Boom-or-bust oilfields don't impair church's CP

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Friday, March 02, 2018 (6 months ago)

In a boom-or-bust oilfield economy, First Baptist Church in Elk City, Okla., shines its light into the community via ministry and discipleship and, around the world, through the Cooperative Program.
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ELK CITY, Okla. (BP) -- First Baptist Church in Elk City sets its sights on its Oklahoma oil field community and beyond.

First Baptist is heavily invested in missions and ministries locally, nationally and internationally. The congregation started a Hispanic church 10 years ago, its third church plant in Elk City; connected in Ovid, Colo., with a church they could come alongside seven years ago; and has had international missions commitments for several years in Canada with the North American Mission Board, Eastern Europe and South Asia with the International Mission Board, and Cambodia with a faith missionary from the church family.

All the while, the church has had a firm commitment to the Cooperative Program, pastor Russell Duck told Baptist Press. The church -- "for decades," he said -- has given up to 15 percent of its undesignated offerings to Southern Baptist missions through the Cooperative Program, and another 3 percent to the Great Plains Baptist Association.

"We're just a regular Southern Baptist church," said Duck, now in his 17th year of leading the western Oklahoma congregation that began in 1899. "We're touching the world through the Cooperative Program in addition to hands-on missions. It's been a proven program since 1925.

"We consider our Cooperative Program giving our tithe to the Southern Baptist Convention," the pastor continued. "We ask our members to tithe, and we tithe. We know we can do more linking with other churches than we could as one church."

Vacation Bible School is among the many facets of children's discipleship at First Baptist Church in Elk City, Okla.
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First Baptist -- and the 12,000-population Elk City -- is just beginning to come out of another downturn in the oil economy, Duck said. When the most recent "bust" happened some three years ago, perhaps 3,000 residents -- and 100 church members -- left town for employment elsewhere. Now with 50 others who have joined in recent months, First Baptist is back to 450 for its Sunday morning worship.

First Baptist's budget is modified when its income is reduced, but giving its "tithe" through the Cooperative Program is a constant, Duck said.

"It's just ingrained in us to put the Cooperative Program first," he said.

First Baptist's local initiatives include supporting -- again, "for decades" -- Baptist Collegiate Ministries in Weatherford and Sayre, Okla.; community ministries HELP INC. and the Western Oklahoma Family Centers; and the local pregnancy center. And the church has its own food pantry, open during regular office hours and staffed by volunteers.

During a mission outreach in Ovid, Colo., a member of First Baptist Church's team of adults and youth from Elk City, Okla., visits with a youth at a partnering church in Ovid, a small town in the northeast corner of Colorado.
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A major interest of many in the church is Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. A large-scale storage building and three vehicles -- including a feeding unit -- are located at the church, and probably 100 men and women are trained as volunteers.

First Baptist gave five acres of its land to Baptist Village Communities, Inc., which opened an $8 million, 60-unit Elk City retirement location in December 2016. The church provides a Sunday School class at Baptist Village, the children's choir performs there four times a year, and "we do a lot of ministry over there," Duck said.

All the while, First Baptist focuses on meeting the spiritual needs of its members.

The six pastors on staff focus on First Kids, First Youth, First Seniors, Worship, Missions and the Hispanic church. As a result, nearly as many people participate on Wednesday evenings as Sunday mornings.

Pastor Russell Duck says First Baptist in Elk City, Okla., is "a regular Southern Baptist church" intent on "touching the world through the Cooperative Program in addition to hands-on missions."
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Children's programming is an example of the planning that goes into every aspect of First Baptist's ministries. Age-graded Sunday School classes use The Gospel Project curriculum from LifeWay Christian Resources, which sets the stage for a church-wide weeklong (or longer) theme. First Kids meet on Sunday morning for either preschool or children's worship, with fifth- and sixth-graders doing the sound and lights and helping with worship. On Wednesdays, about 200 First Kids -- including some from other churches and no church -- learn a different aspect of the same lesson.

First Baptist will be 120 years old in 2019. "We're a missions-minded church; it's just the heart of the people," Duck said. "The congregation just always had a heart for missions locally and globally. It's in the DNA of the people and I can't take any credit for it. They were missions-minded before I got here."

What's next for First Elk City? "We're always trying to find new wineskins to reach more people," Duck said. "We want to come up with new methods and new structures to reach new people. We're trying to reach the younger generations because they're the future of the church."

Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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