'Jersey' impacts Ohio & the world

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Monday, November 04, 2013 (10 months ago)

PATASKALA, Ohio (BP) -- Jersey Baptist Church has baptized 1,482 people -- more than 100 a year -- during the last 10 years, according to its Annual Church Profile (ACP).

The number includes a baptism ratio of one baptism for every 20 members each year as the church, located in Pataskala, Ohio, has continued to grow. This is about double the average baptism to member ratio for Southern Baptist churches nationwide, according to LifeWay Christian Resources' ACP that is compiled in cooperation with Baptist state conventions.

"A core value is that we make Christ known and share the Gospel in everything we do," said John Hays, senior pastor for 32 years of Jersey Church. Each Sunday the church draws about 1,500 people who participate in one of five morning worship services.

The Cooperative Program is another way "Jersey," as it's known locally, fulfills its missional core value. The CP is the way Southern Baptists work together in missions and ministries through state conventions and throughout the world. Jersey contributes 11 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through CP.

"The Cooperative Program ... is a portal for us to fulfill in part the Great Commission," Hays said. "We as a church are committed to taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The Cooperative Program gives us a way to financially contribute and also to connect with those who are serving on the field.

"We truly are a church with a strong conviction on the Great Commission and the challenge to reach all people groups," the pastor said. "What we are yet to see is a comprehensive means of spreading the Gospel that is superior to what is being done through the Cooperative Program. I've been on the board of the International Mission Board. I've been on the inside and on the outside, as the pastor of a church, and I fully embrace the Cooperative Program."

Jersey has contributed nearly $3.5 million to missions through CP giving during the last 10 years. Additional missions activities include local missions and teams serving nationally and internationally – with a specific focus on Southeast Asia.

Hays recently took a team of business people to a nation, -- unnamed for security reasons -- where the church is ministering to Vietnamese refugees, the sick and orphans. His purpose for this trip was to encourage the team to provide financial support for building an additional hospital floor started by Southern Baptist missionaries. The additional floor will be used to train medical professionals in that part of the world.

Previous trips to that nation have involved mission team construction projects, children's programming, pastor/leader training, and praying, as well as building floating food gardens for landless, impoverished people who live on a large lake.

Jersey missions and ministry endeavors include sponsoring Grace City Church, a church plant in Las Vegas, Nevada, and a counseling center at the church for Jersey members and other community residents. The congregation also responds to needs as they are learned about through home visits, which are a staple of the church's connection with its community.

Jersey is in a rural but urbanizing area about 25 miles east of downtown Columbus, Ohio. The congregation considered building in the early part of this decade to accommodate its growing attendance, but instead, they opted to start multiple services with various styles of music. They did this to "reach people's heart music," said Keith Matthews, Jersey's executive director.

In 2004, the church started a service with Southern Gospel music and the pastor sharing his sermon through video. In October 2005, a modern service started with "more of a rock sound," Matthews said.

"That grew so quickly in January we started a second service with that style," he said. "In the fall of 2007, we started a traditional service. What was left we call contemporary, which is our largest attendance service.

"During those years, our worship attendance increased 23 percent. Prior to that we had blended worship, and in that environment there's always someone who is not happy. … With services having different styles of music, many people invited their friends."

Though the church could have built a new facility, Matthews said, "We'd rather give more to missions."

Earlier this year, the church implemented a new vision called "Caring for People and Connecting them to Christ."

"Not that the Great Commission had changed," Jersey's pastor said as he explained the new vision. "I just felt we need to evaluate again how we were uniquely gifted to fulfill the Great Commission at Jersey, to make sure we haven't lost relevance. This was a great struggle for me."

Hays said he didn't want to impose his will on the congregation. He wanted the church members God had brought to Jersey to determine what God's will was for the church. A dozen members formed the Vision Advancement Team -- under the direction of outside consultants -- to discover how to uniquely fulfill the Great Commission in Pataskala, Ohio.

"Once this group had defined where we were going, there wasn't any turning back," Hays said. "There would be no waffling; we would embrace it. We would go forward no matter what."

Jersey's new vision involves an emphasis on making disciples, Matthews said.

"For a church to grow, you have to delegate," he said. "There are a lot of things that can distract our focus. Over the years, Pastor John found people with spiritual gifts and allowed them to use their gifts. With everyone staying focused on what God has called us individually to do, God can grow the church."

Jersey recently hired four student associates, each assigned to a different school. Student associates focus on working alongside of students and their parents to find creative ways to "Care for them and seek to Connect them to Christ."

"With this new vision, we also wanted to be more evangelistic locally," Hays said. "The Great Commission includes this community."

Jersey plans to expand this student ministry to additional schools in the future.

"We want to meet people where they are, not expect them to come to us," Hays said. "We need to have our eyes open and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit leading us in seeing the needs of those who are lost, and caring for them.

"The Jersey family is not perfect, however, they do have a long history of being a caring group of believers who seek to meet needs," he said. "Connecting others to Christ is similar in that we must always be encouraging each other to a deeper devotion to our Savior."


Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of Dakota Baptist Connections, official newsjournal for the Dakota Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter )@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).