As Oak Grove Baptist Church in Bel Air, Maryland, faces the possibility of another major building program, the question has been asked: “Do we give too much to missions through the Cooperative Program?”
But the congregation has answered with an emphatic “No!,” committing to give 20 percent of its undesignated receipts through CP, Southern Baptists’ unified way of supporting missions and ministries across the world.
Oak Grove also takes up throughout the year a World Missions Offering, with percentage gifts—65/25/10—going to the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, and the state missions offering of the Maryland/Delaware Baptist Convention. In addition, the church has ongoing missions partnerships in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Lake Placid, New York, and it gives financial support to a church in Ukraine. Locally it ministers through crisis pregnancy support, Christian counseling, food and clothing ministries, alcohol and drug addiction ministries, an emergency homeless shelter, and homeschool co-op ministries.
“This church is recommitting to what a New Testament church is supposed to be,” said David Hall, pastor since 1989 of the church where at least seven hundred people participate in Sunday morning worship. “We want to be the church God wants us to be.”
Hall participated last year in a Transformational Church conference, then led Oak Grove leaders through the material.
“The discussion questions were the best thing,” he said. “That prompted one thought or suggestion after another. . . . Just to be honest, with the prospect of another major building program looming in the near future, there were some questions about our Cooperative Program giving. Some years we’ve given 23 to 24 percent; the lowest is 18 percent. This is a very mission-going, mission-minded church, as well as very committed to continuing as we are with our Cooperative Program giving.
“I’ve always felt you can never out-give God. We keep the Cooperative Program in front of our people all the time. . . . I’m just completely sold on CP because of the blessing it’s been to me and to the missionaries I’ve talked with. I’ve just seen the fruits of the CP over and over.”
With every mission trip and missionary speaker, Oak Grove members see more of what wouldn’t be possible without CP, Hall said, such as Vacation Bible Schools in Nicaragua, the installation of stoves and the giving away of hundreds of pairs of shoes in Guatemala, and outreaches to world-class athletes and fans at Ironman triathlons in Lake Placid.
“I try to mention the Cooperative Program monthly,” Hall said. “We use NAMB and IMB mission clips in the worship services, and I’ll often share a DVD story on Wednesday at our weekly prayer meeting. . . . God gave CP to Southern Baptists; I don’t think any man would have been smart enough to come up with it, but Southern Baptists were smart enough to embrace it.”
Oak Grove also embraces community outreaches and church planting.
Church members of all ages participate each Sunday afternoon in CIA—Christians In Action—by passing out lemonade at area parks and engaging passersby in conversation, making cookies for workers at the local hospital and police station, taking handmade quilts to the elderly and ill, and other ministry activities. FAITH evangelism training takes place Sunday afternoons during the spring.
More than four hundred children participated in Vacation Bible School last year, and a similar number are anticipated this year. The church in the past has hosted block parties at its building the Saturday of Easter weekend, but this year the church sponsored parties in four separate neighborhoods.
“We have to get out of our comfort zone,” Hall said. “We were able to reach a lot of unchurched families this way. Our county has changed age-wise, ethnic-wise. We can’t keep doing church the same way. . . . These are exciting challenges, but as a church we have to address them to keep being effective in the community.”
Oak Grove has planted two churches during Hall’s pastorate; he anticipates three more within the next eight years. The latest church plant is six and one-half miles from the mother church.
“We gave up fifty-five members as missionaries for that, the cream of the crop from our lay leadership,” Hall said. “But I knew if our Lord was in this, He would be faithful to provide for our needs as well as those of the new church. I was reminded that God’s vision never lacks for His provision.”
That church plant—Epic Community Church of Aberdeen, Maryland—launched with more than three hundred participating in worship. Since then, both church plant and mother church have thrived.
“Initially I was not for this new church plant locating so close to us, the parent church.” Hall said.
“. . . However, not only did it enable Epic to grow—a new church in a new place—but it also grew us at Oak Grove, numerically and spiritually.
To maximize use of their space, Hall would also like to see an ethnic congregation using the church’s sanctuary on Sunday afternoons.
“God has brought more than one hundred new members to Oak Grove since September of last year . We are baptizing individuals on a monthly basis. We are on target to reach our budget. We started a classical Christian school in September 2011 with one hundred students. God gave us back more than we gave away. We are living proof that you can’t out-give God.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message and Dakota Baptist Connections, and is a member of Kingsville Baptist Church in Pineville, Louisiana.