When I attended the 130th anniversary service of First Baptist Church of Corpus Christi, I thought about the impact of hundred-year-old churches in our convention. They have survived economic, political, social and theological challenges.
Pastors and staff have come and gone. Some have brought energetic ideas, others wise pastoral counseling. Some led with bright theological clarity, and others may have caused divisions and mistrust. Yet these churches have continued to provide a Christian witness in their communities.
It was a privilege to visit with First Baptist Corpus Christi on this historic occasion. Two former pastors, George Gaston and Hulitt Gloer, and a former minister of music, Ed Nolte, led in the worship service.
I listened to longtime members describe how their lives have been blessed by this church. One lady told the story of her first visit to the church more than 50 years ago. She still remembered where she sat in the congregation and the process she followed in joining the church.
Our BGCT is home to 1,193 churches that are more than 100 years old. Last year, their combined Cooperative Program gifts totaled $18,679,155. On an average, they allocate 6.7 percent of their budgets to the CP.
We often brag about our new churches, and we have reason to do so. New congregations often bring enthusiasm, creativity and vitality to our convention. Yet these fellowships often lack the resources and commitment to support missions and ministries through the CP. We have 1,436 churches that are 10 years old or less. Their combined gifts through the CP in 2007 were $1,154,419, an average of 2.9 percent of their budgets.
How often do we hear conference leaders speaking of churches that are declining or plateaued as unhealthy congregations? Yet how many of our churches have been birthed by these mother churches? Many of our older congregations continue to provide wisdom and leadership for our newer churches. Some of these mature churches still are growing and vigorous. They often provide stability to associations and Baptist institutions in their communities.
How many of our congregations were started by churches like First Baptist Corpus Christi? How many of our hospitals, universities, children’s homes, retirement centers and Baptist student ministries were born from conversations, leadership and contributions from these churches? How many of these ministries could we maintain without their support?
Families consist of multiple generations—children, parents and grandparents. When one generation is missing, the whole system suffers. Our BGCT family is blessed because we have new and seasoned churches. As we seek to understand our future, we would be wise to listen to the churches that weathered storms and found ways to reconnect with communities that always have been changing.
The mission statement for First Baptist Corpus Christi is “Growing and serving together in love and truth we live to glorify God through being the Spirit-led life-transforming presence of Christ in our world.” Not bad for a 130-year-old!
Randel Everett is executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board.