When lost people come to Christ at Southern Baptist church plants, often it's the culmination of individual, regional, and national cooperation.
Living Hope Church in Marysville, Ohio, is case in point. The five-year-old church plant where about 400 people participate in Sunday morning worship exists because of the partnership of Dublin (Ohio) Baptist Church and Kirby Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, as well as the support of all Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program.
CP is the way Southern Baptists work together to support the expansion of God's Kingdom locally, nationally, and globally.
"We're better when we serve together and give together," said Jeremy Westbrook, Living Hope Marysville's founding pastor. "The Cooperative Program is, I believe, the greatest network of giving in the world. Where else can you partner together with thousands of other churches to reach the world for Christ?
"With the Cooperative Program we get to be part of something so much bigger than us," Westbrook continued. "We're invited by God to join in His activity . . . and ultimately we're better when we work together."
Living Hope Marysville exists because Westbrook, then the college and evangelism pastor at Kirby Woods, realized during a Global Impact Missions Conference in 2006 that "the cost of following Jesus could mean a change of plans," he said.
"The Lord laid it on my heart that we were supposed to plant a church," Westbrook said. "We put our sails up and asked the Lord to blow us where He wanted us to go."
Kirby Woods already was supporting Dean Fulks, a church planter in central Ohio; Westbrook visited him in December 2006.
"I took the weekend, saw the area and prayed," Westbrook said. "I brought my wife Jennifer up in the summer of 2007 and we moved here in February 2008."
Five years later, Westbrook leads a debt-free church that has baptized 135 people and holds two Sunday morning worship services in its own building. Missions awareness is embedded in its DNA.
Fulks introduced Westbrook to Richard Halcombe, director of missions for the Metro Columbus Baptist Association. Halcombe introduced Westbrook and Dublin Baptist to each other. Westbrook introduced Kirby Woods to Dublin Baptist and Halcombe. The circle was completed when Halcombe, through the association and state convention, involved all Southern Baptists through their Cooperative Program giving in what today is Living Hope Church.
"When I drove the U-Haul here in February 2008 I asked the Lord to keep us in a position where we were totally dependent on Him and He has done that every step of the journey," Westbrook said. "Apart from Him, nothing of any eternal value can be accomplished."
Living Hope Marysville's first "interest meeting" was in April 2008. A non-publicized weekly service started that fall. About 250 people participated in the "public launch" Easter service in 2009 at an elementary school. The number dropped to 125 the second week, but has been growing ever since.
The church purchased a 12,000-square foot building in September 2011 for $400,000, and was debt-free when renovations costing another $400,000 were completed with the help of Ohio Southern Baptists' Buckeye Builders in June 2012.
"It was an overwhelming challenge to raise the money, but I didn't want to enslave our people to debt," Westbrook said. "I don't want to get up every Sunday to talk about money to people who are lost, unchurched, de-churched, and have a bad taste in their mouth about church. I want the focus to be on the Gospel."
Evidence of that focus can be seen in the 135 people who have been baptized at Living Hope Marysville during the last five years.
"The majority of our people who come to Christ are led to Christ in the home," Westbrook said. "We visit the people who visit our church, and we ask if they'd like to hear the Gospel.
"It's all about relationships," he continued. "We really teach our people that found people find people, [telling them that] 'if you've been found by Christ, find someone who hasn't, and invite them.' We still believe in outreach, in returning the visit."
Event outreach at Living Hope includes hosting Vacation Bible School at the county fairgrounds for 160 or more youngsters, buying school supplies for those in need, and hosting Monster Mash on Halloween, in an open field near the church.
About 1,000 children and their parents participated in Monster Mash last October, registering as they entered to win prizes, and to give the church contacts for future home visits.
"For us it has been shocking how many people here don't understand the Gospel," Westbrook said. "Many people have not made a decision for Christ because no one has ever clearly explained the Gospel to them."
Mission trips to nearby Cleveland, Ohio, and twice to Haiti, as well as giving 10 percent of its undesignated receipts to missions through the Cooperative Program and the local association, reinforce Living Hope Marysville's commitment to Southern Baptist missions. The church also commissioned a couple to inner city missions in Columbus, Ohio, the fifteenth largest city in North America and one of the North American Mission Board's Send North America cities.
"The Lord has been gracious and kind," Westbrook said. "He has entrusted us with the Gospel message here and to whom much is given, much is required."
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for SBC LIFE and a member of First Baptist Church of Pleasant Grove, Utah.