Reaching the world through CP is important to FBC Houston, FBC Farwell
February 19th, 2019 / By: Michael Foust / comments
First Baptist Church in Houston has a history of partnership that few congregations can match.
It was founded in 1841, began cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention upon that denomination’s formation in 1845, and has been funding projects outside its city ever since.
So it’s not surprising that the congregation also partners with the national and state conventions through the Cooperative Program, the unified giving plan that funds the missions and ministries of the SBC and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Partnership is ingrained in the church’s DNA.
“We've got 174 years of legacy of giving,” Gregg Matte, senior pastor of FBC Houston, told the TEXAN. “There’s a trust that's been developed over decades—if not more than a century—of being able to be a part of the denominational work through our church. We want to honor that and we want to connect with that. That’s important to us.”
Matte is scheduled to speak at the Cooperative Program luncheon Feb. 26 at 11:45 a.m. during the Empower Conference at the Irving Convention Center, where he will share his passion for CP and its impact on the world.
First Baptist Houston has increased its Cooperative Program giving the past five years, from $760,519 in 2014, to $872,279 in 2015, to $1 million in 2018.
‘Like Shooting a Firework Out of a Cannon’
The Cooperative Program, Matte said, enables First Baptist to reach places in Texas, the U.S. and throughout the world that it never could by itself.
“What you get with CP is you're able to give to one thing as a church that then gives to hundreds if not thousands of things,” Matte said. “It’s like shooting a firework out of a cannon. You shoot this one thing out and, boom, when it pops it goes everywhere and lights up the sky. And that's a great thing.”
This doesn’t mean, Matte added, that churches can’t give to other missionaries and ministries outside CP. Some churches, for example, may want to give to their local homeless shelter or pregnancy crisis center.
“Churches can still have freedom,” he said. “I don't think anybody would expect that the only dollar ever given away would be CP money. Many churches have a missionary that came out of their church or a ministry that’s close to their community that they want to support.”
The Cooperative Program, though, is a “trusted” standard, Matte said.
“It helps keep your bearings,” he said. “Otherwise, you're jumping around every year giving to, you know, five or 50 different organizations that are all switching and going and moving.”
Members of First Baptist Houston know their money supports missions and ministries around the the world, Matte said, even if few of them could explain the particulars of the Cooperative Program or how much the congregation forwards to CP. That’s because Matte believes stories—and “not spreadsheets”—are better able to inspire the congregation to give. A world missions focus day, Matte said, might include a leaflet listing “five things” around the world the money will support.
“People are more inspired by a story of impact than they are by a percentage or an entity that we’ve given to,” Matte said.
‘It’s the Best Model’
Of course, plenty of medium-sized and smaller churches are committed to the Cooperative Program, too. One such congregation is First Baptist Church in Farwell, Texas, which forwarded $23,400 to CP in 2018.
Farwell is a town of about 1,300 people near the New Mexico border. The church’s average worship attendance is roughly 150.
Russ Ponder, senior pastor of FBC Farwell, told the TEXAN that the Cooperative Program is a better method of supporting missions and ministries than requiring missionaries to raise their own funds.
“The Cooperative Program is not the only model. But I personally think it's the best model,” Ponder told the TEXAN. “We just feel being a smaller church, we can be a part of a bigger giving pool through the CP.”
Like FBC Houston, First Baptist Farwell also emphasizes missions-minded stories to inspire giving.
“We have pictures and stories of our missionaries on the wall that are supported through the Cooperative Program,” Ponder said.
The congregation also regularly prays for missionaries. It places pictures of missionaries in the bulletin, too, as a reminder of what their offering supports.
Church members also can see CP’s impact within their own town. CP funds allowed FBC Farwell to start a church, Casa de Dios, whose primary heart language is Spanish. It meets in the same building and has its own pastor.
“If it wasn't for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Reach Texas Offering and Cooperative Program giving,” Ponder said, “we would not have been able to do that. And so they’ve seen it firsthand right in our own backyard.”
‘It Doesn’t Have to Be a Certain Size Church’
Additionally, two FBC Farwell staff members, including Ponder, attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“We have greatly benefited through the reduction of tuition by 50 percent, which is possible because of the Cooperative Program,” he said. “Those are stories we share.
“We've seen how CP helps people on the other side of the world and in Farwell and really everyone in between,” Ponder added. “We get to play a part in that.”
Matte said he hopes the CP luncheon Feb. 26 helps “encourage folks that wherever they are, God can use them to make a difference.”
“It doesn't have to be a certain size church or certain region in our state,” Matte said. “Everybody can be a part of it. Being a part of mission partnerships is not something God wants from us. It's something he wants for us.”