Bethany World Prayer Center: One Church Pays Off Its Building While Giving $7 million to Missions
Then It Takes Up the Challenge of Producing Profiles on the Unreached Peoples of the World What Is It That Makes A Church Do This?
How do you explain and understand this commitment to the whole world in an integrated church in the heartland of Louisiana? One of the African- American church members captured the essence with the phrase, "What is it? It's because of what it is!" As I sat at Bethany on June 25, I observed one of the most "faith- filled" congregations I have seen in the U.S.
Bethany World Prayer Center is modeling a local church commitment to discipling the nations of the world. With a congregation of 6000 members, their 300 cell groups, called Touch Groups, are committed to praying for the unreached peoples every week. These Touch Groups will pray until spiritual breakthrough occurs, Jesus becomes incarnate in the people's midst and a mission-oriented church-planting movement is established. Profiles on these people groups will greatly assist prayer and missionary efforts, so Bethany has taken up the challenge of producing profiles on the unreached peoples of the world.
Recently committed resources will accelerate this production and will make available people profiles of the approximately 2,000 significantly large ethno-linguistic peoples who remain unreached. These 2,000 have become the AD2000 and Beyond Movement's Target Peoples and a major focus of the AD2000 goal: "a church for every people and the Gospel for every person by the year 2000." Volunteers from the congregation at Bethany will participate in the production of people profiles; Roy Stockstill, founder of Bethany World Prayer Center and Senior Pastor Larry Stockstill's father, will be the production coordinator. He said to me on my recent visit, "I have never been so excited in all my life and this project is the main reason. I want to see a witness to all nations that will hasten the return of Jesus Christ."
I remember the remarkable way that I first met Senior Pastor Larry Stockstill. His father Roy's explanation of the meeting, "It was of the Lord."
It was January 20, 1992. I was on a flight out of Colorado Springs to Dallas. The plane was three-quarters empty. I always ask for a seat on the aisle. This time I found myself by the window. Next to me a gentleman sat down. With so many empty seats on the plane, amazingly he had been assigned the seat in the middle. He told me he had seriously thought of sitting somewhere else but sat there anyway. We introduced ourselves. His name was Larry Stockstill, a minister in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We began to chat and found a number of mutual friends. Then we discovered a mutual interest: world missions.
Now it was 1995, and I was in the Bethany World Prayer Center for the first time. "What is it?" I asked myself, "that has brought this church to the point of making such an enormous contribution to the cause of Jesus Christ and the goal of a church for every people by the year 2000?" After asking a lot of questions, I thought to myself, "There is hope for the church of North America. What an encouraging model for the church in the United States. In fact, these values are clearly transferable to any country and any culture. This story must be told." The story of a church which takes on the world and dares to press forward toward the goal ... a church which is prepared to invest precious resources for tools to present to its members and others ... a church moving from "What is it?" (an unreached people we know nothing about) to "What it is!" (a people profiled for prayer and church-planting initiatives) ... a church prepared to incorporate into its Touch Groups the vision to touch not only the unreached people in their community through prayer but also the unreached people groups of the world through prayer ... a church committed to taking in information so that it becomes a library of information to mobilize other churches around the world so that there is penetration in each of the remaining unreached people groups of the world.
What is it that makes Bethany World Prayer Center ready to take on such an enormous task as producing the profiles of the significant unreached peoples of the world?
1. What Is It? It Is a Commitment to Building the Kingdom of God, Not the Kingdom of Man.
Bethany founder Roy Stockstill says, "From the beginning we never tried to build a church; we always tried to build the Kingdom." From Acts 10:38, Roy began "going about doing good in the community." This has gone on over the years. "It's a world-wide Kingdom... it's a race- wide Kingdom... it is God's Kingdom we are trying to build."
Building the Kingdom of God means cultivating the hungry soul. What kind of person is Bethany seeking to reach? It is not seeking to
reach a certain ethnic group. It is not trying to reach a certain theological group. It is not the rich or the poor. It is not the socially elite or the down-and-outer. It is not the youth or the elderly. It is not the male or the female. It is all of the above who are hungry. Bethany seeks the hungry soul. Bethany invites people who are weary and burdened to come to Jesus.
Reconciliation and integration have played an important role in building the Kingdom of God. Early in their ministry, Larry and his wife Melanie traveled to Ghana and Nigeria, planning to stay for just a few months. They remained two years. They fell in love with the people. When they returned to Bethany, they reached out to the black community and the black community reached out to them. Today Bethany is a fully integrated church. One-third of the congregation is black. African- Americans are in the leadership of the church, on the staff, and lead Touch Groups.
2. What Is It? It Is a Commitment to Prayer. Twenty-four hour prayer takes place for world missions at Bethany. Prayers have gone up around the clock for missionaries all over the world for the last ten years.
