As an adolescent, I remember my parents taking me to Bokchito, Okla., to visit some relatives. I was fascinated by the name of this place. It was not the pronunciation—both “o’s” are long and the “i” is short. The literal Choctaw meaning of Bokchito is “Big Creek.” That was funny because I don’t remember it being close to a creek but it wasn’t far from the Boggy River.
On the side of one of the downtown buildings was a statement in large but worn letters. The statement read, “Bokchito – Biggest Little Town in Oklahoma.”
What fascinated me all these years with that memory is the attitude that was reflected by the entrepreneur who had the letters boldly scripted on the wall of his building.
The attitude I saw reflected was, “We may be small in number but we can make a difference.” Kinda makes me want to go watch a rerun of “Rudy,” the little guy that made an attitudinal difference in Notre Dame football.
Smaller-in-attendance churches may have few family units. But that doesn’t mean they are small in their thinking. I was with the church leaders in the northeastern Mt. Salem-Wyaconda Association this month. The associational annual meeting had a full house. Even though by church growth standards all messengers were from smaller-in-attendance congregations, there didn’t seem to be a small thinking person in the house. There was a sense that they were all on mission with our great God.
As a matter of record, most Missouri churches are smaller in attendance and we believe with all of our hearts that we can collectively fulfill our Master’s command to take the gospel to our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Or, to use Baptist-speak, we may be small in number but we can join with others and do our part in taking the gospel message to the people near us, to the people in Missouri, to the cities and communities of our nation and to every people group of the world.
How? By working together. Not against one another. Cooperation doesn’t mean that we are one uniform, monolithic community of theologians with a Baptist disposition. What it does mean is that we take the Word of God seriously and that the mission our Lord Jesus gave the church is burning in our souls. Therefore, we cooperate to do much more than what one believer can do or what one independent Baptist church can do.
Cooperation is not some word that sounds nice. Smaller-in-attendance churches tend to take the idea more seriously than some (not all) larger-in-attendance churches.
For example, since my arrival, I have heard so many wonderful stories about so many churches that are sacrificially giving to missions, especially through the Cooperative Program.
Just this week, James Seago, director of missions for the Pulaski Association, related a story about one of that association’s rural, smaller-in-attendance churches. According to the Annual Church Profile, the undesignated gifts to Cedar Bluff Baptist Church were $36,424. Their Cooperative Program gifts were $9,142.
Another church, larger than Cedar Bluff, but not as large as some churches, has a full-time pastor and several outreach ministries operating in their community. I learned that this church and Hannibal-Lagrange University were recipients of a large gift from the estate of one of their faithful members. The amount to the church was 150 percent of its annual budget. You can imagine the rejoicing coming from that congregation.
The pastor shared that he was so very proud of the church’s leaders. They agreed with him to treat this gift like any other offering to the church. They deposited the check and sent 10 percent to the Cooperative Program, 7 percent to their association and 1 percent directly to Hannibal-LaGrange University.
You know there had to be the temptation to use the windfall to take care of some necessary capital improvements or projects. With the heart of service to many people they cannot see with their physical eyes, they gave faithfully. Many other smaller-in-attendance churches are making similar sacrifices.
How important is this?
This week we had a sad reminder. One of our International Mission Board representatives, with 24 years of service, was violently killed while on foreign soil where she labored to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the Cooperative Program, we were the churches holding the rope for her and approximately 5,000 others. We are the churches holding the rope for the seminary students preparing to reach others. We are the churches holding the rope for our state ministries to children and to university students.
Cooperation has been called a rope of sand. But it is a mighty rope that a smaller-in-attendance church or a larger-in-attendance church can hold. By doing so, we take the transformational gospel witness to multiple generations and multiple people groups in every time zone simultaneously.
Though smaller in attendance, every church potentially makes a big footprint through its heart to share the gospel. Through cooperation, we express the big heartedness of our God who so loved the whole world that He gave His only begotten Son.