GALLUP, N.M. – In the heart of the American West, where 68
percent of the population claims no religious preference and the Gospel is
little known, one church is making a difference with a disciple-making ministry
that also reaches around the world through the Cooperative Program (CP).
“Let’s look at reality,” said Jay McCollum, pastor of First Baptist Church in
Gallup, N.M., since 1994. “The world has come to North America. It’s going to
take our cooperative efforts – because of the amount of money it will take – to
reach the people of America.
“No one mega church can do this; it’s going to take multiple churches,” said
McCollum, whose congregation gives 11.5 percent to support Southern Baptists
mission work at the state level, across North America and around the world through
the Cooperative Program.
“The Cooperative Program has been the vehicle Southern
Baptists have used to put the largest missionary force in the field in the
history of Christianity…. Our cooperative efforts assist us not only in
reaching people in our corner of the world but also to the vast people groups
of the world.”
The people in Gallup are a microcosm of the world, McCollum said. Gallup has
long been known as the “Indian Capital of the World” for its proximity to
several Indian reservations, including Navajo, Hopi, Zuni. More than two-thirds
of the city’s estimated 21,000 people claim Native American heritage.
It’s the other third that brings a cosmopolitan air to the town and to the
church membership, the pastor added. In addition to Hispanic, African-American
and Anglo, there are a variety of Asian groups, and even 600 or more
Palestinians, the highest per-capita presence of Shiite Muslims in North
America, McCollum said.
“The Cooperative Program broadens our horizons,” McCollum said. “CP raises the
awareness of people to see there’s Christian work taking place around the
globe, and that people can be called to be a missionary on a foreign field, in
the state convention, or in their neighborhood.”
First Baptist seeks to make inroads to the community through a variety of
initiatives: connection with city leaders and residents through government and
private organizations, the pastor’s radio programs, in-costume character
sketches at schools and other endeavors that result from McCollum involving
himself in Gallup civic life during his 17-year tenure.
Gallup is one of about 95 cities across the nation that provide a week-long
Southern Baptist WorldChangers learning experience in home repair, simple
construction and other servant evangelism skills for high school and college
students. More than 200 who gathered the last week of June in Gallup worked at
19 job sites. Their assignments ranged from roof repair to building a handicap
ramp to prepping and painting exterior walls of homes and more.
While the week of World Changers in Gallup involves students from across the
United States, the other 51 weeks of the year First Gallup members prepare the
town for the next onslaught of enthusiastic teen workers.
“There’s the constant work of securing homes to work on, and raising the money
for materials and supplies,” McCollum said. “And as they become aware of needs,
church members throughout the year do light repairs for invalid adults and single
moms with insufficient funds.
“Being able to host a WorldChangers project in Gallup, it’s given people a
vehicle to be on mission in their city, and it’s changed the image of our
church,” the pastor said. “We’re no longer a ‘rich church that sits on a hill.’
We’re a church that cares about its community and the people in it, some of
whom are the most vulnerable.”
Despite the many needs in Gallup itself, WorldChangers spreads out from Gallup
each summer to the nearby reservations, through a partnership with Jim Turnbo,
regional missionary for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.
First Gallup also involves itself through its association in strengthening
churches that need a helping hand. In addition, it’s a part of a new church
start on a reservation near Gallup.
The church also doesn’t shy away from crucial but controversial social issues.
About 15 months after McCollum’s arrival in Gallup, he led a successful
city-wide charge against the sale of packaged alcoholic beverages on Sunday.
Despite opposition from liquor store owners, weekend crime involving alcohol
has dropped so much that elected officials are not inclined to reinstate Sunday
“I engage in the community,” the pastor said. “I serve on various boards,
coached soccer, been on about every booster club, and we often host sports
banquets in our church, so we’re constantly engaged in that facet of our
Focus on baptisms
The congregation follows McCollum’s example of engaging in their community. All
that activity builds relationships, which lead to evangelistic encounters that
keep First Gallup focused on its goal of baptizing about 50 people a year. This
in a church where about 270 people participate in Sunday morning worship.
“This is a mission field,” McCollum said. “You’re looking at 68 percent of the
population who claim no religious preference…. I have a great opportunity to
preach to people who are not gospel-calloused. We’re not in the Bible belt. We’re
not in ‘cultural casual Christian mode.’ We’re in the Wild West.
“Oftentimes the good news is good news because they’ve never heard it,” the
pastor continued. “They may not accept it, but they’re willing, open, to hear
McCollum writes his own radio and television advertising, promotional spots and
on-air devotional thoughts.
“Utilizing social media and broadcast to let the message of First Baptist
Church be known to the public is something I love to do,” the pastor said. “We’ll
do 156 radio spot ads a week in seven formats…. There’s no way to monitor the
response to this. You’re raising the level of spiritual awareness in the
“I think every church needs to be a strong evangelistic church,” McCollum said.
“You have to preach the gospel, see people come to Christ, disciple them and
equip them, so they are missionaries – ambassadors for Christ where they live,
in their places of work, and as they share the gospel while going about their
lives – shopping, sports and the like.
“This is a process that takes place over time,” the pastor continued. “It has
to be done in every generation.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana
Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist,
newsjournals for their respective state conventions. Learn more about the
Cooperative Program at cpmissions.net.)