Karen L. Willoughby/Baptist Press
PITTSBURGH, Pa. (BP) – The Cooperative Program (CP) is personal to Pittsburgh Baptist Church Pastor Kim Grueser and his congregation.
“They asked if we could do the 1% Challenge,” Grueser said of the congregation. “When it hits you personally, you really understand the value of [the Cooperative Program].”
The pastor quickly rattled off three ways he has seen the Cooperative Program in action.
“When I was in seminary, we would not have made it financially if it hadn’t been for CP covering part of the cost,” Grueser said. “I have a sister on the mission field. I know how important it is that we support our missionaries. I served as president of the state convention and saw through that the importance of CP, what we would lose if we didn’t have it.”
Through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists work together to support the expansion of God’s kingdom locally, nationally and globally.
Members of Pittsburgh Baptist in Pittsburgh, Pa., have seen for themselves how the Cooperative Program has provided financial support since the church’s founding in 1959. CP not only helped establish Pittsburgh Baptist, but helped the church launch in its first 20 years 17 other congregations in western Pennsylvania.
“When Pittsburgh Baptist Church was anointed by God, it was planting churches,” the pastor said. “We decided, ‘Let’s go back to the future.’”
That was six years ago, when Grueser began his pastorate.
The first thing the then-40 member congregation did after Grueser’s arrival was to give a tithe of the $440,000 they had raised for a construction project that didn’t happen. The amount would be shared by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Association of Southern Baptist churches and the Pennsylvania/South Jersey State Convention.
The church’s membership of 400 had dwindled after the leadership lost its focus, stopped planting churches and turned inward, Grueser said.
“Now we have 135 in worship,” he said. “God blessed our church when we tithed that money.” The remainder was used in a two-and-a-half year renovation of the Lutheran church built in 1908 that Pittsburgh Baptist purchased in the 1960s.
“We have more opportunities than money,” Grueser said with a laugh. “In 2012 we had $4,889 more than we spent, and last year, $9,000, but we’re over! God keeps us on a short financial leash; that keeps us humble.”
Five languages are spoken every Sunday at Pittsburgh Baptist, counting the Bhutanese, which meets off-site. The mother church sponsors four ethnic congregations and during the last six years has cooperated in several community-wide church plants.
The Bhutanese congregation now meets at a church in the neighborhood housing most of its members who have no transportation. The Vietnamese and Ukrainian congregations worship separately on Sundays at Pittsburgh Baptist.
Deo Lagoon, pastor of Pittsburgh Bhutanese Baptist Church, lived for 25 years in a refugee camp in Nepal, where he started a Bible study.
“He came to me nearly three years ago and said, ‘I can’t stop! I have to do this,’” referring to leading the ethnic congregation that had grown to 20 people meeting in Lagoon’s home, Grueser said. “Deo said, ‘I just love evangelism; I love telling people about Jesus.’”
Dan Nguyen, pastor of Pittsburgh Vietnamese Baptist Church, planted three churches in Vietnam before immigrating. He started a church in Pittsburgh that was meeting in another location, but it wasn’t succeeding.
“He called me last year to rent space in our building, and we talked, and I said, ‘I want to partner with you,’” Grueser said. “They made a chapel out of the youth room.
“It’s been an adjustment working with these two cultures,” Grueser said. “One is task-oriented; one is laid back.” Both have about 30 in worship. Both are being assessed by the North American Mission Board for official NAMB church plant status.
Without a pastor, Yuri Kostyuk leads Slavik Baptist Church of Pittsburgh, now in its 14th year as one of Pittsburgh Baptist’s ethnic congregations. “They’re pretty self-sustaining,” Grueser said. About 25 Ukranians gather for worship.
Pittsburgh Baptist also sponsors Pittsburgh Tamil Church, a congregation of East Indians meeting monthly at the host church for “a cultural spiritual gathering,” Grueser said, which includes worship, preaching, eating and fellowship.
Pittsburgh Baptist partnered with Faith Lakeside Community Church to plant Living Faith Community Church in Moon Township, Pa., which concurrently consults with Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks. Both Pittsburgh Baptist and Faithbridge serve as multiplying church centers, helping church plants become self-sustaining.
Youth from all congregations related to Pittsburgh Baptists gather Saturday nights for discipleship Bible study, fellowship and snacks, under the direction of Pittsburgh Vietnamese Baptist Youth Leader Ben Rosier.
Pittsburgh Baptist conducts several ministries, including hosting a weekly Thursday evening Narcotics Anonymous group, hosting twice weekly tutoring for elementary school students, and hosting the weekly Psalm 119 Clinic women’s counseling ministry, staffed by a licensed counselor. Pittsburgh Baptist also has a 30-minute Sunday morning radio ministry. Attendance at these ministries has grown from seven during the Wednesday evening service six years ago, to nine small groups totaling more than 60 people who meet throughout the week in various homes.
“Every Monday night we meet for just prayer,” Grueser said. “What’s God going to do with that? I can’t wait to find out.
“We’re very blessed,” Grueser said. “We’re entrenched in a very Catholic community, but we’re seeing God’s hand at work. None of our leaders came to us ready-made. We’re constantly training new leaders because this is a fairly transient community, a lot of job transfers.”
Sending out their trained leaders is just another of the ministries God has set before them, the pastor said.
“Space for all this is limited,” Grueser said. “Parking remains an issue. … I remember yelling at God one night: ‘What do you want from me? I don’t have anything else,’ and He answered, ‘I have everything.’”