PARIS, Texas?After a year of declining receipts for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program (CP), East Paris Baptist Church in Paris discovered God’s faithfulness through consistent?and sometimes sacrificial?missions giving.
Founded in 1942, East Paris began as an Independent Baptist Church. In the mid-1940s, the church affiliated with the SBC. Under the watch of the current pastor, Mike Fortenberry, the church has been a regular contributor to the CP and to state missions endeavors.
In 2002, the Paris congregation channeled $46,217 through the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) for CP missions. Through September 2003, the gifts totaled $36,000.
“The Cooperative Program gives us an opportunity, whether our church is large or small, to join together all our resources to do a better job than any of us could do alone,” said Fortenberry, who has served at the church since 1979.
“One of the things that our people have learned about giving to missions and the Cooperative Program is that you cannot out-give God,” Fortenberry remarked. “We have a great opportunity to make a difference through the Cooperative Program.”
When the church is faithful toward biblical causes, God is faithful to provide the needs of the congregation, Fortenberry said, sharing a recent testimony of sacrificial giving from his own congregation.
“When we became a part of the SBTC [in 2000], our church leadership felt very strongly that what the state convention was seeking to do would be pleasing to the Lord and not only help us locally but in our state, to continue to expand our national and international missions effort,” Fortenberry said.
Because the church was growing, land was purchased for building a facility. The offerings on the fourth Sunday of each month were set aside for the payment of the property. Although not desiring to enter into long-term debt, the church voted to send the fourth Sunday offering to the SBTC state missions offering instead.
“They were wholeheartedly supportive of it and said the Lord will pay off the land,” the pastor said. “The Lord is faithful to bless us when we keep missions at the forefront.”
Two days later, a friend visited the pastor in his study that he had not seen in 10 years. “He pulled out a bank envelope and handed it to me sealed, and he said, ‘I appreciate your church and it’s ministry, and I want to have a little part in it.'”
Because the envelope was sealed, Fortenberry laid it on his desk and continued to visit with his friend. A few hours later, the pastor remembered the gift and opened the envelope; inside rested enough money to pay off the property fees.
“I called him, and I said ‘Are you sure?’ He said he had been saving the money and shared that he wanted the Lord’s work to be blessed through the gift,” the pastor recounted. “I was able to report to the church the next Sunday that we were able to pay off the land and that we were able to sponsor a mission trip. I was able to say to them if we’re faithful to God and to obey his commandment in the Great Commission, the Lord will bless us, if not monetarily?in other ways.”
Fortenberry said the Lord’s lesson of provision has instilled in church members to put missions first in their lives.
“Our church missions giving has continued to increase,” he said, “because they’ve seen the faithfulness of the Lord.”
In 2001 and 2002, East Paris gave $41,149 through the SBTC’s state missions offering.
Despite being a promoter of the SBC’s cooperative giving method, Fortenberry was not always Southern Baptist. Raised and trained in Independent Baptist churches and schools, Fortenberry’s first Southern Baptist church membership has been East Paris.
After being exposed to the methodology of the SBC for national and international mission work through his Southern Baptist wife, Gency, Fortenberry accepted a call to East Paris. Since that time, Fortenberry said he has tried to instill in church members the importance of consistent and cooperative missions work.
While many churches share Fortenberry’s love for collaborative work in missions endeavors, SBC officials have warned of a looming financial crisis “unless giving increases.”
The SBC Executive Committee reported in October that Southern Baptists began sending less to CP missions each year beginning in the 1980s, with an average CP designation of 10.5 percent of budget. The SBC Executive Committee’s figures for 2002-03 show an overall SBC giving decline?including CP gifts and designated receipts?of .92 percent from the last fiscal year. Meanwhile, unprecedented numbers of missionary candidates seek appointment with the International Mission Board.
“That figure fell to 7.39 percent (in 2001-02). Additionally, giving by chur