FROM THE STATES: Okla., Fla., Ark. evangelism/missions news; 'Sunday School is in our DNA'

Okla. church sees explosive

growth in Sunday School

By Brian Hobbs

ALTUS, Okla. (The Baptist Messenger) -- For more than two years, Kevin Baker, pastor of Martha Road Baptist Church in Altus, Okla., and other leaders have been praying fervently for God to send rain. Only in recent weeks has the drought-affected area seen abundant rain, which they view as a direct answer to prayer. The church, however, has experienced a spiritual downpour through Sunday School growth during those same two years.

Baker and his church leaders, relying on God and utilizing the ReConnect Sunday School strategy promoted by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO), have a goal to start four new small groups each year, as a means of reaching new people. In 2014, the church exceeded the goal, and in 2015, they are on pace to do the same.

The church, which is located near the Altus Air Force Base, reaches many, including military families.

One military family reached is Donnie Frey's. Frey, who serves in a mixed-age Sunday School class, said, "We are fairly new to the church, but our family has been blessed by the Lord to be part of this fellowship."

Frey and his wife, Sarah, enjoy the Bible-based teaching and the programs for their young children. Frey even guest teaches on Sunday mornings from time to time.

When Baker came to Martha Road, the congregation had approximately 60 people in Sunday School, and he wanted to focus intentionally on reaching the community through Sunday School. The church, under his leadership, embarked on a building program to create more Sunday School space. Baker and the church recently turbocharged efforts of reaching people through Sunday School with a five-year plan for growth.

He said, "As of today, we have 23 Sunday School classes, with an enrollment of 440, one year into the five-year plan."

While the church is experiencing noticeable growth through Sunday School, the principles behind the growth are nothing new.

"Arthur Flake's 'power of ten' has worked for us, and been used of the Lord," said Baker. "Sunday School is in the history of Martha Road. Though we were founded in 1889 (as Martha, First), people think we are a brand-new church start, since we are in a new building. I try to capitalize on that and tell them how it started with one man who wanted to evangelize cowboys. Sunday School is in our DNA, you might say."

In addition to Sunday School, the church has an aggressive outreach to college students at Western Oklahoma College, as well as an active Awana program on Wednesday evenings. Also, church members take part in service evangelism.

Martha Road has seen an average of 20 baptisms per year over the last 10 years, but Baker would like to see even more.

"Our baptisms have lagged somewhat. A lot of our growth is by transfer, so this year, we have initiated a new strategy of service projects geared toward evangelism called Serve Oklahoma," said Baker.

"This year, we are calling it the 'fifth Sunday serve.' Get them out of the building and in the community. We had our first one the last Sunday in March, and saw fruit from it, so we are starting to reach non-church people," he added.

Baker believes service is one part of becoming a follower of Christ. He also believes every Christian is a disciple and can be part of disciple making and getting people directly involved.

"We have used the ReConnect principles and website to train our people," he said. "As far as recruiting teachers, you never can go wrong with looking among existing leaders within the church. We had an adult class that took the initiative to start a class. Some is organic, some is planned. I recently started a class and raised up a teacher then turned it over (to them)."

Only the Lord knows what the future growth looks like at Martha Road, but Baker and his church members believe God will continue to pour down spiritual rain in their community.

"We try to temper our growth strategy so it's not just growth for growth, but growth with a purpose," he said. "I believe people are catching that vision."

For more information on the ReConnect Sunday School initiative, visitwww.ReConnectSS.com.


This article appeared in The Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Brian Hobbs is editor of The Baptist Messenger.

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Fishing with a purpose

at Fla.'s Idlewild Baptist

By Carolyn Nichols

LUTZ, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) -- Campbell Middlebrooks learned about Christ and fishing from his father -- a deacon and middle school teacher.

Middlebrooks is now teaching a new generation about Jesus while they learn the basics of fishing through Idlewild Baptist Church's Fishing, Faith and Fun ministry for children.

Over the past nine years, more than 800 Tampa-area children have learned knotting, how to de-barb and worm their hooks, and how to use a spinning rod and reel in the annual six-week course that begins on the second Saturday in January. Dozens of children also have made professions of faith during the course.

"I consider fishing to be secondary. All the instructors are there to help the children know Jesus and how to be saved. That is what we are really fishing for," Middlebrooks said.

Jacob Martin, director of recreation outreach at Idlewild, said Fishing, Faith and Fun is one of the most popular activities for children on the church calendar.

"From our perspective, the children learn about fishing, but they also learn about Jesus and what He did for them on the cross. They learn that He loves them," he said.

Middlebrooks worked as a commercial banker until his retirement, and he also dabbled in commercial fishing and working as a fishing guide. Not long after Middlebrooks' retirement in 2006, John Zeller, Idlewild's recreational pastor at the time, said to Middlebrooks in passing, "You need to be teaching people to fish."

That comment and further encouragement from Zeller led Middlebrooks away from his retirement fishing plans as he realized "the Lord had other plans for me," he said. In developing Fishing, Faith and Fun he went first to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to find a booklet for children on learning to fish. It served as a starting point in writing his own manual for fishing, "expanding tenfold on what they had," Middlebrooks said.

The first Fishing, Faith and Fun course began in January 2007 with 29 boys and one girl. They met every Saturday morning for six weeks with 10 fishing instructors.

