HYATTSVILLE, Md. (BP) -- "The beauty of the Cooperative Program," as Rolando Castro sees it from a church's perspective, "is that you can be involved no matter how big you are, no matter your location."
Currently serving as interim pastor of a Hispanic congregation in the metro Washington area, Castro added, "You can be involved in reaching the world with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ."
Castro has led Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana de Maryland from giving zero to missions to 10 percent of their offerings through the Cooperative Program to fund missions and ministry by the state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.
When a church extends itself beyond its neighborhood through the Cooperative Program, it can become involved in international missions and in planting churches across North America, Castro said, describing its CP giving as "the first step in increasing involvement in missions, in evangelizing."
"I think churches should be spending their resources -- actually God's resources -- to Kingdom first and then to themselves," Castro continued. "This is probably reversed in Christian churches in America. If you are giving to the Cooperative Program in this way, you can say 10 percent of your income is going to missions. That would be a really good point to launch a missional mentality in the church.
"If we are giving, then the next step is to go, and the next step is to participate," said Castro, who also coordinates Hispanic church planting and evangelism for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. "You need to surrender yourself to be missional, and the first thing to surrender is money.
"I don't think God is giving us His resources to pay the bills" solely for church expenses, he said.
About 10 years ago, an average of 200 people participated in Sunday services at Primera Iglesia Bautista, located in Hyattsville, Md. But the number dwindled over time, and for at least two years the church was without a pastor. Castro filled the pulpit occasionally, and when he was asked to serve as a long-term interim, he agreed to do so if they would allow him to lead as a pastor would.
"Because they were ready to change, they agreed," Castro said. "Now it seems like everybody is on the same page. They really want to see something happen.
"And not only evangelizing, getting people involved in church, but being involved in other kinds of missions," said Castro, who is involved with a church plant in addition to his pastoral duties.
Castro would like to see something similar to Primera Iglesia Bautista's transformation take place across the two-state convention, where about 30 churches worship in the Spanish language. Three or four more are in the process of organizing, and one or two are actively planting churches.
"Basically we are desperately looking for pastors," Castro said. "The need is so great. We are praying for a huge movement of churches, and we are confident the Lord will multiply His people."
About 750,000 Hispanics live in the Washington metro area, and up to 75,000 live in the three zip codes surrounding Primera Iglesia Bautista, which is one of perhaps five churches specifically seeking to reach people who speak Spanish. It's a mixed area of single-family homes and high-rise apartment buildings with 80 or more units per building.
"We are in the first stages of what I hope to be a strong relationship with one elementary school in the community," Castro said of a school that he describes as having "a lot of needs."
Church members plan to provide volunteers to read to the children, to coach age-appropriate sports and to give books, coats and uniforms to the students.
"We just want to be a blessing to the school and to the families of that school," Castro said. "Already we are buying 600 books from the church budget."
This is a marked change for a church that in the recent past struggled to pay its bills.
"Now they see what is to be done," Castro said. "This is a church that really wants to be a part of the Southern Baptist life. They understand that participating in Southern Baptist life should be significant in every level -- from giving, going and being a part of the local association and state convention."
Primera Iglesia Bautista has learned about Southern Baptists through its interim pastor -- Costa Rica-born and spiritually reborn in a Baptist church. When Castro moved to Maryland in 2003, his sister-in-law was part of a Southern Baptist church that was looking for a church planter.
Castro had no education or training in pastoring or church planting, but he knew that with God's call came God's equipping. He's been studying ever since, and now he teaches biblical classes at Instituto CanZion in Washington, where he interacts routinely with Christians unaffiliated with the SBC.
"I can't understand why someone would not be Southern Baptist," Castro said. "Doctrinally we are very good and also we have all the resources available for our church.... I can't understand why someone would reject being part of this wonderful denomination."
Primera Iglesia Bautista's building is among the major challenges facing the congregation.
"The place where we meet is probably 80 to 85 seats," Castro said. "We already have 65, which means we only have 20 chairs for [new] people to come. We know we can grow. We need a bigger place to grow.
"Another dream: I want them to have small groups in their homes," Castro said. "I think that's the only way to grow and probably that will be my next big project with them."
Castro's thinking turned to the second generation, and from them, to other ethnics.
For many young people, he noted, Spanish is their second language. "What is needed is to develop an English church, to have a multiethnic side of the church," he said. "I think that will be huge, because the area we're in is multiethnic and we need to reflect that in the church.
"If we are willing to extend the Kingdom, then we will have enough to pay the bills," Castro said. "I can tell you because I've been experiencing this for years: You will never, never be short of resources to pay your bills if you are extending the Kingdom."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, Dakota Baptist Connections and The Montana Baptist, newsjournals for those state conventions.