by Karen L. Willoughby
VACAVILLE, Calif. (BP) — The 300 or so people who worship on Sunday morning at Trinity Baptist Church know that 20 percent of their offerings go to missions, the bulk of it given through the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“We like the broad strokes of ministry in the area of equipping through seminary education, to being on the field directly, reaching the world for Christ,” said Milton Steck, pastor since 1971 of the church in Vacaville, Calif., about an hour north of San Francisco. “I don’t know of another method or giving program that is as effective around the world.
“The world is coming to California, and a portion of our Cooperative Program giving stays in California,” Steck said. “We just have an excitement in knowing that every time we send a check out, we know we’re supporting missions globally and in our state.”
Trinity Baptist finds excitement in hands-on missions as well as giving to and praying for Southern Baptist missions. The church gives 14 percent of its missions donations through the CP, a fund allowing churches to support the outreaches of the SBC and its state conventions.
“We live off 80 percent and give 20, and we believe part of that is related to this church being debt-free,” Steck said. “Everything is paid off within 30 days.”
In addition to its CP giving, the church gives monthly financial support to the Redwood Empire Baptist Association, California Baptist University, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and Mission:Dignity, a GuideStone Financial Resources fund for retired pastors and missionaries and their widows.
“California has so many smaller churches that are not able to provide a retirement program for their pastors,” Steck said. “We believe it’s important to provide for those faithful servants of the Lord.”
But that’s only part of the church’s focus.
“The Lord has blessed us with nice facilities. Our challenge now is to go deeper in outreach in our community,” Steck said. “Families are in such need today. We feel we’ve got a lot of responsibility here, church-wise.”
When Steck and his wife arrived in Vacaville in 1971, fresh out of Golden Gate Seminary, it was a sleepy town of about 22,000 residents, and Trinity Baptist Church had 75 members. As the town has grown to 100,000, the church draws 300 or more to Sunday worship.
“It’s been a real joy to be part of a family-oriented community,” Steck said. “Now I have the joy of seeing as many as four generations that have grown up in the church.
Vacaville’s population also benefits from the transitioning workforce at the local Travis Air Force Base,
“That [transitioning members] was a frustration in the beginning, but God straightened me out,” Steck said. “There are literally thousands of folks around the world now from here.
“The outreach is so different today,” Steck said. “You’re not welcomed into some homes where the need is the greatest. We deal with domestic violence and divorce and needy families. There are about 50 churches in our community but the vast majority [of area residents] don’t have anything to do with God.”
Trinity Baptist’s internal challenge is “to help our people become better grounded in God’s Word and share their faith,” Steck said. “There’s a variety of ways we’re trying to reach people with the Gospel: special events, women’s events, men’s retreats [and a] Christmas live nativity.”
Steck has been a member of the local Rotary service club for 40 years and often involves the church in Rotary projects, such as the recent purchase of teaching materials to show how even minimal shaking harms infants’ brains. The church helped Alpha Pregnancy Resource Center purchase an ultrasound machine for its mobile unit, used at area schools and on church property.
Local ministries include a midweek Awana program complete with a free hot meal for participants and their families, many of whom are unchurched residents of nearby apartment complexes. The church hosts a Thursday morning Bible Study Fellowship, which about 300 women attend, and on Tuesday nights, the church’s gym is available for open court basketball as a community outreach. In cooperation with a local Hispanic church, Trinity Baptist ministers to migrant workers. Its annual live nativity drew about 3,200 people over three nights last year.
Trinity Baptist members trained in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief have responded to disasters in California and other states. The church has sent work groups three times to the Copper Canyon area of Mexico to build a hangar for Mexico Aviation Mission, which serves the local Tarahumara people.
“We periodically show videos, have missionaries in our church, use monthly bulletin inserts and prayer requests from the mission field every week — both NAMB [North American Mission Board] and IMB [International Mission Board],” Steck said. “It helps keep them globally-minded, of the need of the world to hear the Gospel message — and besides, being involved in missions is a motivation to give to missions.
“We have a strong financial system [in the church] that has a great deal of accountability and reports on a weekly basis,” Steck said. “I think God uses a lot of Christian churches and groups but I don’t know anywhere else [other than the SBC] with such a great system of accountability. I’m very thankful for the integrity we operate with and the accountability we have.”
Steck has an insider’s perspective. He served for eight years on the IMB trustee board and eight years on the SBC Executive Committee. He was president of the California Southern Baptist Convention and served two terms on the state’s executive board.
“All those connections have been a tremendous blessing and it blesses the church as well,” Steck said. “God has planted us here and we’ve been richly blessed. Let’s not lose sight of being a blessing to others.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of Dakota Baptist Connections, the newspaper of the Dakota Baptist Convention.