"How many fish did we catch? I don't remember, but what remains in my mind was the father and son who accepted Christ and were baptized a few weeks later," Middlebrooks said. "I also remember that the girl won our tournament. Girls reigned for 8 years, but this year a boy finally took the trophy."

Each two-and-a-half-hour session includes a devotion led by one of the teachers. The short quiet time often centers on Jesus' stories about fishing and includes the basics of the plan of salvation. Fishing instruction takes place in the classroom and also along the banks of the seven ponds and one lake on Idlewild's property. Parents and grandparents are encouraged to accompany their children to the sessions.

At the end of the six-week course each February, a tournament offers the children the opportunity to earn fishing bragging rights for a year. Awards are presented at a banquet. Pastor Ken Whitten speaks to the crowd as children and parents are invited to make professions of faith in Jesus. As new believers come to the front, they complete the sign of the fish and write their name in the center.

This year, "seven children boldly came forward to complete the sign of the fish in front of 350 witnesses," Middlebrooks said.

The 2015 fishing class registered 113 children, ages 7-15, and 35 teachers. For the first time, Fishing Faith and Fun included a class for special needs children and their parents.

When asked if fishing teachers were hard to find, Middlebrooks said, "It's very easy to find teachers, but I couldn't care less if they fish well. Can they work well with children?"

Along with adult instructors, more than a dozen "graduate assistants" are hands-on instructors in the classroom and on the lake bank, and sometimes serve as "parents for the day" when a child's parent cannot attend. After completing the first year of Fishing, Faith and Fun, some students return for intermediate courses that expand their fishing knowledge. Second-year students learn fish biology, working with artificial baits, conservation and fishing regulations. Third-year students are taught safe boating, compass navigation, use of a fish finder, tournament techniques and obtaining a Florida safe boating license.

The 15 graduate assistants are a source of pride for Middlebrooks. Some "have been with me six or eight years," he said. Eight of the 15 are girls.

"I have told them that their future husbands will have to sign a prenuptial agreement. They cannot move out of state, and the husbands will have to let them go for six weeks starting in January," he said with a chuckle.

As the winter sessions of Fishing, Faith and Fun continue to grow, the church has asked Middlebrooks to make fishing available as an optional activity in upcoming summer programs, including the annual summer music camp and a parenting class for foster families. Fishing, Faith and Fun may be exported to a church plant in New Jersey this summer as Idlewild volunteers work to grow the congregation.

Middlebrooks is working with other churches in the area to develop Fishing, Faith and Fun in their churches. He said churches without bodies of water can teach fishing by playing "plug golf," in which children learn overhanded and underhanded casting by aiming at hula hoops on the ground. He has customized the Fishing, Faith and Fun manual to teach pier and shore fishing in saltwater or fresh, and he hopes to make it available to other churches.

Middlebrooks said he has little time to fish these days, but enjoys feeding fish from his dock.

"I've caught enough fish in my lifetime. Now I spend my time teaching children," he said.


This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention.

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Ark. church's Deaf 316 LIVE

ministry baptizes 5

By Anna Hurst

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Baptist News) -- A baptism service for students in the Deaf 316 LIVE program was held at Geyer Springs First Baptist Church in Little Rock May 20. Five students were baptized.

Deaf 316 LIVE was established in fall 2013 as an avenue to reach out to young deaf students. Today, the Deaf 316 LIVE staff bus nearly 40 students, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade, from the Arkansas School for the Deaf to Geyer Springs every Wednesday night throughout the school year to share with them the gospel.

"Students are taught through a biblical timeline starting with creation, carrying on through to the birth of Jesus and ending in the ascension of Christ," explained Kendra Roy, the children's administrative associate at Geyer Springs. "By the end of the year, Deaf 316 LIVE students have a full understanding of who God is through the Scriptures."

Students are also challenged to commit to learning Scripture on a weekly basis, which enables them to share with their peers.

Twelve deaf students were saved this year while attending the program.

"On May 14, 2015, we held a special class for each of them. (We) went over with them the importance of their decision and talked to them about baptism and how to further their walk with God," Roy said.

The students who were baptized were Carley Williams, Whitney Stitcher, Roselani Stitcher, Mia Pompeo and Juanita Cooper.

A new program called Deaf Impact (D-pact) is expected to start in the fall. It will be held at the same time as Deaf 316 LIVE, but will cater to sixth through 12th grade students.

"We are excited about the continual growth of this ministry that is staffed by Deaf Fellowship Church and supported through Geyer Springs First Baptist Church," said Roy.

Deaf Fellowship Church is pastored by Kevin Kenreich and also meets at Geyer Springs. The two churches work together to make Deaf 316 LIVE successful and will continue to play an active role in D-pact.

"We are very excited about expanding D-pact ministry to cover the middle school children. We believe this will make a huge impact on our deaf congregation because these young people can volunteer to serve in different areas for God," stated Kenreich. "Also, I would like (the students) to see that God does desire to use deaf Christians to participate in Deaf 316 LIVE and D-pact. I'm very excited to see this opportunity and believe it will have a huge impact on our church and Geyer Springs First Baptist Church."


This article appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News (arkansasbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. Anna Hurst is a writer for the Arkansas Baptist News.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.

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