There's a link between a church's relevance and the Cooperative Program, as pastor Daniel E. (Danny) Crosby sees it.
"We must continually force ourselves to be relevant in a culture that always seeks to push us toward irrelevance," said Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church in Cleburne, Texas. "I think this culture doesn't think it needs us. They don't think we have anything they need or anything to do with their lives."
One reason First Baptist continues its commitment year after year to reaching people through the Cooperative Program is that it keeps the church relevant in global missions while its members reach out locally, the pastor said. The "DNA" of First Baptist, he noted, encompasses helping missions and ministries around the world and supporting churches and starting churches closer to home.
"I've seen the Cooperative Program work overseas through the missionaries my wife and I worked with for a year in Monterey, Mexico, as well as on many short-term overseas trips," Crosby said. "I've seen it work in the U.S. in pioneer areas and in areas where the work would not be carried on if it were not for the Cooperative Program.
"I've seen it work in Texas in ministries to children, church planting, benevolence, and ministries to the aging and hurting," the pastor continued. "We support the Cooperative Program because we believe in the ministries it supports .... [It remains] the best way to get the Gospel out and to do the ministries we need to do together."
Because of the Cooperative Program through which First Baptist sends 10 percent of its weekly receipts, the church doesn't have to duplicate Southern Baptists' planning and resourcing of a global missions focus, Crosby said. Thus, the congregation, where about 425 people attend Sunday morning worship, can focus instead on what it sees most clearly: The thirty thousand people in the county seat town located about thirty miles south of Fort Worth.
In addition to its Sunday School program, six adult life groups and groups for all other ages meet at First Baptist for discipleship on Sunday evenings. Missions education — Girls in Action, Royal Ambassadors, and Mission Friends — takes place Wednesday evenings. The church also has active men's, women's, and youth ministry groups. The seven-person ministry staff includes several students from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dallas Baptist University who are learning by serving.
"We made the decision to stay with the strong missions emphasis of RAs and GAs because we think doing so is more in line with our mission as a church," Crosby said. "We want to help our children grow up with an understanding of our mission and their part in the worldwide mission of God."
The church staff seeks to nurture creative ideas for First Baptist in more effectively reaching out to a changing culture, the pastor said.
"I think we have to love people, and their greatest need is the Gospel, but they also have other needs," Crosby explained. "We need to be sensitive to those needs and love the people where they are. Our purpose is to share the message of Jesus and also to show the love of Jesus."
Thus, he noted, "We're trying to get the Gospel out in a way that people will receive it. We want to do ministry that validates the message of Jesus that we proclaim."
First Baptist members minister through a weekly homemaking class for women, a weekly Celebrate Recovery group for people weathering a life crisis, and a monthly teen moms' support and ministry group. Three other local churches partner with First Baptist in Upward Basketball and Upward Cheerleading, which reach out to the community from December through February.
Another creative way First Baptist has of reaching out is mobile Biker's Corner which opens each Sunday at 7 a.m. to provide coffee, water, donuts — and sometimes full breakfasts — and relationship-building conversation for motorcyclists who travel Texas' scenic highways near Cleburne.
Biker's Corner is a Kingdom-building ministry, the pastor said. People often request prayer about things going on in their lives. They are given kind words and Scripture to ponder as they continue their ride, while First Baptist members leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.
The church provides a small trailer to carry equipment and supplies: tent, table, chairs, and ice chests. The men in the church furnish the coffee and donuts each week.
"They've had Sundays when they've had several people stop for prayer," Crosby said. "One week we had a family stop who were traveling in their car and didn't have any food."
First Baptist men also assist seniors and others who are needy in the community with home repair and handyman chores. And they've been to New Orleans five times to help in hurricane recovery ministry.
"One of the things I've seen happen in New Orleans is the testimony of the people who have received ministry from Baptists .... The ministry we've had a small part in giving there has given credibility to the Gospel that New Orleans residents maybe didn't recognize before Katrina."
In addition to starting several churches since it was established within months of Cleburne's founding in 1867, First Baptist has helped strengthen several churches nearby as well as in Michigan, Colorado, and Louisiana.
Mission teams go out numerous times a year on international missions assignments. Toys were being collected in mid-December for a medical missions team going to the Philippines in January. In recent years, First Baptist members have gone on mission to Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Nigeria, Germany, and Brazil. The church also supported one of its members who went to Durango, Mexico, for three years as an independent missionary.
A Hispanic congregation meets each week in First Baptist's facilities. The church also maintains a residence for international missionaries on stateside assignment. IMB missionaries Don and Paula Cribbs are the current guests.
First Baptist's heart for missions goes back at least to the early 1900s. Sometime between 1902 and 1905, then-pastor Charles T. Alexander led John Lung to the Lord. Lung was the one Chinese person living in Cleburne at the time. Lung later led many Chinese Texans to faith in Jesus Christ, and a number of that group returned to China to become missionaries.
Crosby, who has led the church for eleven years, has that same kind of missions focus.
"Missions is at the heart of my call as a Christian and a pastor — to lead a church to love God and to reach out to the world with God's love," the pastor said. "Missions is also the heart of the First Baptist Church of Cleburne, Texas. I try to be clear in my preaching about every Christian's call to be on mission with God."
Karen Willoughby is a member of Kingsville Baptist Church in Pineville, Louisiana, and managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.