In America’s West, cooperation a must
Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press
October 04, 2011

In America’s West, cooperation a must

In America’s West, cooperation a must
Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press
October 04, 2011

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.”

Local inroads

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.

Jay McCollum, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gallup, N.M., dresses in character at area elementary schools to teach biblical principles in a context children can readily understand. As Pecos Bill, he talks about the importance of not stealing and not lying and being citizens of your community, honoring your parents. “Character counts” when he’s Sam McGillicuddy: responsibility, honesty, good moral character. He tells the Christmas story as Cactus Jack. As Paul Revere, Pastor McCollum talks about the importance of American citizenship and the freedoms for which many early patriots died.

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.)

Related story

CP ‘a cause for joy,’ Page says