By Karen L. Willoughby
EDITOR’S NOTE: April 13 is Cooperative Program Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention. The following feature exemplifies churches’ commitment to reach not only their communities but to share the Gospel through Southern Baptist missions and ministries in each state and throughout North America and the world. To learn more, visit http://www.sbc.net/cp/default.asp.
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (BP) — Their mission trips carry the Gospel to California, Alaska, Arizona, Hungary, Trinidad and Tobago, with Utah a potential new site. To thoroughly fulfill the Great Commission, however, Arapahoe Road Baptist Church relies on the Cooperative Program.
Pastor Matthew Perry underscores the importance of CP to enable Southern Baptists to “go and make disciples of all nations” as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19. “Like a Mighty River,” a graphic by the SBC Executive Committee, was a key element in one of the pastor’s recent blogs, showing how CP dollars flow from local churches to state conventions and on to the North American and International mission boards, as well as to Southern Baptist seminaries and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“[W]e’re able to come together with all the other Southern Baptist churches” through the Cooperative Program, “knowing what we give is going to have a Gospel-spreading effect,” Perry said. CP dollars helped start Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, Colo., in 1960, the pastor noted. Today the church gives 10.75 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program.
The Cooperative Program, founded in 1925, carries a legacy “of knowing we are making a Gospel difference in areas that desperately need to have a witness,” Perry said.
“I’ve seen what the Cooperative Program has done for church planting,” he noted as an example. “With CP support, church planters have the financial undergirding to be able to focus more on reaching people for Christ than how they’re going to stay solvent. It helps their witness stay put so the church can grow to stand on its own.”
With new laws legalizing marijuana and civil unions, and a general disassociating from cultural Christianity, metro Denver and all of Colorado desperately need the Gospel, Perry said. While Arapahoe Road is committed to making Acts 1:8 a living reality — reaching out locally, regionally, nationally and internationally — the church recognizes God placed it near the southern edge of metro Denver for a reason.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on here,” Perry said. “The most recent school shooting was a mile up the road in which one student was killed by a fellow student at Arapahoe High School last December.
“A lot of folks come [to Colorado] to escape,” the pastor continued. “There’s so much sunshine here. One of our members, a firefighter, told me that if it’s cloudy three days in a row, the suicide rate goes up…. People who move here bring baggage with them — and they can be set free from that; it’s just trying to figure out how to reach them and how to plug them into what God has for them.”
In its local outreach, Arapahoe Road sponsors a NASCAR-like black and orange Chevy Impala “316 car” in the Western Welcome Week parade in nearby Littleton, with walkers from the church passing out information about the car and its message. The vehicle was a gift from the Oklahoma Baptist convention to the Colorado Baptist General Convention, which redecorated it with Colorado-specific logos.
“When asking them if 316 rings a bell, 18 out of 20 have no idea what 316 is,” Perry said. The number relates to John 3:16 — ‘For God so loved the world.'”
“It’s an opportunity to share the Gospel,” the pastor added. “This must be a nonnegotiable in the life of our church.”
Church members participated in a variety of missions activities in addition to the 316 car in the parade, including a large-scale garage sale and free car wash in September. Around Christmas, baskets with cookbooks and other small gifts are distributed around the neighborhood. Prayerwalking takes place before Easter.
The Awana children’s program started last year with eight youngsters, then 12, 20 and now 40 to 45. The church’s active WMU does a “Love in Action” local missions project four times a year. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is gaining more members among Arapahoe Road Baptist men who wield chain saws and construction tools.
“We’re trying to find more ways to minister in our Jerusalem,” Perry said. “Denver is 90 percent unchurched and we [Southern Baptists] have one church for every 22,000 residents; that’s among the lowest in the nation. Thirteen thousand people live within a mile radius of our church, and 11,500 don’t go to any church.”
“Our biggest challenge might be when you have an influx of people [attending church] from Texas and Oklahoma, where there is a pretty good Christian subculture,” Perry said. “Instead of lamenting the way things are in the culture here in Denver and wishing for a better time, you’ve got to do business with how things really are. Christ is still King and He still commissions us to go and make disciples.”
Arapahoe Road plans to start a church in the next two to three years. As the church prepares for that step, Perry has partnered with other pastors to put on the yearly Mile High Pastor’s Conference to help with issues on preaching, the family and other major pastoral issues.
As important as church planting is, the need for existing churches to be mobilized for outreach also is paramount, the pastor said.
“A lot of times in our churches, we set up things for those far from God to come to, but usually they are things that only Christians want to do,” Perry said. “We can’t look at Denver and say, ‘I wish you were like this.’ Our vision is to help all people take that next step in their journey with Christ.’
“We’ve got to look at Denver as they are, engage them and show them who Christ is.”
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.