CP giving helps 'reap more than you sow'
CONROE, Texas (BP)—The Cooperative Program is among God's blessings at West Conroe Baptist Church.
"The Cooperative Program teaches [West Conroe members] to be givers," said James T. "Jay" Gross, pastor of the Conroe, Texas, congregation. "I think our people see that our church is investing in the Kingdom of God, so they give.
"It's not like we're trying to stockpile it for ourselves or to build our kingdom here in Conroe," the pastor said. "And as a result of this attitude about giving to further God's work, God has blessed us in the local ministry here, financially.
"It's the law of the sower: You always reap more than you sow," Gross said.
The sowing is continually expanding at West Conroe, where 1,300 or more people attend Sunday morning worship.
"We just try to think outside the box," Gross said. "For example, I really have a desire to get a missions center in our church -– medical, dental, food and clothing, and folks there to share the Gospel. We do it on mission trips; there's no reason we can't do it here."
West Conroe's heart for ministry that meets people's needs is reflected in its commitment to give 10 percent of the undesignated offerings it receives through the Cooperative Program channel for supporting missions and ministries of state conventions and, nationally and internationally, the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Cooperative Program, the pastor said, "is why I became a Southern Baptist," said Gross, who was raised in a Missionary Baptist setting. "I had -– still have -– a passion for mission work, and when I saw how they were able to take care of their missionaries and the theological training they have [through] the Cooperative Program, I said that's what I wanted to be."
West Conroe Baptist Church's thrust toward externally focused ministries reflects the Acts 1:8 concept of reaching out simultaneously near and far, the pastor said.
During a four-week "Christian Life and Service Seminars" series for new members, leaders sit down one-on-one with each new member and find out the ministry area(s) that interest him or her. The interests are plugged into the church's ministries database. Some people are drawn into existing ministries; other people are given the support to start a new ministry.
"That's the way Celebrate Recovery started here seven or eight years ago," Gross said. "A lady wanted to help hurting people, and now, every week there are about 25 people being helped through this one ministry alone" in its focus on helping people overcome strongholds that have kept them from the fullness of life that God wants for them.
During the Christmas season the last three years the church has presented "Bethlehem City," a 25-scene outdoor drive-through chronicling the life of Christ. Last year, it was seen by more than 10,000 people, Gross said.
"It starts with Isaiah, then an angel, then huge city gates," the pastor said, adding that a CD telling the story of the various scenes is given to the driver of each vehicle as they enter Bethlehem City. "It ends with the empty tomb, and the ascension scene. I come at the end and quickly share the Gospel."
Viewers are invited to stop at the prayer tent that follows the final scene.
"It's amazing how many people stop," the pastor said. "It's been a phenomenal thing...."
Examples of other community ministries by West Conroe include a "Back to School Bash" in a carnival-type atmosphere at a low-income apartment complex, providing school supplies, backpacks, haircuts, dental checks and a chance for students and their families to hear the Gospel, and baby quilts for a neo-natal hospital with a notation on one corner: "from your friends at West Conroe."
"There's a fine line between social ministries and using felt needs to share the Gospel," Gross noted. "If all we do is put a shirt on their back and give them food to eat -- or entertain them with a Christmas event -- we may do more harm than good. That's why everything we do leads back to Jesus Christ."
West Conroe, located 40 miles due north of Houston, started in 1985 as a mission of First Baptist Church of Conroe. The church assists two ethnic congregations, including sponsoring block parties for them, and passing on the "follow-up" to the host church. West Conroe also sponsors two local church plants -- a western-style cowboy outreach and a new Hispanic congregation.
And West Conroe partners with an Hispanic church in Monterrey, Mexico. Last year 120 people from Conroe participated in a seven-site medical/dental/Bible school during a two-week mission trip. Plans for a trip this year withered with security and swine flu concerns, Gross said. "It was just not wise to take that large a group," he said.
"Right now, the big huge step we're taking missions-wise is becoming a strategic coordinator in Central Asia," the pastor continued. "We're going to adopt a city that has no witness of Christ. It will be our job to plant a church there.
"That will be a base of operations for us to send over mission groups -– sports camps, English classes, whatever will help reach the people," Gross said. "This is a paradigm shift for us. This is going to be big."
He expects it to be a major investment of West Conroe's time, talent and resources while not wavering from the 10 percent commitment of its offerings through the Cooperative Program, 3 percent to Tryon Evergreen Baptist Association and 3.5 percent for direct missions and externally focused ministries out of a $2.8 million budget.
"It has to do with being Kingdom-minded," said Gross, a trustee of the SBC's International Mission Board. "We have a big job to do. Our church alone isn't going to do it. Our [SBC] convention alone isn't going to do it....
"I'm really concerned in some of the newer trends in church life, and some of the attitudes of younger pastors," Gross continued. "We sent $280,000 through the Cooperative Program last year. If I kept that here, yeah, I could build that new worship center pretty quick. But when I start thinking about everything that money we gave has been doing and is doing, that's far more than what we could do in Conroe."
West Conroe is among the top givers to missions through CP in the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and first among churches of between 1,001 and 1,500 members.
West Conroe's mission is to lead people to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ, according to its website, www.wcbc.us. The church's vision is to "be a healthy body of Christ carrying out five basic purposes from Acts 2 in the New Testament": sharing the Gospel, discipling believers, ministering to the hurting, strengthening the fellowship of the body and worshipping God.
"We need to be constantly seeking God's presence," Gross said. "That's the greatest commandment: to love Him with all our heart. If we do that, He'll take care of all the other stuff.
"I think there can develop a kind of expectancy, that maybe we deserve this to happen or whatever," the pastor continued. "I don't grow the church; these ministries don't grow the church. God grows the church. If we don't have His power, His presence, we're out of business."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message.