgage to less than $3 million.
"I think part of our building program is to say to our community we intend to stay here," Hughes said. "It's kind of like Noah: We have to stay faithful and leave the results to God. If we stay close to the Lord, stay true to the Great Commission and remain faithful to Him and never stop doing that as long as we have strength to do it, then God will be faithful to accomplish His purposes in the community where He has graciously placed us to serve."
Hughes lends his time and expertise to the local association, which is moderator-led and organized into five teams. Hughes is team leader for interchurch fellowships, which creates opportunities for connections between churches.
"One of the benefits of more people leading is that it causes more involvement among churches," Hughes said. "Greater involvement results in greater ownership. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed '... that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me,' John 17:21."
As he leads Richland Baptist Church and as he works alongside others in Columbia Basin Baptist Association, Hughes said he is continually reminded of the value of the Southern Baptist Convention.
"I am thankful for Southern Baptists because part of what causes us to stick together is our belief in sharing the Gospel," Hughes said. "Jesus used the words, 'Occupy 'til I come.' They are taking care of the responsibility where they have been placed, and we're doing the same. If we do the things He told us to do and remain faithful, God will continue to bless us and work through us to reach people who need to hear Him."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
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