Alexis: Doing missions, supporting missions, two sides of same coinby Mike Creswell
Missions keeps Alexis Baptist Church a lively and outward-focused congregation, said pastor Sandy M. Marks, and that means both going out to do missions and supporting missions financially.
Alexis members have long equated missions support with Cooperative Program support, he added.
Alexis is a 1,000-member church with attendance that averages 310 to 340. Visit the brick church building; you'll wander down country lanes and think you're in the country.
But most of the area farms have folded and deceased textile plants mean surrounding villages are no longer mill villages as they were a few dozen years ago. Marks said the Alexis community has become a bedroom community for Charlotte, whose downtown is about a 25-minute drive away.
"A lot of people commute to Charlotte or they work with one of the Duke Power facilities, or they work as schoolteachers or nurses," he said. The onslaught of subdivisions and strip malls that mark Charlotte's urban sprawl to the west, south and east was headed to this area before the economic recession slowed down development.
Marks has served here nine years, long enough to get a good grasp of the area and the church; he earlier served as pastor of First Baptist Church, Spring Lake.
The pastor acknowledges that, seen from a distance, "Alexis Baptist may be just a blip on the radar here in Gaston County," but he insisted, "We have the vision and, I think, the ability to influence the entire world."
Through its Cooperative Program (CP) support, Alexis has a part in supporting thousands of missionaries and many ministry efforts at home and overseas.
The church routinely commits 14 percent of its budget for CP.
CP support is not new for the church. "The Cooperative Program has a long history here. So it's an easy sell on the giving part," he said. Still, Marks incorporates CP support into his preaching and teaching; new members joining from a non-Southern Baptist background learn about CP from Marks along with basic Christian doctrine and church life.
But he stresses that giving to missions is not enough: "Taking part in missions is part of our discipleship teaching here. We try to make it an expectation with everybody. We want it to become a part of who we are, a part of our culture, a part of our DNA."
"Giving to missions and doing missions are two sides of the same coin," he often tells members.
Doing missions took on a major new importance during 2011 after he challenged all the members to make a personal missions trip. He hoped as many as 60 or 70 members might respond.
He was floored when 124 people signed up for mission trips during the year - more than a third of the church.
Last year Marks led a 14-member team to Ukraine, where they conducted Bible clubs for kids in villages, coordinating through the Baptist seminary. A second trip is set for this summer. Other mission trips took place within North Carolina.
Leading members on mission trips is in keeping with the Bible's missions mandate, he said. But doing what the Bible teaches on missions also brings other results, beyond the ministry done on trips, he said.
First, he said missions has deepened the fellowship among members."On all our trips we make sure we have devotions together, testimony times together. You just learn so much about our own people. We had people in the church say they have basically grown up with each other in the church but they did not really get to know each other until they went on a mission trip together. It has been beneficial in that regard. It has deepened the fellowship of our congregation," he said.
Because Alexis supports many ministries through the Cooperative Program, they have access to many long-term partnerships for hands-on missions work, Marks noted.
"The Cooperative Program provides a structure in which volunteers can personally take part. They don't have to spend six months in preparation to set up a missions situation. They can basically take off a week and just go. We may go one time, but other Baptists have a history there and will continue to have work there when we leave," he said.
Further, hands-on missions involvement is even more important for today's young people, Marks believes.
"I think with the young people coming up in the church, the key to making the Cooperative Program a continuing priority is them experiencing missions themselves, because once they go and once they get plugged in, missions becomes a burden on their hearts, something they must do," he explained.
"To give and not go would be insufficient, and to go and not give would be insufficient. That's what we have experienced here at Alexis. People really become more dedicated to missions and give more to missions when they have been involved in it," he said.
Along with CP, Alexis also supports the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
Alexis also supports the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO) and some members are very much involved with the work of NC Baptist Men that NCMO supports. "We are super excited about the work of NC Baptist Men," Marks laughed.
Dollie Noa, the church's director of children and education, serves on the board of NC Baptist Men and is much involved with the Deep Impact missions outreach program in Charlotte this year. The church has also sent teams to serve at the Red Springs Mission Camp, operated by NC Baptist Men in Robeson County.
One retired Alexis member now works virtually full-time in the Alexis area, helping residents with construction and repair projects. A second man in his 40s is moving towards a similar full-time missions role, but will include service with the disaster relief program of NC Baptist Men.
"These are examples of people in our church who have seen the necessity of missions and answered the call to missions," Marks said.
He acknowledged the church is struggling a bit this year with the budget because of the weak economy. But he is confident the new surge of missions commitment, combined with the congregation's sweet-spirited fellowship, will keep the church moving ahead.