Intercession lives in the Touch Groups. The Touch Groups originally began with a prayer core of 500 intercessors called Gideon's Army. They would come together every Saturday to pray. These faithful prayer warriors became the core group of the 54 Touch Groups launched Easter Sunday of April, 1993. The low-key, "seeker-sensitive" group members attracted so many new people that the groups, after reaching an attendance of fifteen per group, multiplied to 100 within a matter of months. Today there are 300 Touch Groups, and the goal by the year 2000 is that there be 1000, one in each neighborhood of Baton Rouge and surrounding areas all led by lay leaders from the congregation. These cell groups provide the primary prayer coverage of unreached peoples throughout the world with ten Touch Groups focused on one unreached people group.
The Touch Center, the central place of the 300 Touch Groups throughout the area, plays an important role as an instrument for praying for the people groups of the world. Touch Groups are so named as a reminder of the "touch of Jesus." The introduction pamphlet to the newly constructed, paid-for-in-cash Touch Center reads, "Jesus touched the leper and cleansed him... he touched the woman with the issue of blood and healed her... he touched the dead child at Nain and raised him up. It is the touch of Jesus through compassion that we desire to fill these new ministry rooms."
3. What Is It? It Is a Commitment to Reaching One's Own City. For Bethany the mission field is not only the world beyond Baton Rouge but also the field of Baton Rouge. A favorite saying is, "God is not upset if you start the gathering of the harvest right where you are." Bethany's vision is to be a blessing to the entire community of Baton Rouge with its 220,000 people.
One notable example was the "Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames" drama. Larry asked Bethany missionary to Moscow, Tim Spurlock, to come back to Louisiana to prepare the drama. It was expected to last four days. They were praying for 1000 to 1500 people to be saved. The drama actually lasted five weeks with 18,000 people making a public profession of faith. The response was so great that Bethany could not do all the necessary follow-up alone. For anyone who put a church name on their card, their card was sent to that church. The instruction given to the person was, "If you belong to another church and got saved here, go back to your pastor and tell him what has happened and be water baptized."
4. What Is It? It Is a Commitment to World Missions Bethany World Prayer Center is well known for its international focus. National flags suspend from the ceiling of the church. A map of the world highlighting the 10/40 Window hangs in the front of the sanctuary.
Bethany is not only committed to the world in decoration and prayer (as earlier mentioned), but also via its pocketbook. When Larry was invited to become senior pastor in 1985, it became clear that a new sanctuary was needed. It would be built for 6,000 people and by its completion the church would owe $3.9 million. However, God impressed on the leaders that missions giving should increase during that period. During construction, commitment went from $100,000 in 1985 to $1.1 million by 1992. By January 1993, the entire debt was paid off. The bottom line: over a seven-year period people gave $7 million to missions. This year the missions budget will reach $2 million. All of this despite having no solicitation of funds! They used the Mueller method -- no offering plates, no pledge system, just boxes in the back.
5. What Is It? It Is Networking with Other Churches and Para-Church Organizations
Through personal fellowship with other pastor/friends of cell-based mega-churches around the world, Larry has begun to encourage these pastors to motivate their prayer cells to pray for these unreached peoples. Already the 120,000 member Elim church of San Salvador with 5,000 prayer cells are praying through 500 people profiles that Bethany provided for them. In turn, Bethany, gleaning from the experience of the Elim Church in San Salvador, launched a weekly format for their Touch Groups.
Another example of valuable networking occurred in June of this year. Bethany brought together 100 Gulf State pastors from around the area to challenge them to reach unreached peoples through prayer and mobilization of their congregation. In addition, last year Bethany held a seminar for pastors interested in cell groups, and 800 participated.
Bethany has been active in the AD2000 and Beyond Movement. In October 1993, the church participated heavily in the "Praying Through the Window" initiative. Larry acquired five thousand 10/40 Window brochures and distributed them widely.
6. What Is It? It Is Multiplying Like-Minded Churches
Twelve years ago the youth pastor from Bethany was sent to Colorado Springs. His name is Ted Haggard. He began with a bucket turned upside-down in his garage as a pulpit. The result is the dynamic and still-growing New Life Church of over 4,000 members. Ted has encouraged many of the growing number of Christian ministries to come to the Colorado Springs Area, now home to over 70 national and international Christian organizations.
New Life and Bethany have much in common. New Life Church is now building their own World Prayer Center. Other similarities include the worship, the kind of people attracted to the church, the rapid growth of the church, the mobilization of prayer for the world and the impact upon their communities. Ted's recent book, Primary Purpose, tells the amazing story of God's remarkable work in Colorado Springs and the main priorities Ted feels have contributed to the amazing events of the past several years. You will find these same priorities at Bethany.
Conclusion: What is it? What it is! How do you explain what is happening at Bethany? Here is a local church committed to producing profiles of the AD2000 targeted significant unreached peoples of the world. These profiles will be used for prayer and church planting by the church and missions around the world. It is Jesus at work. It is the Holy Spirit at work. It is the Heavenly Father at work. It is building the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of Man. It is prayer. It is commitment to reaching one's own city and the world. It is networking with others and multiplying like-minded churches. It is God at work in the Church doing more than they could ask or imagine through the power that works in them ,,,(Eph. 3:19-20).
To find out more about how your church can be involved in this cooperative effort of producing profiles of the remaining unreached people groups, contact the AD2000 and Beyond Movement international office in Colorado, USA at (719) 576-2000.