West Asheville Pastor likes Cooperative Program's 'synergy'

by Mike Creswell
Wednesday, April 25, 2012 | 6 yrs old

Stan Welch says he figured out years ago why the Cooperative Program is by far the best way for Baptists to support missions and ministry together.

He says it's synergy.

Synergy means when Baptists work together, they're able to do more than the sum of what they could accomplish working alone, he said. He compares it to lifting weights.

“I may pick up 200 lbs. on my end of the barbell and you may pick up 200 lbs on your end of the barbell, but when we work together, we wind up picking up 600 lbs.  The collective power of what we can do together is greater than what any one of us can do alone," he explains.

"There's a synergy that happens and multiplies what we can do together. The collective power of us working together is greater than what anyone can do alone. Synergy gives you more end results," he says.

Welch is pastor of West Asheville Baptist Church, Asheville. The church's 2,000+ membership makes it one of the top 30 North Carolina Baptist congregations size-wise.

Welch insists that even the state's largest churches like his can accomplish more by combining missions dollars with those of other churches. And working together with other churches is even more essential for the many NC Baptist churches which have memberships totaling 100 or less.

"We part of supporting nearly 5,000 international missionaries and 5,000 North American missionaries, plus all of our state missionaries and ministries. We're part of something much bigger than we could do individually.What we're part of is really synergy," he said.

Welch leads classes for new members several times a year. "I ask them what makes us Southern Baptist.  I very rarely get the right answer. We're known as Southern Baptists for taking stands and the many good things we do missions-wise and for disaster relief, that kind of thing. But what makes us distinctively Southern Baptist is the Cooperative Program," he tells the new members.

Welch became pastor of West Asheville nearly five years ago. His prior church, Blackwelder Park Baptist Church in Kannapolis, was contributing 14 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.

When he talked to West Asheville about becoming their pastor, he brought up the church's 3 percent Cooperative Program giving level."I told them your Cooperative Program giving is too low. Cooperative Program support is part of who we are," he said.

Since then West Asheville has increased its Cooperative Program giving by 1 percent a year -- this year they're at 8 percent. "I said, let's raise the CP percentage by 1 percent a year until we're at 10 percent, at least a tithe," Welch recalled.

"Even in tough, challenging economic times we've been able to maintain that increase. I'd urge anybody out there to do the same thing. You're not going to see a great difference in your budget by raising the Cooperative Program a percentage point, but that incremental change has gotten us closer to where we need to be," he said.

Welch helps the congregation make the connection between Cooperative Program giving and missionaries and others the system supports. He shows frequent video clips about the Cooperative Program during Sunday services and has missionary speakers each year so his people know these are "their" missionaries.

He also leads in frequent missions trips overseas, Canada and other parts of the United States and North Carolina. He has taken groups to Moscow and Tartarstan, part of the Russian Federation; to Kenya three times; to South Africa twice; Bangladesh twice; and once was able to meet a Southern Baptist missionary serving in a large Asian city.  

They've had a team work at Milton, Ontario, Canada, to support the Baptist State Convention's Great Commission Partnerships ministry of helping start 40 new churches in that area.

"One of our guys who had never been on a mission trip we took to Haiti.  He broke down and wept openly and he said, 'You'll never know what this means to me,'" Welch said.  

North Carolina Baptist ministry in Haiti and Honduras is coordinated through NC Baptist Men and funded through the North Carolina Missions Offering, which West Asheville also supports.

"I would urge every pastor to lead your people on missions trips. You'll build a bond with your people that will never be erased. You'll see God doing something in their lives. You'll receive more of a blessing than you'll ever be to anyone else," he promised.

Experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of missions gives members a greater understanding for the huge challenges missionaries face, he said.  

That in turn has led West Asheville to more generously support the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.

But Welch returns to his long-held belief that the Cooperative Program is the synergistic heart of the Southern Baptist missions and ministry enterprise.

He said he intends no criticism for independent Baptists or others for the way they support missions in other ways. "I thank God they do," he said.  

But he is convinced our Cooperative Program is a much better system.

"I would encourage other Southern Baptist pastors who want to do missions through other means, not to do so at the expense of our Cooperative Program missions effort," he said.

Some of those same leaders have paid much less for seminary training because the Cooperative Program keeps tuition costs down, he said.  

"We need to be able to give back through the Cooperative Program so that others can be trained and more new churches can be started.Let's do things for the glory of God now, even as one day we'll sing praises to God around the throne together. Let's put forward one voice," he said.