"The Cooperative Program provides every church with the opportunity to fund world missions, evangelism efforts, campus ministry, theological education, church planting, relief efforts, address social concerns and tons of other godly efforts," said Rick Hillard, Eastlake pastor since 2005. "But the main reason why I am an avid supporter of the CP is because it allows churches to cooperate together.
"I recognize that most churches within the Southern Baptist Convention are churches that run less than a hundred in their worship attendance," Hillard continued. "Many times their budgets are stretched in such a way that there is very little they can do on their own to be an Acts 1:8 church. The CP allows each church to give of what we have and partner with others to take the Gospel to the nations."
Eastlake members give 13 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program. The congregation is one of the leading churches in missions giving in the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana.
"Last year alone, with a $336,000 budget, we gave $83,013 to mission causes," Hillard said.
THE GOSPEL FOR NW INDIANA
Eastlake Crown Point started as 49th Avenue Baptist Church in Gary, Ind. In the early 1980s, church members moved south of the city to the growing east side of what then was rural Merrillville. Today it has five connected brick buildings on 14 acres just east of Interstate 65.
"It is a fantastic facility strategically located in Northwest Indiana," the pastor said.
Each year, Eastlake baptizes about a dozen people. Hillard developed and implemented what he calls a "2 x 2" visitation ministry to help increase the number of baptisms. An assimilation ministry has begun as a result.
In addition, the church has begun a multi-faceted outreach endeavor that it calls "IC36," which is short for 1 Corinthians 3:6 -- "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." This includes a neighborhood adoption program and neighborhood-based ministries, such as backpacks filled with school supplies at the local elementary school. Eastlake also honors area law enforcement personnel once each year; neighborhood stations are included in the church's neighborhood adoption ministry.
The goal for IC36 is to help members develop relational evangelism skills, Hillard said.
"We are trying to establish new relationships between the unchurched and our members," the pastor explained. "At Eastlake, we conduct ministry in a way that helps spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our corner of Indiana and brings believers to a closer walk with Him."
Discipling of Eastlake adults includes a "DOTS" ministry -- Daughters of the Savior -- for women, a men's ministry majoring on mentoring, and occasional needs-based discipleship classes. Others include a "Tied in Prayer" quilting ministry, Keen-Agers (seniors) ministry, recreation ministry -- such as volleyball on Thursday evenings -- and a food pantry.
For youngsters, there's "American Kristo-Jitsu." "AKJ blends fundamental elements of Christianity and Jujitsu into a fun, easy to learn, yet very demanding regimen," the pastor explained. About 20 youngsters, mostly boys, and as young as first-graders (with parents in attendance) participate. Hillard, a Jujitsu black belt, leads AKJ.
The Wednesday evening AWANA program involves about 75 students in grades 1-6.
"The major challenge we face is leadership development," Hillard said. "We have been attracting younger families. The challenge is to assimilate them into leadership roles."
When Hillard was called as pastor in 2005, the congregation consisted mostly of senior citizens; since then, 180 people have joined the church, including many younger and middle-aged families.
"I am burdened that these families understand the reason for their existence," the pastor said. "We must understand that the theological reason for the family is to reproduce the image of Christ in society. Biblical Christianity works and it needs to be modeled for all to see!"
"Our primary goal is to reach Northwest Indiana with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a big task, but a task worth the effort," Hillard continued. "There is nothing quite like knowing Christ and living for Him. We endeavor to share that special message with everyone we meet. We also want those who are already Christians to grow closer to Jesus. We do this through meaningful worship, discipleship, Bible studies, opportunities to serve, and wonderful fellowship."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections, and The Montana Baptist.
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