As international missionaries are going into difficult places around the globe, Tim Maynard, lead pastor of Fruit Cove Baptist Church, said the least his St. Johns County congregation can do is support them. But that's just where the church's commitment to missions begins.
"I've seen it," Maynard told Baptist Press. "I've seen our missionaries in action … and I tell them, 'If you're willing to go and put your life on the line, the least I can do is hold the rope.'"
Maynard refers to financial support of missions through the Southern Baptist Convention's Cooperative Program, to which the church gives 10 percent of its undesignated offerings. That's 10 percent of the offerings of the 1,400 people who participate in two Sunday morning worship services at the church located just south of Jacksonville.
"The purpose of the church is to fulfill the Great Commission," said Maynard, pastor of Fruit Cove Baptist since 1993. "The question the church needs to ask is, 'How do we do that?'"
The Cooperative Program is the way members of Southern Baptist churches work together to fulfill the Great Commission nationally and globally.
"To me, the church needs to 'tithe'—to give away—and the Cooperative Program is the best way to do that," Maynard said. "I think God blesses those who tithe—members and churches. Decreasing CP giving is a sure-fire way to shoot down a ministry."
Fruit Cove Baptist, which started as a home Bible study in 1978, doesn't limit its mission involvement to the Cooperative Program. The church allocates almost 18 percent of its operating budget to missions and ministries, Maynard said, and plans to increase that to 20 percent over the next three years through its Advance 2020 initiative.
Through its ongoing "E3" strategy that involves equipping people with God's Word, engaging the culture with God's truth, and embracing the world with God's love, Fruit Cove Baptist ministers in a variety of ways.
About 200 youngsters attend the church's preschool. Nearly 7,000 attend the church's annual car show, which is held on a mid-summer Saturday. During the event, the community comes together to feast and frolic among dozens of vendors and 350 or more antique, classic and exceptional vehicles.
Nearly a thousand youngsters participate in basketball, flag football and cheerleading activities through Fruit Cove Baptist's Upward Sports, and more than a thousand attended Vacation Bible School in June.
The church's SportsLife Ministries undergird the Upward sports program as well as the Evening Golf Fellowship, softball, kickball, tae-kwon-do, fit-4-life classes, and an annual fishing tournament for Nik Ripken Ministries. Ripken is the author known for writing "The Insanity of God," which was recently released as a feature film in partnership with LifeWay Christian Resources and the International Mission Board (IMB).
The Royal Ambassadors missions program for boys recently made birdhouses as a fundraiser for the church's ongoing ministries in Guatemala, where Fruit Cove Baptist partners with an Antigua church to build houses and minister to 200 orphans. Twenty high school students built three houses over Thanksgiving break. The houses are about the size of a typical American backyard shed, yet nine or 10 people will live in each of them, the pastor said.
The Girls in Action missions program recently made jewelry as a fundraiser for Fruit Cove's ongoing missions work in Haiti, including ministering at several orphanages, building houses, starting schools and more, both through the Florida Baptist Convention and independently with churches in Haiti.
Maynard mentioned that Fruit Cove has done ministry in Cuba for years. "We work in church camps, dig wells—any kind of humanitarian work we can do," he said.
Canada and New York are two other places Fruit Cove ministers. The church also works with IMB personnel in the North Africa/Middle East region. Two women from the church recently returned from a two-year engagement in NAME and Southeast Asia through IMB.
"We've done missions in places many missionaries don't go," the pastor said. "We're looking for creative options. We want to be connected on every continent to what God is doing through Southern Baptists."
Locally, the church started "The Hope Chest" in 2008 to help people financially who were reeling from the housing crunch. They helped start an English-as-a-Second-Language ministry that today is known as the International Learning Center in a multicultural area of Jacksonville. Fruit Cove Baptist ministers on a near-daily basis to transients and is exploring planting a church in a prison near Daytona Beach. Such outreaches are part of Advance 2020, a six-facet strategy to be what the church believes God wants it to be.
The Advance 2020 vision includes starting 20 churches locally, nationally and globally; helping revitalize 20 churches in Metro Jacksonville; increasing to 20 percent of undesignated offerings its financial commitment to missions and ministry; starting two other campuses—one in a school and another on a site to be purchased; and reaching a Sunday morning worship attendance of 2,020. The church is also developing a mental/emotional wellness center in a commercial building the church already owns.
"Recently a young man in our community, a high school senior, took his life with virtually little or no warning signs that he was going to do this," the pastor wrote Nov. 18 on his near-daily blog. "[Suicide] is rampant, and families … are crying out for help. … Our responsibility toward this issue as a church, I believe, is great.
"Many who take their lives have simply lost their hope," he said. "We have hope to share."
Several medical professionals have offered their services to establish the wellness center, Maynard said. Implementation is set for spring 2017.
The pastor wrote Nov. 25 and 27 on his blog about open doors of opportunity, referring to 21,000 new homes to be built over the next several years within the county, and to Revelation 3:7-8.
Reaching the 40,000 or more people who will be living in those houses, Maynard wrote on his blog, "will require the discomfort that every open door involves: the call to leave our comfort zone."
Churches close the open doors before them "through fear, through unbelief and through an unwillingness to change," Maynard wrote. "Jesus is the One who calls us. He is the One who will strengthen us."
If God has opened this door for Fruit Cove Baptist, He has a purpose for doing so, Maynard wrote.
"He will bless us, not for having strength but for having faith to go through it, [and] He is evaluating not our strategy but our faith in following Him."
The bottom line for the church, Maynard told Baptist Press, is "to love others as God has loved us."
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.