Church surmounts crisis, emerges as CP leader

Baptist Press
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Posted: Feb 01, 2012 5:52 PM
Church surmounts crisis, emerges as CP leader
BLACK FOREST, Colo. (BP) -- A church that dwindled to 10 families in the 1990s then rebounded by prayer, faith and diligence has become a perennial leader in Cooperative Program giving in Colorado.

"Growing churches do what non-growing churches refuse to do: pray and work hard," said Bob Bender, pastor of First Baptist Church in Black Forest, located on the cusp of Colorado Springs' urban sprawl. "We strive to make evangelism missions the point of the spear in penetrating the lostness of Colorado."

In a state where missions researchers say 86 percent of the population is unchurched, Bender noted that "you have to be highly relational. You pretty much have to earn the right to talk with someone about their faith.

"Our people are excited about their church and invite others regularly. Most we reach are attending our church as a result of a personal visit."

Horse lovers and professionals worship and serve side by side, some driving up to 30 minutes from all four directions to be involved in "The Happenin' Place" where "it's easy to find God and hard to forget Him."

Despite the members' enthusiasm and an active FAITH visitation program -- which, as the pastor put it, "trains our people to do lifestyle evangelism," Bender said the church recognizes that by itself it cannot reach everyone in the world who needs to hear about God's personal love for them.

"That's where the Cooperative Program comes in," Bender said. "It's our first priority. I believe it is the most effective financial method of doing missions -- certainly ordained by God Himself."

First Baptist gives 10 percent of its undesignated receipts to missions through the Cooperative Program, the Southern Baptist way of providing for the work of the state convention outreach and global missions.

"If I am asking our members to tithe to the budgeted ministries of our church, which I do, then their church should set the example by giving 10 percent to the Cooperative Program," Bender said. "I can only imagine that if every church followed this model, the SBC would have more missions money that we know what to do with. ...

"I've traveled abroad and seen firsthand the effect of our CP dollars," the pastor continued. "I like what CP monies are doing internationally -- holistically, not just evangelism, not just preaching. ... We are not involved in the Cooperative Program because of what we get out of it. We're involved in it because of what we can give through it. ... It's more blessed to give than to receive."

As an Acts 1:8 church, First Baptist is involved in missions and ministry "glocally" -- locally through Vacation Bible Schools in area trailer parks, ministry to the homeless and to those on the wrong side of the law -- and extending outward from there.

"I just believe people should get to hear the Gospel once, before we get to hear it four or five times," Bender said. "That's why we give to the Cooperative Program and go on mission trips."

This year the college group is going to Joplin, Mo., to help in tornado recovery ministries; the youth, to Costa Rica to do Vacation Bible Schools; adults have planned a return evangelistic trip to Peru this year and to Alaska in 2013.

Active involvement in Pikes Peak Baptist Association and the Colorado Baptist General Convention is a given. First Baptist started a church in its association and contributes to multiple associational and state convention endeavors such as the Ponderosa Baptist Conference Center and the Front Range Church Planting Center.

"Colorado needs more churches; they grow faster and reach more people per capita," Bender said. "God's plan to evangelize the world is through congregations. ...

"We're committed to our association and state because 'Together Each Accomplishes More' -- TEAM," the pastor said. "It's the synergism effect. When churches get together, you can get more done."

Getting more done -- meaning, reaching more people with the Gospel -- is of primary importance at First Baptist. They contribute throughout each year -- in addition to ongoing giving through the Cooperative Program -- to the church's World Missions Offering. In 2011, a total of $97,065 was received -- nearly double the offering receipts in 2010.

"I got tired of using money to build bigger and better buildings, buying more buses and other optional amenities while the world is in such need of basic essentials just to survive," Bender said. "We sought to change our priority and perspective and, as a result, we witnessed a most amazing and supernatural outpouring of giving to our World Missions Offering."

The 132 families contributing to the offering each gave an average of $735, "a sacrificial amount for most of our folks as we have no wealthy members," the pastor said. One strategy was "change for change" -- an idea encouraging First Baptist members to put their spare change each day into a missions offering container in their home. By year's end, that change totaled about $100 per person.

Three-minute "mission moments" videos were part of each Sunday morning worship service in November and December, utilizing testimonies and stories from missionaries to show how the World Mission Offering was going to be spent. In addition, a bulletin insert each week communicates First Baptist's fourfold mission-giving strategy: Cooperative Program; direct support of missionaries from the church; World Missions Offering; and mission trips.

The church used the "Jesus Dollar" stewardship concept by giving worship participants 500 $1 bills after studying the parable of the talents. They were to use their dollars to make or sell something, and to give the proceeds to missions. At least $20,000 came in as a result.

"It's amazing what God can do through common, ordinary people who make themselves and their resources totally available to God," Bender said. "God's more interested in our availability than our abilities. ...

"I'm just passionate about stewardship because Jesus was," the pastor said. "When we make our resources -- time, talent, tithes -- available to the Lord, it's amazing what God can do."

Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist, newspapers for their respective state conventions.

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